STI 2016 Interview: Kenny Endo

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Photo credit: Shuzo Uemoto

Kenny Endo is well-known throughout the worldwide taiko community as a powerful performer, technical innovator, and masterful teacher. Now in his 40th consecutive year of playing taiko, Kenny-sensei refuses to rest on his laurels, instead meeting the ever-growing demand of his fans, supporters, and students with a series of commemorative performances.

Before leaving for another set of concerts on the Mainland, Kenny Sensei took some time to discuss the upcoming workshop on Edo Bayashi that he will be teaching in July’s “Summer Taiko Intensive”.

Mika Yamazaki (TCP Performing Ensemble Member)



Mika: Could you start by explaining what Edo Bayashi is?

Kenny: Edo Bayashi is Tokyo festival music. It comes from the Edo period, which is a period when Japan was in isolation and lasted from the 1600’s until 1868. During this period, a lot of things that were uniquely Japanese were able to thrive without outside influences. Festival music in Japan is regional, and the Tokyo festival music is known to be very lively.
M: How were you first exposed to Edo Bayashi?

K: I met [Kyosuke] Suzuki-san in the Sukeroku Daiko keiko-ba (practice hall). We both were practicing, and I had bought this tape of some festival music. It was actually of a different group, but he started to tell me about the Wakayama Shachu. Anyway, that was right after I went to Tokyo, but I saw the Wakayama Shachu in performance doing Edo Bayashi, and I was just totally impressed. Later, my teacher Saburo Sensei introduced me to Maru Sensei. Maru Sensei was considered Wakayama Sensei’s right hand man or his top deshi. I started studying with Maru Sensei in 1982 and continued to study with him the whole time I was in Japan.
M: What first interested you in this type of music?

K: One of the things that first impressed me was the hitting technique of the shime. It’s a very strong snap of the wrist. That actually has influenced a lot of my playing of not only the shime daiko, but also the chu and odaiko.  Also, there’s a word in Japanese, called nori, which is the groove. It has really amazing groove that’s very different from Western music. It just 5 people playing totally together. It really has this element of swing or really playing in the pocket that’s really great. That happens in hogaku as well.

M: Are there opportunities to see this type of music being performed outside of Japan?

K: [Other than the Kenny Endo Taiko Ensemble,] there aren’t any other groups that really play this type of music here in Hawaii. There are some groups on the Mainland, like Jun Daiko, Seattle Kokon Taiko, Mu Daiko in Minneapolis, Soh Daiko in New York, and a group in Winnipeg, Fubuki daiko, that also do the lion dance. There was a professor at the University of Michigan named William Malm. He was in his time the foremost academic expert on Japanese music. He wrote a book called, Japanese Music, and it became a standard book in English on Japanese music. He studied with Wakayama Sensei too. There was a certain point where he had an Edo Bayashi group at the University of Michigan, but as far as I know, they’re not active. At UH Hilo, there was Durham Sensei, and he studied Kanda Bayashi, which is kind of a cousin to Edo Bayashi. Now Eien [Hunter-Ishikawa] is really into it, and Yuta Kato at LATI knows this type of music and has been trying to bring Suzuki Sensei over. I’m glad that a lot of people are trying to do that.

M: What do you hope students will get out of the STI class?

K: For my STI class, they are going to learn some Edo Bayashi patterns, but I’m actually going to concentrate on hitting technique and how to apply that shime daiko technique to playing the chu daiko or odaiko. Basically it’s not so much muscle power, but that inner core and using the strong snap of the wrist to get a really good sound. As much as [it is about] Edo Bayashi, it’s really going to be a workshop on how to get a good sound.