Tales Episode 06: Kengo Nakamura

In October I had the pleasure to play Billboard Live Tokyo with the Michael Franks band. I was excited to travel to Japan as it had been a while since we had played there. This leg of the tour, we would play in Tokyo for 2 nights and then onto Osaka. It had been at least 10 years since we were in Osaka. I knew that Kengo divided his time between living, performing and teaching in Japan and doing the same thing in the United States. Before I arrived I emailed Kengo to see if he would be in Tokyo and if he would be interested in doing my podcast. To my immense happiness, he agreed and we set the day and time.

Last time I saw Kengo was in NYC at Jazz at Lincoln Center and the time before that was the recording date where he was the featured bassist on Sometimes I Just Forget to Smile, one of the tracks on “The Art of Michael Franks”. Looking back on that day in the studio, I always feel a little bad because the one song that featured his distinctive playing was a fast song. I mean a really faaaaassst song. He was as usual, brilliant and brought something to the tune that made it one of my favorite arrangements on the CD.

We met early in the morning on the first day of the Billboard Live Tokyo gig, 4 hours before sound check. We decided it would be easier if he came to the hotel. We sat and I conducted an interview that awakened in me an understanding that I knew about theoretically, but not as experience. I spent my morning with a dear friend, a kind, generous, humble artist who sees everyone not in terms class, race, nationality, skill level or social status, but instead as unique individuals worthy of respect and compassion.

The lesson: “I feel that each musician that I’ve played with has been an immense blessing and an expansive global opportunity for me to learn more about music, performing it, listening to it, communicating with it. And that it really is a small world, particularly when you enthusiastically give of yourself without expecting anything in return. You find doors you never knew existed, open up and reveal to you all the distinctive cultures, the fascinating and admirable diversity that make up this planet and when you surrender to this knowledge, this feeling really, you find yourself in place that can be called home. This home is the entrance to our humanity.”  Veronica Nunn

“Each man has his own music bubbling up inside him”.
Louis Armstrong

About Kengo Nakamura

Kengo was born in Osaka, Japan. He learned the classical guitar at the early age of twelve. He switched to the electric bass when he became seventeen years old. In 1988, he studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston and he took lessons from Mr. Whit Browne.

The acoustic sounds inspired Kengo then he began taking the acoustic bass seriously at that time. Later, he played at Wally’s Jazz club with young lions including Roy Hargrove, Antonio Hart and Anthony Wonsey. He was awarded the John Neves Memorial scholarship in recognition of outstanding musicianship from Berklee College of Music.

In 1991, Kengo moved to New York City to begin his professional career as a musician. Soon there after, his glowing reputation preceded him and was in great demand from some of New York Jazz music’s leading lights. He performed with Wynton Marsalis, Benny Golson, Mal Waldron, Cyrus Chestnut, Marcus Printup, Sadao Watanabe, Makoto Ozone, and Wess “Warmdaddy” Anderson.

His first performance with Lincoln center Jazz for young people concert series, directed by Wynton Marsalis was in 1996. In 1997, he performed at President summit as a member of Wynton Marsalis Quartet where met and played for then current elect US President Bill Clinton.

Since March 1998 through January of 2000, he had been performing in the Cyrus Chestnut Trio. And also Kengo toured with Wynton Marsalis Septet in 2001 and he performed “Live at the House of Tribes” CD with Wynton Marsalis Quartet.
Kengo recorded his debut album “Divine” was released from Verve in February 2001. Since the release of “Divine”, he has been chosen three years consecutively from the reader’s poll of the SWING Journal magazine as the number one Japanese Jazz bass player. As a composer/arranger, SWING Journal magazines reader’s poll has chosen him in the top ten. He has seven CDs as leader: “Songs In My Life Time” (2012), “Rainbow” (2010), “Generations” (2008), “Re: Standards” (2006), “ROOTS” (2005), “Say Hello To Say Goodbye” (2002), “Divine” (2001)

Taken from Kengo’s bio page on his website www.kengonakamura.com

Tales from the Jazzside