Jazz pianist Keiko Matsui celebrates 25 years at upcoming S&R Foundation gala.

By Anne Kim-Dannibale

Keiko Matsui brings her international jazz sound to Bethesda for S&R Foundation’s Spring Gala. (Photo courtesy Jane Higgins)

Renowned jazz pianist Keiko Matsui has been enthralling audiences all over the world since she recorded her first album, “A Drop of Water,” with the band Cosmos in 1987. Since then, the Japan-born musician has amassed a prodigious discography, with more than 20 albums released over the course of her recording career and a busy tour schedule that has taken her around the world.

Currently on tour to promote her latest album, Matsui comes to the Washington area in early April to perform a sold-out salon-style show at S&R Foundation’s Evermay Estate on April 4, and as the headlining act at the foundation’s Spring Gala April 6. She took time out of her schedule to talk about her career, her upcoming show and her favorite foods.

What can fans expect from your upcoming Bethesda show?

I am celebrating my 25th anniversary concert during this tour. My fans will hear favorite songs that I have recorded over the years.

Your music has always been marked with an international flavor, whether in the sounds or in the musicians you work with. How did you come to establish this style for yourself?

To me, music has no borders. Music can create a connection that goes beyond differences in culture, religion and nationality. The experiences I have had in different countries have greatly influenced the international flavor of my music. I work with some of the best musicians from all over the world and have incorporated the sounds of their heritage into my recordings.

How has your musical style evolved over the years?

My musical compositions have covered different elements including jazz, classical, rock, world music, pop, and new age. Recently, I have been on the road more and more, performing in different parts of the world. From these experiences, in my latest album you’ll hear more energy, passion and spirituality.

Where do you find inspiration for your music?

I find inspiration for my music from many different places. It can come from my fans, the environment, world issues and the beauty of nature.

How has jazz as a genre changed, and where do you think its future lies?

Jazz music has become a smaller genre through the years, but I am happy to see many young people at my shows. I think this is a very encouraging sign for the future of jazz.

Which musician would you love to work with and why?

I would love to work with Sting and Yo Yo Ma, who are my favorite artists.

What is your favorite piece of music to play?

My favorite piece to play is one of my own compositions, “Deep Blue.”

You have been active with many important causes, including breast cancer and hunger. What is your connection to these issues? Why are they important to you?

I feel so fortunate to have good health and the ability to share my music with fans by traveling to many countries. I am always happy to be associated with good causes, like the Daniel Pearl Foundation, which uses music to promote cross-cultural understanding. It is very important to me that I am able to give back, in my own way, to worthwhile causes.

Tell us something most people don’t know about you.

I love to eat, especially seafood! Performing around the world has allowed me to experience world-class seafood, from shrimp in South Africa to huge Kamchatka crab in Sakhalin, Russia.  During my frequent tours in Eastern Europe, I’ve also enjoyed their vodka, especially in the freezing cold weather.

What motto do you live by?

The road is the journey of the soul. Dedicating my music with soul is my mission in this life.

You’ve been recording and touring since the late 1980s. What musical frontiers have you yet to accomplish? What’s your next project?

I would love to compose more for movies and perform more with orchestras. The United States Air Force Orchestra invited me to participate in a guest artist series at Constitution Hall and they’ve since created numerous scores with my compositions. I have also performed with orchestras in Los Angeles and Kiev, Ukraine. I’d like to increase my repertoire and complete an orchestral world tour.

I am very excited about my next project, working with Narada Michael Walden, Marcus Miller, Kirk Whalum and Chuck Loeb. I have also been invited to play at this year’s International Jazz Day in Istanbul on April 30.

Keiko Matsui headlines S&R Foundation’s Spring Gala, Saturday, April 6 at Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club, 7719 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, MD 20814. 240-330-4500. Tickets $80-$1,000, available here. More information available here. For sponsorship opportunities, contact Kate Goodall, k.goodall@sandr.org.

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