Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Yamazaki, Ken (Atsumi)

Yamazaki, Ken (Atsumi), percussionist, drummer, composer; b. New York, NY, 26 March 1962.  At the age of four Yamazaki studied classical piano with Dr. Takejiro Hirai (Juilliard) until he was eight years old, at which time his father (Atsumi, b.1927) and mother (Yoshiko, b.1929) moved to Yokohama, Japan.  When he was twelve he turned to jazz after hearing John Coltrane. He would soon play the drums.  Initially self-taught he eventually studied jazz drums with Tatsuya Nakamura.  From 1981 to 1982 he also studied classical marimba with virtuoso Shoji Kudo.  In 1982 Yamazaki returned to the United States, this time taking residence in New York Spanish Harlem.  He got the Latin fever, which led him to study congas with Little Ray Romero, alumni of the Machito and Tito Puente bands. Meanwhile, he continued to pursue formal studies of European classical music, from 1983 to 1988 he studied tympani with Morris Lang of the New York Philharmonic and from 1984 to 1985 he studied composition with Charles Jones at the Juilliard School.  In 1988 he also studied composition with electronic music composer and co-founder of the Synclavier sampling keyboard Jon Appleton.  This meeting inspired Yamazaki to compose a piece for mixed electronic medium utilizing computer, sampler, synthesizer, tape and percussion. It is a homage to the two founders of musique concrete Pierre Schaffer and Pierre Henry.  Still exploring world music, in 1989 he studied South Indian rhythms with Lebanese percussionist Jamey Haddad.  From 1994 to 1996 he studied drums with Andrew Cyrille at the New School (NY) and in May 1996 he received his Bachelor's degree from Mannes/New School.

Yamazaki first performed publicly in 1977 with a Japanese fusion group and went on a 1978 tour to Taiwan.  The following year he joined the vibraphonist Minoru Fukurai Quartet in Tokyo and later formed the Kenny Yamazaki Trio with Yoshiyuki Nakamura on guitar.  When Yamazaki returned to New York in 1982 he played drums with Ahmed Abdul-Malik (bass, oud) and performed on marimba with Indian choreographer Uttara Coorlawara.  Around this time he frequently performed contemporary music with people such as Cuban conductor Tania Leon.   1986 would be a turning point for Yamazaki, as he became an Aikido and Zen Buddhism student of Joseph Jarman, founding member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago.  Focused in spiritual training he would create sounds he had heard while growing up in Japan.  By 1992 Jarman began to put together various ensembles that featured musicians such as Leroy Jenkins, Myra Melford, Michele Navazio, Zusaan Kali Fasteau and writer Thulani Davis.  Their work today continues with the Lifetime Visions Orchestra, co-led by pianist Chris Chalfant. 

Yamazaki had also been working heavily with synthesizers and electronics, and in 1989 he joined Digital Cream, an electric jazz group with Stephen Buchanan (guitar, saxophone).  A traditional drum set triggered digital sounds and samples, creating a wall of sound.  His use of sampling and electronics were then integrated, functioning as another percussive voice, within an acoustic jazz group he formed called the Nation (1990), which comprised of saxophonists Byard Lancaster and Elliott Levin. 

In 1991 he became a member of Talking Free Bebop, a jazz and poetry group started by Gloria Tropp (vocals, poetry) and late husband Steven Tropp (drums, poetry).  In 1994 Yamazaki formed a new group Zero Hour, writing original compositions called Modern Sound Structures.  The group featured David Gilmore (guitar), Kevin Bruce Harris (bass) and later Toshi Nakamura (guitar) and Keith Macksoud (bass).  Yamazaki currently plays an extended trap set with Asian percussion, congas, frame drums, tympani and/or mallet percussion. He has recently performed with:  Makanda Ken McIntyre, Wilber Morris, Chris Chalfant, Eve Zanni, Ellen Christi, Shoko Amano, Haco, Elliot Sharpe, Jason Hwang, and Mexican composer and violinist Carlo Nicolau.

Performances at international festivals (Philly International Jazz, Nancy Pulsations Jazz, Ocho Rios Jazz, JVC Jazz, Kleinert Arts, Prague, Vision, Jump), institutions (Lincoln Center, Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Natural History, Painted Bride, AACM, Brooklyn Conservatory), universities (Columbia, Penn State, Bennington, New School), and clubs (Birdland, Knitting Factory, New Music Café, the Cooler, Tonic, Zinc Bar, Smalls fs, Visiones, and many others).

Staged jam sessions with John Purcell, Arnie Lawrence, Dizzy Reece, Ron McClure, Dave Stryker, Lily White, Sue Terry, Essiet Okon Essiet, Jim Snidero, Gust Tsilis, Masahiko Kono, Daniel Carter, Roy Campbell.

Sadato: 1992 (1992); Chris Chalfant: All in Good Time (1997); Ron Anderson:
Anything is Possible (2000); Chris Chalfant: Love & Light (2002); Lifetime
Visions Orchestra: Live at Visions Festival (2002)

Radio and television broadcasts:
 Live radio performances on Live from Nuyorican Poet fs Café WBAI (NY, 1991), Around New York WNYC (NY, c.1994), The Musician fs Show WKCR  (NY, 1994 & 1995), and television stations DUTV (Philadelphia cable), China TV, Czech TV, and Jamaica TV.

Dance and theater:
Composed music for Dawn Saito: Dreamcatcher (1993, Public Theater, NY), Amy Berkman: Observations on Standing (1995, Brecht Forum, NY)

Unissued recordings:
Byard Lancaster (c.1988), Keiji Haino (c.1992), Various artists from Brooklyn loft concerts (c.1986-92), Makanda Ken McIntyre (1998)

Contact information:
E-mail            k.yamazaki@mindspring.com
Web            http://home.mindspring.com/~k.yamazaki
Postal   245 E. 93 St. Suite #17F, New York, NY 10128

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