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Taku Hirano Vital Stats
Taku Hirano
Birthday: October 22
Birthplace: Osaka, Japan
Blood Type: A Positive

"Letters" with Utada Hikaru


Stevie Nicks 2005 Tour


Lindsey Buckingham 2006 Tour


Hand percussion controllers 2006


DISCOGRAPHY

Taku Hirano music credits:

Utada Hikaru: Utada United 2006 (Toshiba-EMI) *Live concert DVD
Utada Hikaru: Unplugged (Toshiba/EMI) *Live concert DVD
Utada Hikaru: Live at the Budokan (Toshiba/EMI) *Live concert DVD
Fleetwood Mac: Live In Boston (Warner) *Live concert DVD
Fleetwood May: Say You Will (Warner) ***American Music Award
Fleetwood Mac: Destiny Rules (Warner/VH-1) *Live concert footage
Whitney Houston: The Greatest Hits (Arista) *Live concert footage
Dr. Dre: 2001 (Aftermath/Interscope) ***Grammy award
Dr. Dre: 2001 Instrumental (Aftermath/Interscope)
Jay-Z: The Blueprint 2 (Roc-A-Fella)
Jay-Z: Blueprint 2.1 (Roc-A-Fella)
Nelly Furtado: Loose (Geffen)
Stevie Nicks: Crystal Visions- The Very Best of Stevie Nicks (Warner)
Lionel Richie: Encore (Island) *Live concert CD
Lionel Richie: Renaissance (Island) ***Grammy nomination
Lionel Richie: Collection (Motown)
The Temptations: Phoenix Rising (Motown)
Lindsey Buckingham: Soundstage (PBS) *Live concert DVD
Lindsey Buckingham: Live at the Bass Performance Hall (Warner) *Live
Ahn Trio: Lullaby For My Favorite Insomniac (Sony BMG)
From the Big Apple to the Big Easy (Rhino) *Live concert DVD
Emmanuel Jal- WARchild (Sonic360)
Vesta: Relationships (i.e. Music/Polygram)
Cherokee: I Love You... Me (RCA)
Lucy Pearl: Lucy Pearl (Beyond) Brent Jones & The T.P. Mobb: Beautiful (EMI Gospel)
Biker Boyz: Motion Picture Score (Dreamworks)
Dr. Dolittle: Motion Picture Soundtrack (Atlantic)
Sonny Liston-The Mysterious Life and Death... Score (HBO)***Emmy award
Malcolm X: Make It Plain (PBS) ***Emmy Award ***Peabody Award


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Taku Hirano Interview

Photo courtesy of Taku Hirano - click for full size "There is something very primal about percussion that strikes you at the gut level" says Taku Hirano. And this master of all things percussion knows of what he speaks, having studied with some of the greatest drummers in the world. From a whirlwind upbringing that took him from Japan to the US to Hong Kong and back to the States, Taku's stellar abilities have earned him the honor of playing for artists such as Utada Hikaru, Lionel Richie, Fleetwood Mac and Dr. Dre. He is currently the percussionist for Bette Midler's Las Vegas show "The Showgirl Must Go On" and is busy with several other projects.

So if your heart is moved by the rhythmic beating of drums, come learn the story of the man who has made percussion his life's work and lives by the famous Bruce Lee motto: "It is not, 'I am doing this,' but rather, an inner realization that 'this is happening through me...'"

On January 9, 2009 Taku Hirano was kind enough to give an interview to Andrew from J-Pop World. All photos courtesy of Taku Hirano.


Let's start with your rather amazing international upbringing. You were born in Osaka, Japan. Can you tell us what it was like in your neighborhood as a child?

Photo courtesy of Taku Hirano - click for full size Actually, although I was born in Osaka, the company that my father worked for transferred our family to the U.S. when I was only three months old. I lived in Dallas, Texas in my first year, and then Fresno, California. Fresno, a suburban town in central California with an agricultural base (my father worked in the textile trade), was a far cry from Japan. I lived there from the age of one until around 11, when I finished the sixth grade. I visited relatives in Japan throughout my childhood and it seemed like a world away in every way, from Japan's closely confined living spaces and commuter trains, to the sense of tradition and heritage that seemed non-existent in California.

What was your home life like? Did your parents have a musical background?

Both of my parents are quite artistic. My father has always been a great visual artist, mainly sketching and drawing. My mother grew up doing traditional Chinese calligraphy (kanji) on scrolls, and also does traditional Chinese watercolor, which she teaches in Japan. She also played a little piano. I grew up studying music as well as visual arts privately-- drawing, painting, and ceramics.

Life at home was fairly typical in a "Third Culture Kid" sense. I grew up in the U.S. adopting American pop culture, but also held onto my Japanese culture in the form of language, cuisine, and some pop culture-- manga and anime when I could get it, and a bunch of Japanese toys (Ultraman, Masked Rider, and tons of predecessors to the Transformers). I spoke a combination of English and Japanese to my parents and primarily English to my brother. Nowadays, I speak only Japanese to my mother (as she has forgotten a lot of English since my parents moved back), only English with my brother, and a combination with my father.

I actually am a second generation Third Culture Kid, as both my parents were born in China during WWII, and my father grew up not only in Japan, but also Burma (Myanmar) and London, where he was in a boarding school.

I have one brother (3 years older than me) who is now a professor of economics at University of Arizona. I am so proud of him as he has always been the consummate over-achiever and an inspiration to me. He graduated at the top of his class from our high school in Hong Kong, did his undergraduate studies at Yale (entering with enough credits to be a sophomore), his graduate and doctoral studies at Harvard, and became a professor of economics at UCLA at the age of 26. He was also training originally to Juilliard for classical clarinet, rode in the Yale cycling team, and was a triathlete as we both grew up swimming and playing water polo competitively in California and Hong Kong. This spring, he will be doing a residency at Harvard, teaching their economics grad students.

Your family moved to Hong Kong in 1985. What was the reason for the move?

Photo courtesy of Taku Hirano - click for full size Just as my father's company transferred us from Osaka to California, we were sent to Hong Kong. This was from 1985-1989, during my 7th-10th grade years.

My father opened up a base of operations for the textile company he worked for, as Hong Kong is so centrally located in Asia. Oftentimes, he was constantly traveling on business to China, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Russia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Australia. With his company, he was in charge of handling trade throughout the Pacific Rim.

How did you feel about moving overseas at the time?

Junior high is a pivotal time in one's social development. Of course things are always a little more dramatic during one's adolescence, so it was a bit of an adjustment. Within my first year there, though, I made lifelong friends that I still keep in touch with today. In hindsight, I feel so fortunate to have lived in such a true cultural melting pot as Hong Kong. It was a magical place.

You attended the Hong Kong International School for your junior high and part of your high school education. What was it like being a student there?

HKIS was an amazing school. The friends I made and the things I experienced still have an impact on me today. Our school trips and sport competitions were literally in different countries, with us competing against sister international and American schools from Taipei, Tokyo, Seoul, and Bangkok. We also took cultural trips abroad in high school, where students literally got to travel to Nepal, Kashmir, China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Australia.

The things I learned at HKIS still are with me to this day, and many things have only just revealed themselves recently.

How did you handle the language barrier?

Since Hong Kong was still a British colony at the time, I had practically no language barrier. HKIS is run on an American system, so I didn't lose any years or credits when I returned to the States. Actually, the education at the school was so advanced that by the time I moved back to California for 11th and 12th grade, I was able to basically only take music classes at the school of the arts I attended in Fresno, ultimately helping me become the musician I am today.

Around Hong Kong, English was pretty commonplace at the time, although I did get a chance to learn a few phrases in Cantonese to get around. I also studied Mandarin as a foreign language requirement in school.

At Asakusa Temple, Tokyo - Photo courtesy of Taku Hirano - click for full size Did you visit Japan during those years? What were your feelings about going back and forth?

In my four years in Hong Kong, I was really fortunate that I got to travel back to Japan often to see family since the flight was only a few hours. As I mentioned earlier, those adolescent years are so pivotal, so it was very grounding to get to see extended family and visit my home country and really gain a sense of identity and heritage.

How did you first get involved in music?

I first got involved in music at the age of 7 with private piano lessons. I had wanted to learn the drums from around the age of four, and my mother had told me that I had to take at least two years of piano lessons before I could branch out. At the age of 9, in the fifth grade, I started with classical percussion and drumset. I played in the school band and orchestra and took private lessons on marimba, concert percussion (snare drum, timpani, etc.) and jazz drumset.

Did you have any favorite artists when you were young?

I really took a liking to Phil Collins. Seeing him on MTV singing and playing the drums with Genesis really blew me away. Now as a studied musician, I respect him even more seeing just how great his songwriting is and how it has stood the test of time.

Other than that, I listened to pretty much everything, from Classical music and jazz to rock/pop. In my later years in high school, I listened to lots of jazz, Latin-jazz, and salsa as I was really getting into studying Afro-Cuban percussion.

What was it about percussion instruments that appealed to you so much?

There is something very primal about percussion that strikes you at the gut level. I like to say that percussion is the second instrument on earth (second to the voice). It literally started with someone clapping their hands or striking two sticks or rocks together. I think that this is why I am so drawn to hand percussion in particular.

The thought of playing an instrument with my bare hands and hitting a drum, skin-on-skin, is very organic. I have played everything from concert timpani to xylophones, but I get a different sort of satisfaction from playing Indian tabla, Afro-Cuban congas, African djembes, or a Middle Eastern tar. You don't have to plug the instrument in, or set it up. You just sit down or pick it up and play.

Tell us about your involvement with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.

When I moved to Hong Kong I ended up studying with the Principal Percussionist of the Hong Kong Philharmonic, and later with the Principal Timpanist. My training during those years was in preparation to apply to Juilliard as a classical percussionist. During that time I also played drumset and listened to everything from pop to punk.

During this period, I really experienced what it was like to devote time to practice. Up until then, things seemed to come fairly naturally for me. I could get away with practicing a minimal amount of time and still be ahead of my musical peers. In Hong Kong I really didn't have any peers, so it was just myself, with a conservatory-trained, highly skilled world-class percussionist with high expectations at my weekly lessons. I learned that with focus and practice, I could progress by leaps and bounds.

Your next big move happened in 1989 when you moved back to the US and attended Roosevelt High in Fresno, CA. Was this as big a transition for you as moving to Hong Kong?

Photo courtesy of Taku Hirano - click for full size Since I had been in Fresno from pre-school through sixth grade, and visited almost every summer I was living in Hong Kong, I assumed that I would make an easy transition back to central Californian suburban life since I had only been away for four years. That couldn't be further from the truth. I had such a huge culture shock coming back. I had spent my adolescence going to school with diplomat's kids, being around practically every ethnicity and culture, barhopping and getting tattoos from the ninth grade (since there was practically no drinking age), and being accustomed to bomb threats at our school on a fairly regular basis. Many of my friends had maids and drivers, and we lived a carefree, privileged life.

Moving back actually humbled me and also got me focused on my music, as there was little else to do as I had already completed most of my high school academics and my college partying by the 11th grade. It also exposed me to the other side of the socio-economic spectrum as my school of the arts was considered a "magnet school" and was specifically placed in the 'hood. That high school had an interesting dynamic as artsy kids were brought in from the suburbs to an inner-city school, complete with security guards, metal detectors, and gangs.

What about returning to the US surprised you the most?

Upon returning, what really struck me the most about the U.S. was just how little international news was broadcast and how few issues were discussed in classes and amongst my peers. Subsequently, many of my friends there didn't have the exposure to lots of issues that I was fortunate to have experienced.

As you attended high school what did you do to maintain your musical studies?

My musical studies actually kicked up a few notches at the school of the arts in Fresno. I was enrolled in the school's orchestra, jazz band, jazz combo, salsa band, and studio recording class. In addition to this, I was performing with the Fresno Youth Philharmonic, playing in the pit orchestra of a musical, studying privately (classical percussion, drumset, and Afro-Cuban and Brazilian hand-percussion) and traveling down to Los Angeles to attend percussion seminars and study privately with drumming/studio legend Ndugu Chancler.

You then obtained music degrees from Berklee College Of Music and the California Institute Of The Arts. How did your appreciation for music and for percussion in particular develop during those years?

I initially enrolled at Berklee College of Music as a jazz drumset major. This was because the only official percussion majors they had were classical/concert percussion, and jazz vibraphone. By then, I knew that Classical music wasn't the route I wanted to take, and if it were, I would be enrolled at a conservatory and not at a jazz school. In my second semester, though, master percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo began teaching there. I studied with him privately for four years and devoted all of my elective credits to his classes, group lessons, and ensembles.

I had heard of the legend of Giovanni, and how he had brought the art of conga playing to another level with his amazing dexterity, speed, and groundbreaking technical and musical concepts. Through my private lessons with Giovanni, I was able to break ahead of a lot of my peers by learning special playing techniques and mastering a good deal of speed and dexterity. This truly has formed the player I am today, being able to seamlessly traverse various styles of music with ease and minimal issues from a technical standpoint.

By my junior year, Berklee started up a hand percussion major, so I immediately switched. Since I made the switch so close to graduation, I actually became one of the first Hand Percussion majors to graduate from Berklee.

Also that year, another teacher arrived that had a huge impact on me. This was Jamey Haddad (who currently plays with Paul Simon). Jamey's specialty is Middle Eastern and Indian percussion. Through his classes I learned completely new instruments such as the Indian kanjira and the North African tar, and learned of the intricate rhythmic concepts of Indian classical music.

Between studying with Giovanni and Jamey, as well as taking classes in West African percussion and ethnomusicology, and performing with a Brazilian samba percussion ensemble, I was molding myself into becoming a world-percussionist. This really opened up my appreciation and concepts of all styles of music even more, and allowed me to really connect the dots in terms of similarities between styles and understand many cultural histories.

At CalArts, I enrolled in a graduate program for world music performance. I studied with two West African drum masters from Ghana, as well as North Indian and South Indian percussion with two masters. Unfortunately, I never finished my graduate studies as I began getting calls to go out on tour.

Can you tell us a little about your journey to Cuba to study with Roberto Vizcaino and Jose Luis "Changuito" Quintana?

Photo courtesy of Taku Hirano - click for full size I went to Cuba in 1998 on a break in between tours. Work was a little slow, and I wanted to be proactive. I flew there through a music program that set up classes at the Escuela Nacional de Artes in Havana. I was there for a good month, and studied with Roberto Vizcaino.

Vizcaino is an amazing percussionist, probably best known for his performances with piano virtuosos Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Chucho Valdes. His style incorporated a multi-percussion setup and his specialty was incredible feats of multi-limb independence. He could literally keep a rhythm over four congas with one hand, and simultaneously improvise a timbale solo with the other, all at a breakneck tempo. Through him I was able to expand my concepts of multi-limb and multi-rhythm playing.

While in Havana, I sought out Changuito, a musical legend, master percussionist, and innovator/pioneer for popular Cuban music. I took trips out to his house with an interpreter and studied with him one-on-one over the course of my time in Havana. Many of Giovanni's advanced conga techniques came from his school of playing, so I really got a chance to see and learn things from the source.

You've since had a long career as a percussionist for many of the biggest names in show business. Did you have a moment you consider to be your "big break" into the music industry?

I think that the way my career has been charted can almost be broken into chapters according to genres of music. I first came onto the L.A. scene through the R&B/Hip Hop crowd in 1996. My first gig was with Quincy Jones' protege, Tevin Campbell. This came to me through a recommendation by a friend that I went to Berklee with, Lil' John Roberts, who had gone onto drum behind such artists as Janet Jackson and Jill Scott.

This gig led to other modern R&B artists, such as Brandy and Mary J. Blige, and then eventually into the Hip Hop world with artists like Dr. Dre, and P. Diddy. The live music industry is based much on referrals, so you often get calls from other people you have worked with. It really was just one thing leading to another. I then went onto getting calls from a good amount of "old school" soul artists, including Chaka Khan, The Emotions, Teena Marie, Stevie Wonder, and Isaac Hayes.

The most pivotal gigs for me, which came to me after the "old school" chapter, were Whitney Houston and Lionel Richie. These two gigs helped bridge the R&B/Soul/Hip Hop worlds with pop. I toured with Whitney over much of 1999. Whitney straddled both the Hip Hop and pop worlds, and this ultimately led to me making lots of contacts in the pop touring industry. Right off of that gig, I was called to back up the Backstreet Boys at the Grammy Awards, and then right onto the Lionel Richie tour, with him accompanying Tina Turner around the world. Lionel has a huge pop following in Europe, so I spent a lot of time over there. The artist management, tour management, and production management all worked for other major pop and rock stars including Paul McCartney, Tina Turner, Elton John, Rod Stewart, The Rolling Stones, and the like. From this circle of people I got the call for Stevie Nicks, and ultimately Fleetwood Mac and Bette Midler.

Can you tell us a little about working with Utada Hikaru? What was the feeling like performing with her compared to say Lionel Richie or Fleetwood Mac?

Taku Hirano on stage with Utada Hikaru Hikaru has been great to work with. I have worked with several artists over a span of years (as opposed to a single show, session, or short tour), but given Hikaru's young age, I really have been able to see her growth as an artist in comparison to others. I first performed with her in 2001 for an international version of MTV Unplugged. She was 18 at the time, and already had a good head on her shoulders and direct ideas of what she wanted to do artistically in the show.

At the same time, the crowd seemed very sterile and subject to a controlled environment, so it was a little different. It was like being under a microscope being in that room where a small crowd of her die-hard fans seemed to study her every move. You could hear a pin drop other than the controlled and respectful applause at the end of each song.

She had the flu and muscled her way through the show, which really showed me her work ethic. I was struck at how professional she was, as well as respectful of the musicians' time when it came to rehearsals.

I then worked with her in 2004 to record a DVD, shot over five nights at the Budokan. This was the first time I saw her really command a live crowd. She did a great job, and it was really interesting just how many people were involved to make the live show work. I have been on tours where we traveled with 80 people in the crew, but this was for a stadium/arena tour where we set up and broke down in at least four cities a week. The sheer manpower to stay on such a schedule is necessary to pull it off. With Hikaru's show at the Budokan, the amount of preparation and people involved was at that level, although we were performing in one place for just a week.

The last time I worked with Hikaru was in 2006, for her Utada United 2006 Japan Tour. Though it had only been two years, in that time she became a married woman and made the transition from child pop star to a bona fide pop icon in Japan. We rehearsed for a solid month in Tokyo before heading out on tour playing all over Japan. Again, I was struck by her professionalism, work ethic, and artistic ideas.

I also really felt a kinship to her more so than any other artist I worked for since we had fairly similar backgrounds. She grew up in the U.S., then moved overseas to Japan in junior high, attending ASIJ (American School in Japan), a sister school to HKIS. Being the youngest member of her band each time I have worked with her, I am also usually the closest to her in age.

Can you tell us about performing with Barry Manilow?

I worked with Barry Manilow through a recommendation from a good friend who I went to Berklee with. He plays bass for him, and they needed someone based on the West Coast to perform on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson with him at the last minute since their percussionist is based in New York.

I learned the two songs we performed at the soundcheck and then Barry whisked in for a quick rehearsal. Fairly soon after, we performed the songs live-to-tape. Apparently the performance went well as afterwards I was offered the gig with him in Las Vegas. Unbeknownst to him, I was already contracted to play with Bette Midler in Las Vegas. Manilow used to actually be Bette's pianist/musical director back in the day before he went solo. I am under the impression that they have a friendly competition with each other, so he actually took it a little hard that I was playing for her.

From what I have seen, Barry is a great guy and really good to the people who work for him.

When you think of all the people you've worked with, who brings the biggest smile to your face and why?

With Mick Fleetwood - Photo courtesy of Taku Hirano - click for full size I would have to say some of the best times I have had onstage have been with Mick Fleetwood. I will never forget him looking over his shoulder at me several times a night with a look of bewilderment and fun, almost like a mad scientist. For someone to have that much fun and love for his craft even after decades of shows really made me realize that he really never lost touch with why he got into music. Regardless of playing in clubs or arenas, he seems so at home behind the drums.

Another period of fond memories is during my stint with Lionel Richie. Through him I really learned about stage presence and performing for an audience. Until then, it was fairly cerebral, just making sure I played the correct parts. He really brought me out of my shell and had me come to the front of the stage with just a tambourine so that I could run around and have fun with him and the guitarist, sax player, and bassist. I really learned about having fun onstage, the infectious nature of music, and connecting with the audience.

Of all the big names you've worked with which do you think had the "heart of a drummer" that could have played percussion themselves?

Well, that would have to be Mick Fleetwood since he IS a drummer! We had a chance to really bond over those 18 months on the road with Fleetwood Mac. It was a highlight for me to get to do a drum/percussion duet with him each night!

You are a big fan of Bruce Lee and Jeet Kune Do. Do you practice his martial art style or are you more interested in his philosophy?

Unfortunately my schedule doesn't allow me to practice on a regular basis as I am constantly traveling, and I live between three cities at the moment. Las Vegas when I am working with Bette Midler, and in between Los Angeles where my home is, and San Diego, where my wife recently took a job as a news anchor.

I was practicing Jeet Kune Do in Los Angeles, as well as Krav Maga (Israeli hand to hand combat). I grew up practicing Kendo, and studied Kung Fu, Tai Chi, and Aikido in my college years. I also had some one-on-one training in Western boxing, tai chi, and kickboxing in recent years as well.

Bruce Lee's philosophies and the basis of Jeet Kune Do being a modern approach to martial arts (as opposed to an actual style), in which aspects of various styles from around the world are used, really resonated with my own practice in percussion. Just as how Bruce Lee saw those practicing a single, specific style and technique to be rigid in approach, I often find myself using various techniques from one style of music and applying them to another. I think that this makes me much more fluid in both my approach and my playing.

As someone with a Japanese background who lived in Hong Kong, was it odd for you to watch his earlier movies with the racial tensions portrayed between the Japanese and Chinese characters?

With Tokyo Hiro - Photo courtesy of Taku Hirano - click for full size Being a Third Culture Kid, I find myself a little detached from any one culture, so the short answer is no. In Japan, I am often assumed to be an American of Japanese heritage. Few people realize that I am a Japanese national with a green card in the States. The same applied to Hong Kong. I went to school with so many international expats that we all lived in somewhat of a bubble in Hong Kong. I was fully aware of the racial tensions that still existed between the older Chinese people towards Japanese, but I was pretty much considered a Westerner when I lived there as well.

Can you elaborate on his quote, "It is not, 'I am doing this,' but rather, an inner realization that 'this is happening through me...'" How does it relate to playing music for you?

I really feel that I am in many ways a vessel and that my talents and artistic expression come through me from somewhere else. I'm not sure if they are coming through me from my ancestors, or the ancestors of the various musical styles I practiced, or some greater being. Many times, when I'm in my "zone," things just flow. I see my job as making sure that my body is in shape, my technique is up to par, that I'm warmed up, and that my mind is open. When all of those things happen, things just flow through me.

John Coltrane used to practice scales and technical exercises in between sets on stage. He didn't do this so that he could play tons of scales during his solos. Instead, it was to keep musically "limber" so that anything could flow through him. The same was true for Bruce Lee. He studied many styles and techniques, including Western boxing and fencing footwork, and kept himself in extremely great physical shape. If faced with an opponent, he could counterattack in any way as he had such a large fighting vocabulary, and could be completely reactionary as opposed to adhering to some predetermined choreography.

Do you see it relating to Zen philosophy?

I definitely see it relating to Zen philosophy in many ways. A few years ago, I was contacted to write some music using the chants of the Shaolin Monks. The Shaolin temple was the birthplace of Ch'an Buddhism, which migrated through to Japan and eventually became Zen. It was definitely a thrill to spend some time with a coalition of Shaolin Monks, who were on an extended visit to a temple in Sacramento, California.

I was so inspired by seeing their strict practice regimen. The idea of adhering to a strict discipline of self-consciousness and inwardness definitely is at the root of my approach to my practice.

On a more material note, do you collect drums and other percussion instruments? Do you have any special ones that you cherish?

I have a multitude of instruments in my collection. A large amount of these instruments were acquired through endorsements by companies who sponsor me on tours. I have also been blessed, though, to have traveled extensively, and have made an effort to collect instruments throughout my travels.

One instrument that is dear to me is a fairly small mokugyo, a Japanese temple block. I found it in Tokyo at a flea market. Unlike commercially made ones, this piece likely lived in a Buddhist temple for at least a century or two before being discarded. For its lacquer to have been worn off, and its body to have been filled with cobwebs, this instrument was used for countless ceremonies and lived through many eras. I see it as an embodiment of my heritage and ancestry.

Tell us about the percussion clinics you teach.

I travel around the country and try to give that opportunity to up-and-coming percussionists since I realize what I do is so unique. Oftentimes, the setting is at a college or university where I work with the percussion students, but occasionally my clinics are held at percussion symposiums.

I often tailor my clinics to the audience at hand. If I am addressing a younger group of students who have little experience with the various hand percussion instruments I play, the lessons can be rudimentary, talking about the history of the instruments and showing the various traditional techniques used to play them. If I am teaching a group of students that already have a solid foundation in a particular playing style, then I will branch out and show them other approaches to playing the instruments and talk about how I incorporate various traditional world instruments into the various commercial genres of music that I play when touring and recording.

How different a person do you think you might have been if your family had never left Japan? Would you still have made percussion your life's work?

I think that I would have been a completely different person altogether. That being said, I really believe in fate and that my path, although not charted down to specifics, was to have gone the way it has. It's almost like being asked what would it be like to have had a different mother. It would be a different reality, in which one would look different, speak differently, and learn different lessons in life.

If I were to have stayed in Japan, I would possibly not be a musician. My personality type is very detail-oriented and meticulous. That has served me well in the music world as I took my studies and practice very seriously. In an environment like Japan, where a formal music education may not be have been as readily available as it was in the States, that energy could possibly have been channeled in a completely different direction.

Other than music, what types of things do you do to have fun and relax?

I find myself traveling so much that I think just spending quiet time is my favorite way to relax. That could be while traveling or on tour, or off the road, just hanging with my wife. A perfect day off on tour involves me just venturing out by myself around a city, and possibly finding a good bookstore and reading some music magazines while drinking a coffee.

I do love to travel, and oftentimes I find myself returning to cities on every tour. I like to find good places to eat or hang out so that the next time I return, I can just head right out the door of the hotel and know where I'm going.

What are your plans for 2009?

With Bette Midler - Photo courtesy of Taku Hirano - click for full size At this point, I plan on continuing to work with Bette Midler in her Las Vegas show, The Showgirl Must Go On. Beyond that, I have several percussion clinics around the country that I will perform at, and will also continue to work in the studio both as a session musician as well as a producer.

On the production end, my production team, Tao Of Sound, has been busy doing remixes and projects. Recent endeavors have been remixes for The Ahn Trio (Sony BMG Masterworks), Kitaro (Domo Records), the U.S. television show Rockstar Supernova runner-up, Dilana, and Kanye West. We are also working on an electronica project with an animated alter-ego to myself, DJ 8CTOPUS.

Do you have anything else you want to bring up or comment on?

Keep an eye out for the DJ 8CTOPUS project!

Let's end with the most important question of all. What does percussion mean to you?

As I said before, percussion has its roots at a very primal source. It impacts people on a deep, gut level. I feel that it really connects me to a certain place where my heritage and other peoples' heritage meet. Just as how people say music forms bridges between cultures, percussion is at the heartbeat of that connection.

As percussionists, our rhythms and pulse have marked the beginnings and ending of passages in life, made people dance and laugh, and formed the backbone to both sacred and secular ceremonies and rites of passage. I don't hold what I do on a pedestal, as there are many very important vocations that are instrumental in everyday life. But it does provide me with a voice that I would not otherwise have, and for that I am grateful. I am also grateful that I am able to touch people, inspire people, and make people happy with something that has brought me so much happiness for a majority of my life.


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