KENNY ENDO is at the vanguard of the taiko genre, continually paving new paths for this Japanese style of drumming. 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, then with the renowned San Francisco Taiko Dojo, the first kumi daiko (ensemble drumming) group outside of Japan. In 1980, he embarked on a decade-long odyssey in his ancestral Japan, studying and performing with the masters of 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 license) 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-traditional, 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 Hawaii State House of Representatives, State Senate, and the Honolulu City Council.
Endo has performed to critical acclaim with Tsugaru shamisen artist Hiromitsu Agatsuma in New York and Honolulu, and served as an ambassador of Japanese culture and the arts via Japan Foundation sponsored goodwill concerts and workshops in Costa Rica, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Belize, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. He also collaborated with professional Kabuki musician Saburo Mochizuki and Tokyo taiko soloist Yuu Ishizuka in Honolulu’s “Classical and Contemporary Taiko Drumming” concert. Endo was a featured artist in Japan’s “Nihon no Taiko” concert in Tokyo, the first time foreigners ever headlined the prestigious concert. 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.
Endo has recorded numerous CDs of original taiko compositions, and was a featured artist on the PBS special “Spirit of Taiko.” He has performed for musicians Michael Jackson, Prince, as well as Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana. 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,” Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now,” recorded in motion capture suit for James Cameron’s “Avatar,” as well as numerous TV commercials. 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 Lincoln Center in NYC, the Theatre de Champs-Elysee in Paris, the Kabukiza, and the Japan National Theater. He has performed as a soloist with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, the Honolulu Symphony, the Stanford Symphony, the Tokyo Symphony, and the Brazilian Orquestra Experimental. He has traveled 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.
“Island Breeze,” a trio featuring Endo, Grammy award winning Jeff Peterson (Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar) and Riley Lee (shakuhachi) was nominated for Na Hoku Hanohano awards (Hawaii’s version of the Grammys) for “Album of the Year” and “Na Pali” for “Instrumental Song of the Year” in 2015. Endo joined forces with front-ranking tabla player Abhijit Banerjee, and five-time Grammy nominee John Santos in recording “Uncommon Time: Taiko, Tabla, and Timbales,” a CD released in 2016.
Kenny Endo is honored to perform on taiko, provided courtesy of Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten.