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Kazumi Watanabe

Kazumi Watanabe lives up to his name as the Japan’s world-class, top jazz guitarist. His quick tempo weaves fascinating ad libs and affluent melodies; he has been noted for elaborately combining various performing techniques and infusing rich expressive power to each and every note to create a one-of-a-kind “Kazumi Sound”. He has made the world his stage for over 40 years, transgressing genres and borders to perform with an outstanding number of domestic and international artists. The natural-born improviser also builds a unique world of composition and arrangements, always pioneering frontier instrumental music.

Born 1953 in Tokyo, Kazumi Watanabe took the piano at the tender age of seven, but picked up the guitar at age 12 inspired by the Ventures. At 15, he was stunned by the music of Wes Montgomery and turned his aspiration to jazz. He made his debut at age 17 with Infinite and was quickly hailed as the guitar prodigy extraordinaire. While playing in Japan’s top-profile groups led by artists such as Masaru Imada, Sadao Watanabe, and Isao Suzuki, he led his own band as well. From around Olive Steps (1977), he rode the wave of popularity of fusion and guitar music, taking in not only jazz fans but also rock fans under his wings. In 1979 he formed KYLYN with then-up-and-coming stars in the Japanese music scene, namely Ryuichi Sakamoto, Akiko Yano, and Shuichi “Ponta” Murakami, and went on to release an album, perform live, and tour. KYLYN earned the recognition as the legendary band that had made a tremendous influence on the Japanese music scene thereafter, with each member still playing pivotal roles in respective scenes. In the fall of that year (1979) Kazumi participated in Yellow Magic Orchestra’s world tour as guest guitarist. His play won rave reviews in everywhere he went, which catapulted his name to international fame.

TO CHI KA (1980), produced by Mike Mainieri, marked an unprecedented sales figure and brought Kazumi to the forefront of the fusion scene. The release was followed by an 11-city tour with Mainieri on vibraphone, Warren Bernhardt on piano and keyboards, Marcus Miller on bass and Omar Hakim on drums. Then up to 1985, he made more epoch-making steps than you could count, such as playing alongside Eddie Gomez and Steve Gadd in the Japan tour of STEPS, a group of cream of the New York-based musicians, as well as the Brecker Brothers Band’s performances at New York’s Seventh Avenue South and their Japan tour, and bassist Jaco Pastorius’ Japan tour to name a few.

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