Asian Fusion

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The peaceful countryside of California’s Sierra foothills couldn’t be further from the bustling, electric cacophony of Tokyo, yet these are the two places jazz harpist Motoshi Kosako calls home. Motoshi grew up in Tokyo, one of the world’s most densely populated cities. Yet he always dreamed of living some place simpler. So in the late ‘90s he moved across the ocean, though it might as well have been a world away, to the serene Sierra foothills a couple hours outside of Sacramento. Chirping birds replaced blaring car horns as the loudest sound in Motoshi’s landscape.

Motoshi left behind a clearly-defined career path in public health in Japan for a rather uncertain future in music in the United States. But 15 years after jumping head-first into music, Motoshi’s love of jazz and desire to create have made him a sought-after performer. He is spending his summer performing at the American Harp Society conference in New Orleans and the World Harp Congress in Sydney.

We caught up with Motoshi back home in California where you are as likely to find him caring for his animals, working in his garden, or practicing Judo as you are to find him sitting behind a harp. A lot of us talk about finding balance in our lives. Motoshi is living it. And if his authentic and easy-going nature are any indication, the balance he has found for himself is working out pretty well.

Harp Column: I want to introduce you to Harp Column readers who might not know you. I know harp isn’t your first instrument. You played piano and guitar beforehand. Is that correct?

Motoshi Kosako: Yes.

HC: So how did you get started with harp? What drew you to the instrument?

MK: When I was three, my mother wanted me to learn piano because she thought it was good for my education. I was kind of an active boy. [Laughs] I liked playing ball inside. I went to lessons for about nine years, and I never liked it because our piano was like a little mechanical device. It’s kind of a magic box; you don’t know what is going on inside. So for me it wasn’t really interesting. When I was in the fourth grade, I started playing trumpet in a school band. The trumpet is much more interesting for me because you really make sound with your body, and whatever you do directly affects the sound. Later my older brother started playing the guitar. The guitar was kind of a cool rock ‘n’ roll instrument. So when I was 13, I quit playing piano, and I got a guitar. I really enjoyed guitar. I played blues, rock, and I was really interested in improvisation. When I went to the university, I moved to Tokyo. And I started playing jazz with the university students. In Japan we don’t have an official jazz conservatory, so we were studying something different, but after school and on weekends, we got together to play and study jazz. I was in public health, but we were playing jazz too. I wanted to become a jazz guitarist, you know there are tens of thousands of jazz guitarists. And what I felt was, I am imitating somebody all the time—as a jazz musician, as an improviser, as a composer—like Pat Metheny, like Ralph Towner, great musicians. I could imitate those people very well, but I never felt a direct connection to the music. So my relationship with music was always indirect. I always had a third person in between.

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