Improvised Music from Japan / Kyoko Kuroda



Kyoko Kuroda was born November 20, 1957 in Tokyo, Japan. She started playing piano as a young child, and studied with a classical music teacher until she was 17. While at university, she became fascinated by Noh (a type of traditional Japanese theater) and became involved in playing Noh music, an experience which continues to influence her music today.

Kuroda began playing jazz in 1982, studying for two years with pianist Aki Takase. In 1984 she began playing in public venues, and performed with bassist Yoshio Ikeda throughout 1985. In January of '86 she formed her quartet BAHR with alto sax player Atsushi Ikeda, bassist Shinichi Kato and drummer Masayuki Kume. The group, led by Kuroda, remained together for about a year and a half, playing mainly her original tunes at jazz clubs such as Shinjuku Pit Inn.

From autumn 1987 to winter 1990, Kuroda directed a workshop called ORT. The participants were musicians such as Atsushi Ikeda, tenor sax and flute player Makoto Oka, trombonist Yoichi Murata and turntable and guitar player Yoshihide Otomo, as well as several theater actresses. The purpose of the workshop was to develop music which transcends genres, and open up the possibilities of musical activity. (ORT's live performance of 1988 was released as a cassette tape called ORT, and its 1990 studio recording was included in an omnibus CD, Now's the Time Workshop, Vol. 1.) In 1988 Kuroda organized the series Brecht a la Machine, which she performed with Otomo, saxophonist and player of self-made instruments Junji Hirose, and the late sax player Masami Shinoda. The recording of a live performance in the series was released as a cassette tape entitled Brecht a la Machine. ORT has not been active since the last day of 1990, when Kuroda staged a concert including members of both ORT and Brecht a la Machine, with alto sax player Kazutoki Umezu as a special guest.

In 1989 Kuroda began giving frequent solo performances, and most of her musical activity the following year consisted of solo work. Through this work she developed her unique musical style, transcending jazz and making use of not only piano but also synthesizer, voice, poetry reading and so on. The results can be heard in the cassette tape Solo: Singing, Playing and Dancing, with recordings of live performances from January, April and July 1989, and the CD Something Keeps Me Alive, recorded in April 1991. Kuroda formed her trio in 1993, and since '94 it has consisted of herself as leader, bassist Keita Itoh and drummer Yoshihiro Okada.

Kuroda has developed important collaborations with several musicians. In 1988 she and Shinoda occasionally played as a duo (with their live performance of that year released as the cassette tape Duo); and she played several times with vocalist Tenko. (The recordings they made together in 1991 were released in Tenko's CD At the Top of Mt. Brocken, and the omnibus CD Bunt.)

In autumn '89, Kuroda joined sax player Akira Sakata's band Mitochondria. (She currently plays occasionally with Sakata in a duo or trio.) In the same year she began playing with alto sax player Sachi Hayasaka's band Stir Up, with which she toured Germany in summer '92 and autumn '94. The '92 tour included performances at the Nuremburg Ost-West Jazz Festival and the Moers New Jazz Festival, and the '94 tour included a performance at the Leverkusen Jazz Festival. As a member of Stir Up, Kuroda played with such Japanese musicians as drummer Takeo Moriyama, percussionists Kiyohiko Semba and Tomohiro Yahiro, violinist Asuka Kaneko and tenor sax player Tatsuya Satoh, as well as non-Japanese musicians like Ned Rosenberg. Together with Stir Up (of which she is still a member), she also played music for a videotape movie directed by Yoichi Sai.

Kuroda began collaborating with vocalist Koichi Makigami in April 1991, when Makigami invited her to be a guest musician with his band Hikashu. She then participated in Makigami's 1991 Ultra Japanese Pop Song Session, his studio recording of January '92 (which appears in his CD Koroshi no Blues), and his Voice Circus at the Hakushu Summer Festival in August '94.

In September '94, Kuroda joined her longtime musical colleague Otomo for his project Mosquito Paper Session. Subsequently she took part in another of Otomo's projects, in which improvised music was added to old silent movies. Four films were presented in December '94, including Tokkan kozo (A Straightforward Boy), directed by Yasujiro Ozu, Kimi to wakarete (Apart from You), directed by Mikio Naruse, La Roue, directed by Abel Gance) and The Wind, directed by Victor Sjöström; and three films in July '95, including A Trip to the Moon, directed by Georges Melies and The Kid, directed by Charles Chaplin. With her own band, Kuroda played music for two films--Seven Chances, directed by Buster Keaton, and Umarete wa mita keredo (I was Born, But...), directed by Ozu, in February '95 and March '96 respectively--in a series called Silent Movies and Jazz.

In September '91, together with Tetsu Saitoh, Kuroda played in a performance by vocalist Catherine Jauniaux; and throughout 1995 Kuroda frequently performed in both Saitoh's tango band Contrabajeando and his "Stone Out" ensemble. In August '95, on tour with Saitoh, she performed with a Korean dancer in Nagoya; and the following December, as a member of the "Stone Out" ensemble, participated in a studio recording which was released the following year. In February '96, Kuroda toured with Contrabajeando, and was one of the musicians who performed in the play La Danaide by the TAO theater group, of which Saitoh is musical director. The play was performed in March in Tokyo, and in May in Kakegawa, Shizuoka prefecture.

Other Japanese musicians with whom Kuroda has played include Umezu (she participated in his project Oshigoto in April and June '91); chanson singer Yoko Mizuki (their performance in February '92 was her first experience accompanying a chanson singer); and percussionist Takamochi Baba (they played duo in July and September '92). Along with a bassist and a drummer, Kuroda accompanied jazz vocalist Junko Sumi in the June '94 Power of Voice concert series. (Sumi sang early postwar Japanese pop songs, combining the original Japanese lyrics with lyrics translated into English.) In June and September '94 and June '95, Kuroda played duo with percussionist Kumiko Takara; in December '95, she took part as a musician and a "prompter" in Cobra: The Tokyo Campaign; and in January '96 she performed with trumpeter Itaru Oki.

Kuroda has also taken part in many sessions with non-Japanese musicians in Japan. In 1991 she played with Korean alto sax player Kang Tae Hwan and Korean percussionist Kim Dae Hwan. In May '93 she collaborated with vocalist Lauren Newton. In April '94 and October '95 she participated in violinist John Rose's Shopping Project, and in April '94 she also took part in a recording by Rose and Otomo, which was included in the CD Tatakiuri. In November of that year she played with alto sax player John Zorn, in Zorn's Cobra and Bezique projects. And in November '95 she was a member of the multinational Free World Big Band, headed by guitarist Kalle Laar and percussionist Takashi Kazamaki.

Kuroda became involved with the Trunk Theater group in January of '93, when she was the music director of and a musical performer in their play Yamaneko (Wildcat) Restaurant. (The play had a repeat performance in October ’95.) In October '94 she arranged and played music for the group's play Tsukiyo-no-ban-dayo Sanmon-shibai (Threepenny Play on a Moonlit Night). In February '95 and July '96 respectively, she was music director of their plays Asa-kara Yonaka-made (Von Morgen bis Mittelnachts) and Yume no Kuni (Nation of Dreams). The following month, with Trunk Theater, Kuroda took part in the Kurt Weill Festival in Dessau, Germany.

In the upcoming months Kuroda will again be active as music director and musician with Trunk Theater, which has performances scheduled for December '96 in Japan, and for March '97 in Germany. And as she continues to play in duos and trios, she has launched a new ORT workshop, the first performance of which was presented in September '96 with the title ORT OPERA: Ortopera Ensemble Vol. 1. It featured vocalist Yuki Maeda, percussionist Kumiko Takara, and computer, sampler and guitar player Yasuhiro Otani.

Last updated: September 25, 1996