Kaoru Watanabe is a Brooklyn based composer and musician, specializing on the Japanese taiko drum and shinobue flutes. He has spent decades artfully blending the sounds of Japanese instruments with those from around the world, collaborating with such artists as National Living Treasure Bando Tamasaburo, Jason Moran, So Percussion, Adam Rudolph, Kenny Endo, Stefon Harris, Kiyohiko Semba, Alicia Hall Moran, Tamango, Tatsuya Nakatani, Imani Uzuri, calligrapher Kakinuma Koji, visual artist Simone Leigh, Martin Scorsese - creating music for the film Silence - and was a featured guest on Yo-Yo Ma's Grammy Award winning album Sing Me Home. Watanabe has performed his compositions at such prestigious venues as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, The Kennedy Center, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum, Kabukiza, Minamiza, Blue Note NYC and has performed in all 47 prefectures in Japan.
As a passionate educator, Kaoru has taught at Princeton University, Wesleyan University, Colby and Dickinson Colleges, Tanglewood Music Festival, and Silk Road Project's Global Musician Workshop at DePauw University. Kaoru gave a workshops to children of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds including a group of LGBQ youth. Kaoru is an instructor for kaDON, an online taiko and fue resource presented by preeminent taiko maker Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten of Tokyo.
Kaoru was born in St. Louis, MO to symphony musician parents. In 1997, after graduating from the Manhattan School of Music with a BFA in jazz flute and saxophone performance and performing with New York’s Soh Daiko, Kaoru moved to Japan and joined the internationally renowned taiko drum ensemble Kodo. Based in Sado Island in the Niigata prefecture, Kaoru toured across the globe with Kodo, performing the taiko, traditional Japanese folk dance and song, and especially the various fue (bamboo flute) such as the noh kan, ryuteki and shinobue. From 2005 to 2007, Kaoru served as one of Kodo’s artistic directors, focussing on their world music festival Earth Celebration. During this festival, he directed shows that combined music, dance, and visual arts and that featured such luminaries as Zakir Hussain, Giovanni Hidalgo, Carlos Nunez, jazz pianist Yosuke Yamashita and casts comprised of West African stilt dancers, tap and contemporary dancers, traditional Japanese folk dance, live calligraphy, break dance, capoeira and of course the taiko. Also during and since his time with Kodo, Kaoru worked closely with legendary Kabuki actor Bando Tamasaburo, an experience that had a profound effect on his artistic growth.
In late 2006 Kaoru left Kodo and returned to NY to teach and continue performing fue, western flute and taiko in a variety of musical and artistic settings. Recent projects have taken him across the US, Canada, Japan, France, Mongolia, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Trinidad, Honduras, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, France and Puerto Rico, Germany and United Arab Emirates.