By Jackie Moe
Record stores and radio stations have spent nearly four decades situating the eclectic East-meets-West band Hiroshima into a defining genre – to no avail. The multiple gold records of the Southern California music legends continue to be placed in every existing jazz to R&B to rock to soul category there is.
“We truly don’t fit into one genre and it’s been kind of an issue of us with all of the record labels we’ve been with; we’ve been with five different labels in different times. But not being categorized in one type of music has gone well for us so far,” said Dan Kuramoto, Hiroshima’s lead keyboardist, woodwindist, composer and producer.
“Gone well,” indeed – the Grammy Award-nominated group will celebrate 40 years next year of continuous recording, touring and creating chart-topping albums. With over 4 million in sales worldwide, the band has now reached that special part in their career where they can pick and choose when and where they want to perform and still count on a large following to show up.
One of this year’s west coast stops will be at the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach’s annual summer concert series on Friday, Aug. 17. Dan said this Orange County show will be unique because it will feature Latin percussionist extraordinaire Richie Gajeta-Garcia performing alongside the group.
“Richie is really amazing and we haven’t carried a percussionist in a while, so this night will be special. We are going to play all of our most popular songs, but people haven’t heard them like this because they haven’t really heard them with the percussion element,” said Dan, “I think people are going to be really happy because it’s going to be familiar music but souped-up with Richie’s percussion. Also we are kind of coming up with a fresh approach just coming off from a break.”
Along with Kuramoto and Gajeta-Garcia, the Los Angeles-based ensemble includes virtuoso June Kuramoto (koto/composer), Kimo Cornwell (piano/ keyboards/ composer), Danny Yamamoto (drums/percussion), and Dean Cortez (bass). The group has blended jazz, pop, and rock with traditional Japanese folk music and instruments to create their signature sound – but it is June’s koto-playing that has truly distinguished the band.
Born in Japan and growing up in Los Angeles, June was mentored by and played with some of the top kotoists in the world. After she met Dan in the 1970s, she was inspired to form Hiroshima as a band that embraced the Japanese and American music culture. The pair were married but divorced in 1984, remaining good friends and bandmates throughout their careers and to this day.
“June is our star on the Japanese harp and she is considered the best in the world. She sort of redefined her genre of music in that regard; if you ever met her, she is very humble and very funny and you would never get a sense of that,” said Kuramoto, “All of the major jazz musicians, such as Stanley Clark, have all been quoted saying June is by far the best koto player in the world, and the only one that can play all of these diverse styles of music. She’s a genius and our sound is defined by what she does.”
Hiroshima released their latest new project #20, “Songs With Words” featuring two amazing guest artists Terry Steele and Yvette Nii, the vocalists who performed on the 2010 Grammy-nominated “Legacy.” Hiroshima does a live recording of their vocal hits through the years including “Roomful of Mirrors,” “Never, Ever,” “Dada,” and more for the all-vocal album.
The band is planning their upcoming year with stops throughout the country beginning in the fall. They are also currently recording their newest album, which Dan says may include songs performed in their live set list, but their concerts mainly focus on the band’s greatest hits.
“Next year will be our 40th year in recording, which we are currently recording the album now. Whether or not we are going to tour, or how much touring we are going to do, we don’t know. So these dates are precious because we don’t know if we are going to do them again,” said Dan, “I don’t want to use the word retire but we are taking it as it comes. We all get together and have lunch and ask ourselves, ‘What do you feel like doing?’ (laughs) We are not the kind of band that is going to do a farewell tour, it just seems too weird. We will probably just stop playing one day when we’re ready. So these show dates are especially precious to us.”
Dan said the band is influenced by an eclectic variety of genres and artists since they first started, which has allowed them to be diverse and create their unique sound:
“We sort of defined ourselves as basically being reflective of Southern California music and culture. My father was born in L.A., I’m third generation Japanese American, and the band has always been multicultural; the drummer is Japanese, the bass player is Puerto Rican, the keyboardist is Hawaiian Chinese; we’ve never had a whole Japanese group. But we embrace a lot of Japanese culture and music because that’s in our roots and our star ketoist helps create that.”
For a band that has built such an influential career and legacy, Dan remains humble and in awe that they have had continued success and are still able to do what they started in the garage in the 1970s.
“Jimmi Hendrix and Miles Davis are the two artists we listen to most on the tour bus. We actually even toured with Miles Davis; he chose us to be his opening act on his 1990 east coast tour a year before he passed away. It was an amazing honor and awesome to sit on the side of the stage and see Miles play every night. We didn’t even know he knew we were alive, so for him to handpick us, that will forever blow my mind.”
In the ever-evolving music world that currently places an emphasis on digital fan followings and engagement, Dan laughs at how bad the group is at connecting with their fans on social media.
“We’re really not good at it. We haven’t really gotten on board with the social media aspect which seems to be the strong vehicle for music. But what drives us is our faithful fan base. Since there isn’t really radio anymore and we don’t have a large social media following, we have been so fortunate by word of mouth and our faithful fans,” said Dan, “What seems to work for us is that we don’t fit any category; the kindest genre people have placed us in is ‘timeless.’ We came up in a time where you would be called fusion, or jazz rock, or something like that, but we just want to be original.”
Concrete plans for the future include a new album, which does not have a title or release date as of yet, and several stops including jazz festival concerts along the east coast in the fall. The band’s more spiritual plan, however, is to continue to inspire young artists.
“We hope to hang in there and hold that door open so musicians can see the possibility that they can express themselves and see that they don’t have to follow some idiom or style. That they can be their own person with their own music done their own way. People see that in us and we hope that young artists see that through us.”
For more information on Hiroshima, please visit hiroshimamusic.com
Where: Hyatt Regency Newport Beach Summer Concert Series, 1107 Jamboree Road, Newport Beach
When: 6 p.m. Doors; 7:30 p.m. show, Friday, Aug. 17
Ticket info: hyattconcerts.tix.com