KAORU WATANABE, a former member of the Japanese taiko ensemble Kodo, is a practitioner of various Japanese transverse bamboo flutes, the taiko drum as well as Western flute. His music can be best described as an ever shifting blend of the folk and classical traditions of Japan with contemporary improvisational and experimental music.
Kaoru was born in St. Louis, MO to symphony musician parents. In 1997, after graduating from the Manhattan School of Music with a BFA in jazz flute and saxophone performance and performing with New York’s Soh Daiko, Kaoru moved to Japan and joined the internationally renowned taiko drum ensemble Kodo. Based in Sado Island in the Niigata prefecture, Kaoru toured across the globe with Kodo, performing the taiko, traditional Japanese folk dance and song, and especially the various fue (bamboo flute) such as the noh kan, ryuteki and shinobue. From 2005 to 2007, Kaoru served as one of Kodo’s artistic directors, focussing on their world music festival Earth Celebration. During this festival, he directed shows that combined music, dance, and visual arts and that featured such luminaries as Zakir Hussain, Giovanni Hildalgo, Carlos Nunez, jazz pianist Yosuke Yamashita and casts comprised of West African stilt dancers, tap and contemporary dancers, traditional Japanese folk dance, live calligraphy, break dance, capoeira and of course the taiko. Also during and since his time with Kodo, Kaoru worked closely with legendary Kabuki actor Bando Tamasaburo, an experience that had a profound effect on his artistic growth.
In late 2006 Kaoru left Kodo and returned to NY to teach and continue performing fue, western flute and taiko in a variety of musical and artistic settings. Recent projects have taken him across the US, Canada, Japan, Mongolia, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Trinidad and Honduras.
Kaoru continues to work in settings that are considered more conventional, (ie taiko and koto and other Japanese instruments) but continues to perform in ensembles that feature such instruments as the hurdy-gurdy, tabla, ngoni, dance, spoken word, electronics, voice, harp and other instruments of varying degrees of eclecticism.