|Blue Note Tokyo
Whenever I hear someone hyped as "the
_____ (fill in blank with famous Westerner) of Japan," the alarm begins to ring. But
don't let the fact that young Japanese jazz singer Kei Kobayashi is being billed as
"the Harry Connick Jr of Japan" put you off.
Kobayashi may indeed have Connick's smoldering good looks and silver-toned voice, but at
21, he is already very much his own man.
Bursting onto the national stage in 1999 with his major debut, So Nice, Kobayashi
has a superb jazz pedigree. His father is a jazz pianist, and his mother a vocalist with
the jazz chorus Shiny Stockings. Growing up in Shinjuku, he made the rounds of the city's
jazz clubs, and began to perform in musicals at 13, taking up singing after hearing the
legendary singer Johnnie Hartman on the radio.
Kobayashi got his big break at 16, when he had the opportunity to perform with Herbie
Hancock in a benefit for victims of the Kobe earthquake. He released his indie debut, P.S.
I Love You, leading to a bidding war between the majors, and his ultimate signing with
So Nice and his new collection of standards, Just You, have together sold
over 100,000 copies in Japan, a major hit for a jazz album. And Kobayashi is proving
popular across Asia; recently he has performed in South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore.
The upcoming "Kei Kobayashi with Strings" Blue Note engagement represents the
fulfillment of the dream of every jazz singer - to perform with the backing of a
full-fledged string section.
Kei Kobayashi plays
the Blue Note on Feb 26-28. See listings