born on 25/2/1947 in Tokyo, Honshu, Japan
died on 13/4/2020 in Tallinn, Harju, Estonia
Ryo Kawasaki (, Kawasaki Ryo) (born February 25, 1947) is a pioneering jazz fusion guitarist from Tokyo, Japan. He is best known as one the first musicians to develop and popularise the fusion genre and for helping to develop the guitar synthesizer in collaboration with Roland Corporation and Korg. His album Ryo Kawasaki and the Golden Dragon Live was one of the first all digital recordings and he created the Kawasaki Synthesizer for the commodore 64. During the 60s he played with various Japanese jazz groups and also formed his own bands. In the early 70s he came to New York where he settled and worked with Gil Evans, Elvin Jones, Chico Hamilton, Ted Curson, Joanne Brackeen amongst others. In the mid-80s, Kawasaki drifted out of performing music in favour of writing music software programmes for computers. He also produced several techno dance singles, formed his own record company called Satellites Records, and later returned to jazz-fusion in 1991.
Early life (1947-1968)
Ryo Kawasaki was born in Kenji, Tokyo while Japan was still struggling and recovering from the early post World War II period. His father Torao Kawasaki was a renowned and honored Japanese diplomat and worked for The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 1919. Torao worked at several Japanese Consular and Embassies including San Francisco, Honolulu, Fengtian (then capital of Manchu, now Shenyang as city of China), Shanghai and Beijing while active as English teacher and translator for official diplomatic conferences. Ryo's mother Hiroko was also multilingual and spoke German, Russian, English, and Chinese aside from her native tongue Japanese. Hiroko grew up in Manchu and then met Torao in Shanghai. Torao was already 58 years of age when Ryo was born as an only child and these unique circumstances of Ryo's parents may already have hinted Ryo's later developments and wandering nature in international circuit as an artist.
Kawasaki's entire life has been marked by his innate inquisitiveness and powers of invention, both in music and science. While his mother encouraged him to take piano and ballet lessons, he has decided taking voice lessons and solfege at age four and violin lessons at five, and was reading music before elementary school. As a grade scholar, he began a lifelong fascination with astronomy and electronics (he built his own radios, TVs and audio systems including amplifiers and speakers as well as telescopes). When Ryo was 10-years-old, he bought a ukulele and, at 14, he got his first acoustic guitar. The album Midnight Blue by Kenny Burrell and Stanley Turrentine inspired Ryo to study jazz.
In high school he began hanging out at coffee-houses that featured live music, formed a jazz ensemble and built an electric organ that served as a primitive synthesizer. By the time he was 16, his band was playing professionally in cabarets and strip joints. Although he continued to play music regularly, he attended Nippon University, majored in quantum physics and earned his Bachelor of Science Degree. Although he has failed to prove his main interest and intuitive belief at that time, which is to prove that speed (acceleration) of gravity must be much greater than speed of light. He also did some teaching and contest judging at the Yamaha musical instrument manufacturer's jazz school. Additionally he worked as a sound engineer for Japanese Victor Records and BGM[disambiguation needed]/TBS Music where he learned mixing and editing.
Early career in Japan (1969-1973)
He recorded his first solo album for Polydor Records when he was 22. Although he continued to perform with his jazz group, and at a young age was voted the No. 3 jazz guitarist in a Japanese jazz poll, Ryo spent most of the next three years working as studio musician on everything from advertising jingles to pop songs including countless radio and TV appearances. He recorded his second album for Toshiba when he was 24. He played with B.B. King at a blues festival and also met George Benson (they jammed for five hours at Ryo's house).
He also has recorded and worked with notable Japanese Jazz legends such as drummer Takeshi Inomata and Sound limits, saxophonist Jiro Inagaki and Soul Mates, saxophonist Keiichiro Ebisawa, saxophonist Seiichi Nakamura, pianist Masahiko Sato (), saxophonist Hidehiko Matsumoto () and many others.
Developments in New York City (1973-2002)
1973-1979 (as guitarist)
In 1973, Kawasaki arrived in New York. A friend picked him up at the airport and offered him an immediate gig with Joe Lee Wilson playing at the Lincoln Center as part of the Newport Jazz Festival. Soon Ryo was jamming regularly as part of the jazz community's "loft scene", and was invited to play with Bobbi Humphrey. A few months later, Ryo walked up to his apartment and found a stranger waiting for him at his front door. It was Gil Evans and he invited Ryo to join The Gil Evans Orchestra (David Sanborn, Howard Johnson, Tom Malone, Lew Soloff) which was then working on a jazz recording of Jimi Hendrix compositions. Hendrix had dreamed up the concept with Evans, but Jimi died a week before the project started in 1970. Kawasaki also played on another Gil Evans album on RCA, There Comes a Time, with Tony Williams on drums. Ryo rehearsed for a month with the third edition of Tony Williams' Lifetime with trio format with bassist Doug Rauch working with Carlos Santana at that time, but Tony left to spend a year in Europe before the band got the chance to perform in public.
Kawasaki followed in the footsteps of Jim Hall, Gábor Szabó and Larry Coryell by becoming the guitarist in the Chico Hamilton Band, playing on a U.S. tour and working on various film scores that Chico recorded in Hollywood. Ryo made his debut U.S. album, Juice, in 1976 for RCA and was one of the first Japanese jazz artists to sign with a major label in the States. Sidemen on the project included Tom Coster (Carlos Santana) and Sam Morrison (Miles Davis). Kawasaki followed that recording with two more albums, Prism and Eight Mile Road, for the Japanese label East Wind. He also joined the Elvin Jones Band for a year-long tour of North and South America and Europe. By 1978, Kawasaki was tired of touring with other bands and returned to his own projects.
He explored Music of India, learned ragas and recorded an Audio Fidelity album, Ring Toss, that combined eastern and western music. With Dave Liebman he recorded Nature's Revenge for the German MPS label and they toured Europe. Ryo also toured European jazz festivals with Joanne Brackeen as piano guitar duo, and they recorded a pair of albumsAFT and Trinkets and Thingsfor Timeless Records in the Netherlands. In Japan, Sony's Open Sky label signed Ryo for three albumsMirror of my Mind, Little Tree and Livethe latter, recorded in a Tokyo club, was one of the first all-digital recordings. Notable musicians participated on those recordings are : Michael Brecker, Harvey Mason, Leon Pendarvis, Azar Lawrence, Anthony Jackson, Lincoln Goines, Badal Roy, Nana Vasconcelos, Buddy Williams, Larry Willis and Alex Blake to name a few. He also recorded an album called Sapporo for Swiss label America Sound in 1980 while touring Switzerland and Germany.
1979-1990 (as inventor and programmer)
Kawasaki invented his own guitar synthesizer in 1979, and used it to perform numerous solo shows at planetariums from 1980 to 1983. He also formed the jazz-rock group The Golden Dragon and performed concerts regularly in the 80s. Fostex developed the first quarter- inch-tape, eight-track recorder and asked Ryo to be the first artist to use it. He recorded the album Ryo in 1981 for Philips Records and gained notoriety for creating all the music himself. He played only a nylon-string acoustic guitar with all his backing tracks created on his guitar synthesizer including the entire original orchestration of Joaquin Rodrigo's well known Concierto de Aranjuez Adagio movement. He did another similar recording, Lucky Lady, the next year.
When the Commodore 64 computer came out with a sound-chip in it, Kawasaki became fascinated by the possibilities. He learned to write computer programs and devoted 16-hours-a-day for two years creating four music software programsKawasaki Synthesizer, Kawasaki Rhythm Rocker, Kawasaki Magical Musicquill, and Kawasaki MIDI Workstationdistributed by Sight and Sound Music. The first three programs were for school and home use, and the last one was for professional studios. He created an all-synthesized album, Images, in 1987; and the soundtrack, Pleasure Garden, in 1990 for an IMAX film about the preservation of the Earth's endangered tropical rain forests.
From 1986 to 1990, Kawasaki produced a series of high-charting 12 inch dance singles"Electric World", "One Kiss", "No Expectations", "Say Baby I Love You", "Don't Tell Me", "Wildest Dreams", "Life is The Rhythm", "Pleasure Garden" and "Acid Heat"that mixed free-style, house, acid house and ambient sounds. All of the production was done at his home studio, The Satellite Station, and the records were released on his own label, Satellites Records. His band and a dance troupe also performed extensively in New York dance clubs. In addition, for five years (1988 to 1993), Kawasaki was the New York producer and director of two Japanese national weekly music radio programs, "The Music Now" and "Idex Music Jam." In 1991. He also collaborated with Japanese koto master Kicho Takano and produced "Crystallization" in 1986.
1991-2000 (return to jazz guitarist)
Kawasaki's musical direction took another dramatic turn when he was signed by the new jazz and adult contemporary Japanese label One Voice as an artist and record producer. Ryo's return to jazz, and his first album for the label, was the 1992 acoustic solo guitar album Here, There and Everywhere (released on One Voice in Japan and on Satellites Records in the U.S.). Kawasaki has produced and performed on three albums by Brazilian singer and guitarist Camila Benson for this label. Ryo has continued to release a steady string of albumsthe acoustic My Reverie (music from Bill Evans, Debussy, Ravel and Gershwin), the electric jazz guitar-oriented Love Within The Universe (which received considerable airplay across the country), "Remixes Remixes Vol. 1" (also featuring Benson), "Sweet Life" and CD releases of "Mirror of my Mind" (a jazz ensemble recording with Harvey Mason, Michael Brecker, Anthony Jackson, Leon Pendarvis and vocalist Radha Shottam).
His another release Cosmic Rhythm in 1999 features British singer lyricist Clare Foster along with Ryo's current rhythm section Victor Jones on drums, Lincoln Goines on bass. The album also features David Kikoski on piano and Shunzo Ohno on flugelhorn. All the songs were arranged and recorded by Ryo Kawasaki including original ten songs by Ryo himself.
During 1995-1999, three noteworthy hip hop artists, Puff Daddy, Kool G Rap and Keith Murray, recorded Ryo's original composition "Bamboo Child" on their latest albums more than twenty years after its original recording, proving that even Ryo's old recording would perfectly match with current hip hop beats and moods.[says who?]
New developments in Estonia and beyond (2000 present)
Ryo has released live studio trio album "Reval" in 2001, recorded in Tallinn Estonia with Estonia's leading musicians Toivo Unt on Bass, Aivar Vassiljev on Drums and Kristi Keel on English horn.
His other projects include being a composer, music director as well as guitarist for the jazz ballet "Still Point" for Estonian National Opera House during 2000 -2002. This ballet is choreographed by Russell Adamson, a native Jamaican who resides in Helsinki. Ryo also released his third acoustic guitar solo album 'E' in 2002. From year 2000, Kawasaki has further expanded his live appearances into Russia and Baltic region Jazz Festivals. His quartet has appeared at Rigas Ritmi Jazz Festival in Riga/Latvia, Pori and other jazz festivals in Finland, Ukraine, Lithuania as well as (Saransk) Jazz Ark Festival, Saransk is a Capital of Mordovia Republic located 630 km east from Moscow. He also appeared numerous times at Nõmme Jazz Festival in Estonia while assisting the production of this jazz festival.
Kawasaki's most recent projects during 2005-2008 include guitar trio project with American drummer Brian Melvin and Estonian bassist Toivo Unt under the name "Art of Trio" performing in variety of venues in Finland, Sweden and Baltic states, and performing with Estonian vocalist Jaanika Ventsel, while touring and recording in Japan for the duo project with bassist Yoshio 'Chin' Suzuki (), their new duo CD "Agana" was released in February 2007. In 2008, Ryo has formed jazz ensemble with Estonian pianist/keyboardist Tõnu Naissoo. Also his 2nd duo CD with Yoshio 'Chin' Suzuki () and first CD with "Art of Trio" are completed and ready to be released during 2009 while his composition "Raisins" was included on the Grand Theft Auto IV radio station Fusion FM in 2008.
- Easy Listening Jazz Guitar (1970)
- Gut's the Guitar (1972)
- Prism (1975)
- Eight Mile Road (1976)
- Juice (1976)
- Ring Toss (1977)
- Nature's Revenge (1978)
- Mirror of My Mind (1979)
- Little Tree (1980)
- Live (1980)
- Sapporo (1980)
- Ryo (1982)
- Lucky Lady (1983)
- Images (1987)
- Here, There and Everywhere (1992)
- My Reverie (1993)
- Love Within the Universe (1994)
- Remixes Vol.1. (1995)
- Sweet Life (1996)
- Cosmic Rhythm (1999)
- Reval (2001)
- E (2002)
- Agana (2007)
- Late Night Willie (2009)
- Tribute to Keith Jarrett (2010)
- Live in Beirut (2011)
- Spain, Plays Solo Guitar (2012)
- Head-Rock / Jiro Inagaki & Soul Media (1970)
- Sound of Sound Limited / Takeshi Inomata (1970)
- Something / Jiro Inagaki & Soul Media Feat.Steve Marcus (1971)
- Rock Guitar Battle '71 / Various artists (1971)
- Guitar Workshop / Various artists (1971)
- Chigaihoken / Ushio Sakai (1973)
- Plays Jimi Hendrix / Gil Evans (1975)
- Mobius / Cedar Walton (RCA, 1975)
- There Comes a Time / Gil Evans (1976)
- Tarika Blue vol.1 / Tarika Blue (1976)
- What Would It Be Without You / Joe Lee Wilson (1976)
- Tokyo Concert / Gil Evans (1976)
- Tarika Blue vol.2 / Tarika Blue (1977)
- The Main Force / Elvin Jones (Vanguard, 1977)
- Time Capsule / Elvin Jones (Vanguard, 1977)
- Aft / JoAnne Brackeen (1978)
- 'Round About Midnight / Ted Curson (1978)
- Trinkets and Things / JoAnne Brackeen (1979)
- Pleasure / Shigeharu Mukai (1979)
- All-In All-Out / Masahiko Sato (1979)
- I Heard Mingus / Ted Curson (1980)
- Manhattan Skyline / Hiroki Miyano (1980)
- Impressions of Charles Mingus / Teo Macero (1983)
- Crystallization () / (1986)
- Christmas Songs / Carolling Carollers (1988)
- New York String Quartet vol.1 / New York String Quartet (1988)
- New York String Quartet vol. 2 / New York String Quartet (1989)
- Wave / Camila Benson (1995)
- Classic Jazz Funk, Vol. 6: The Definitive Jap-Jazz Mastercuts / Various artists (1995)
- Dusty Fingers Volume 1 / Various artists (1995)
- Memories / Camila Benson (1996)
- Trinkets and Things / Cosmic Village (1997)
- Desafinado / Camila Benson (1997)
- I Will / John Clark (1997)
- RCA Victor 80th Anniversary, Vol. 6: 1970-1979 / Various artists (1997)
- Battle of the Bands: Evans Vs. Mingus / Various artists (1998)
- Super Guitarists / Various artists (1999)
- Jazz Spectrum: Real Jazz for Real People, Vol. 2 / Various artists (1999)
- Three Flutes Up / Chip Shelton (1999)
- More What Flutes 4 / Chip Shelton (2001)
- Different Dreams 2 / Various artists Estonian Jazz (2001)
- Impressions of Miles Davis / Teo Macero (2001)
- Electric World (1987)
- One Kiss (1988)
- No Expectations (1988)
- Say Baby I Love You (1988)
- Wildest Dreams (1989)
- Life Is the Rhythm (1989)
- Pleasure Garden (1990)
- Kawasaki Synthesizer (1984)
- Kawasaki Rhythm Rocker (1984)
- Kawasaki Magical Musicquill (1985)
- Kawasaki Midi Workstation (1986)
Video and film
- Different Drummer with Elvin Jones (1979)
- Jazz in Exile Documentary (1982)
- L. Feather and I. Gitler: The Encyclopedia of Jazz in the Seventies (New York, 1976/R1987).
- D. Kastin: "Ryo Kawasaki," Down Beat xliv/15 (1977).
- A. Berle: "Ryo Kawasaki: Leading Japanese Jazz-rock Soloist" Guitar Player xiii/11 (1979).
- Scott Yanow: "The Great Jazz Guitarists..The Ultimate Guide" Hal Leonard (2013).
Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Ryo Kawasaki
- Ryo Kawasaki Official site
- Ryo Kawasaki bio
- Ryo Kawasaki Guitar Synthesizer Museum
- Ryo Kawasaki C64 site
- Nõmme Jazz Festival