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Kei Kobayashi


Kei Kobayashi
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 Toshiba EMI.

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 for details.


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