KENNY ENDO is one of the leading artists in contemporary percussion and rhythm. He is the vanguard of the taiko genre, continuing to pave new paths in this Japanese style drumming even after thirty-five years as a career taiko player. A performer, composer, and teacher of taiko with numerous awards and accolades, Kenny Endo is a consummate artist, blending Japanese taiko with rhythms influenced from around the world into original melodies and improvisation.
Originally trained as a jazz musician in the Asian American cultural renaissance of 1970s California, Endo began his taiko career first with L.A.’s groundbreaking Kinnara Taiko, and then with the renowned San Francisco Taiko Dojo, the first kumi daiko group outside of Japan. In 1980, he embarked on a decade-long odyssey in his ancestral Japan, studying and performing with the masters of ancient classical drumming, traditional Tokyo festival music, and ensemble drumming. Endo has the honor of being the first non-Japanese national to have received a natori (stage name and masters degree) in hogaku hayashi (classical drumming). In the hogaku world, Endo is known as Mochizuki Tajiro.
In the greater musical world, “Kenny Endo” has become synonymous with “taiko.” He is arguably one of the most versatile musicians in the genre, crossing easily between the classical Japanese style and his own neo-classical, globally-inspired variety. Among his many distinctions are an M.A. in Ethnomusicology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, an artist residency at the Lincoln Center Institute in New York, his own “Kenny Endo Day” proclaimed by the Mayor of Honolulu, and certificates of honor from the House and Senate of the State of Hawaii and Honolulu City Council.
Endo has recorded six CDs of original taiko compositions, and was a featured artist on the PBS special “Spirit of Taiko.” He has performed for musicians Michael Jackson and Prince as well as Princess Diana and Prince Charles. He opened for The Who, performed a duet with singer Bobby McFerrin, and is featured on the soundtracks for Kayo Hatta’s film “Picture Bride” and Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.” He also recorded in motion capture suit for James Cameron’s “Avatar.” Endo’s taiko skills have taken him to the Microsoft Global Meeting in Atlanta, the Smithsonian, the National Museum of American History, the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., the Theatre de Champs-Elysee in Paris, the Kabukiza and National Theater in Japan, He has performed with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, the Honolulu Symphony, and the Tokyo Symphony, traveling across Asia, Africa, Europe, Oceania, the former Soviet Union, Australia, and the Americas in his effort to share taiko with the world.
Endo has received commissions to create and tour new work from the American Composers Forum, the McKnight Foundation, Continental Harmony, The Children’s Theater Company, the Rockefeller Foundation (MAPP), the Japan Foundation, the Freeman Foundation, Hawai`i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, Stanford Lively Arts, and the Honolulu Mayor’s Office of Culture and the Arts.
For the 2013-2014 season, Endo joins forces with front-ranking tabla player Abhijit Banerjee, and five-time Grammy nominee John Santos for “Uncommon Time: the Taiko, Tabla, and Timbales” project; as well as the “Island Breeze” trio featuring Endo, Jeff Peterson (Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar) and Riley Lee (shakuhachi). In June, he performed to critical acclaim with Tsugaru shamisen artist Hiromitsu Agatsuma in New York and performed Japan Foundation sponsored goodwill concerts and workshops in Costa Rica and the Bahamas. In August, Endo collaborates with professional kabuki musician Saburo Mochizuki and Tokyo taiko soloist Yuu Ishizuka in Honolulu’s “Classical and Contemporary Taiko Drumming” concert. Endo will be a featured artist in the prestigious “Nihon no Taiko” concert in Tokyo in September. Comfortable collaborating with artists of all genre, Endo continues to tread new ground for this ancient instrument, inspiring all with his creativity, technique, and infectious groove.
Kenny’s taiko are provided courtesy of Miyamoto Unosuke Company.
Japanese Interview with Kenny Endo:
The Windhook Interview with Kenny Endo:
Click here for bios of other artists Kenny Endo performs with.