ESSENCE: Traditional Japanese Folk Jazz
"A synthesis of traditional Japanese music and contemporary improvisation, Essence carries the listener on a musical journey into the past, through the present, and to the infinite future."
History and Background
One of the members of Essence, a shakuhachi player, Masayuki Koga studied the flute extensively in his native Japan, working with master teachers including Master Kazan Sakai of the Tozan School and the Kinko Master, his father, Kiichi Koga. From 1967 through 1970, Masayuki was the youngest member of the esteemed Ensemble Nipponia, a 20 member orchestra established to promote the works of contemporary composers. In 1972, he was invited to perform in the United States, where he found genuine interest in the shakuhachi and Japanese music. He moved to the U.S. the following year, living and teaching in San Francisco.
In 1981, Masayuki founded the Japanese Music Institute of America (JMI) to introduce the highesty quality of Japanese classical music to the U.S. Since then, JMI has fostered the appreciation and study of traditional Japanese music. Quality music education programs in shakuhachi, koto and traditional Japanese ensemble training comprise the core of JMI's offerings. Masayuki is the director and head teacher of shakuhachi. The shakuhachi is primarily a solo instrument with incredible microtonal possibilities, but is also an ensemble instrument, often played together with other instruments.
Since 1987, Michiyo Koga, a master koto player, has been artistic partner of Masayuki. Michiyo has been playing koto since childhood and first performed in Tokyo at the age of 3. She has also received formal instructions in piano since she was 5, as well as voice since the age of 15. She received her Ikuta Koto Teacher's License in 1970, and graduated from NHK Japanese Ensemble Course in 1977. In 1978, she received her Master's Degree in Music from Senzoku Gakuen University of Music in Tokyo. One of her career highlights was accompanying Isaac Stern while he was recording in Japan. Michiyo is Artistic Director and principal koto instructor for JMI.
Synthesizing traditional Japanese drumming, world rhythms and improvisation, international taiko artist Kenny Endo is a leading force in contemporary taiko performance in the U.S. He holds the distinction of being the first non-Japanese national to receive a Stage Name (Mochizuki Tajiro) and Master's License in classical Japanese drumming. He has traveled to Russia, Egypt, Canada, Europe and throughout Japan and the U.S. performing his original compositions.
A unique combination of taiko and shakuhachi instruments was performed between Kenny Endo and Masayuki Koga at the Zellaback Hall in Berkeley, California in 1995. The collaboration project of two players of Masayui and Kenny, was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation in 1998. In the same year Michiyo, koto player, joined and they named the group "Essence." In 2002, Essence has invited Taiko master, Jimi Nakagawa.
Michiyo and Masayuki, had a life as a soloist, added to their 18 years of performing together, 8 years with Kenny Endo, and 3 year with Jimi Nakagawa giving them a rare and rich harmony and dynamic rhythm.