The man on the cover of FDTimes February 2014 is Lenzan Kudo.
He is a master musician, specializing in shakuhachi, the traditional Japanese flute. He was playing in the spectacular setting of the Peninsula Hotel lobby in Tokyo a year ago when we took this cover shot. And he’s playing there now.
Preparing for InterBEE, coming soon, it was time to catch up. Here is an interview with Mr. Kudo.
Jon Fauer: What were you playing when we took your picture at the Peninsula Hotel last November?
Lenzan Kudo: I was playing a shakuhachi — solo songs which are made for Japanese scales. The technique and way of using one’s breath is different from western music.
Do you perform there often? Where else do you perform?
It was the first time playing at the Peninsula Hotel. I am going to play there again in November this year. I am also playing at restaurants as well as a concert hall, temples and shrines. I would like to introduce my music and shakuhachi to as many people as possible. Actually, I have even played as a “busker” on a London street.
Tell us about the instrument, the shakuhachi and its history.
The instrument came from China around the 7th Century. The shape of shakuhachi has been changing and developed with the times. The current shakuhachi is very close to those used by zen monks from the Edo period (1603 – 1868). At that time, only zen monks were playing the instrument. But these days, everyone can play it and it’s becoming more contemporary. We play not only traditional songs but also pop music and jazz.
Were you always interested in music?
I have been listening to Japanese instrumental music since I was a child, but I was also interested in electronic music like YMO or Kraftwerk. My taste is very wide now. I am listening to jazz, classic and ethnic music as well.
How did you begin playing and how did you learn the shakuhachi?
I started playing the shakuhachi when I was a kid. It all started when I accidentally found one in the closet at home. I didn’t know anything about it but I knew it was some kind of instrument. I wanted to play it in my own style but try as I may, I couldn’t get it to produce any sound. I experimented in various ways trying and mostly failing to get any sound out of it. After about 6 months, although it didn’t sound very good, I finally made a breakthrough and was about to start playing notes. That sense of achievement got me hooked on the shakuhachi.
I learned from my home town shakuhachi master first and went to univirsty and learned more from other masters as well as a living national treasure.
Do you perform with other instruments?
I love to play many instruments. Its not perfect but I play piano, synthesizer, flute, Didgeridoo and koto.
I found your performance very cinematic. In a wonderful setting, great lighting, traditional clothing.
I would like to touch the audience’s 5th sense through my music. A place you can see, sounds you can hear from your ear, a little action you make…. Everything should be Art even if it’s almost slow-motion.
SARUME “Ama no iwato” was based on these ideas. It was made as an entertainment based on a Japanese mythology. I wanted to introduce a rich Japanese culture to the world. I hope the artists who cooperated to the show also become enlightened as well as the audience.
I would love to introduce my music in the USA and many other places in the world. People will be surprised by the sound of shakuhachi. I am trying to make sounds from the heart and feeling.
I am get ready for next performance these days.