New interview: Meet Dan Kuramoto, founding member of Grammy-nominated group Hiroshima

Dan Kuramoto, founding member of the Grammy-nominated fusion jazz group HiroshimaWe’ve taken several months off, but Erin and I are ready to resume our series of interviews with inspirational Asian Americans for 2010. We’re especially proud to be able to speak with Dan Kuramoto, one of the founding members of the fusion jazz group Hiroshima, because the group has been nominated twice for a Grammy award! We’ll be speaking with Dan on Tuesday, March 2 at 6 pm PT (9 pm ET). You can register now for the call and submit questions for Dan on our webcast page.

Only a few Asian Americans have been nominated for a Grammy Award over the years, and Hiroshima has managed the feat twice — once in 1980 for “Winds of Change,” a track off the groups second album, “Odori.” Hiroshima was nominated again for their latest album “Legacy,” a collection of re-recordings of songs from the band’s first ten years together. The band has been together for over 30 years, and have become an institution on the fusion jazz and R&B scene.

The group was formed by bandleader, saxophone and flute player Kuramoto in 1974 with his then-wife June Kuramoto on koto, a traditional Japanese harp on which she’s a master player, percussion and taiko drum player Johnny Mori, keyboardist Dave Iwataki and drummer Danny Yamamoto. The group has evolved over the years with different players as well as various R&B singers on some songs, but the core sound of the Kuramotos and Yamamoto has remained the same.

The group’s been consistent and prolific over its three-decade history, mixing traditional Japanese sounds and melodic and rhythmic sensibility with a soulful, contemporary R&B and jazz flair. Throughout, whether the music rocks out or is contemplative, there’s a foundation of Japaneseness that sets Hiroshima apart from other bands playing in the fusion groove.

“We’ve always stood apart from other instrumental groups of our time by taking the graceful classical sound of the koto and experimenting with varying American musical idioms around that,” says Dan Kuramoto on the band’s bio page on its website. “We create musically a cross-commentary about a multitude of cultures that comes from our backgrounds as Asian Americans growing up in a racially diverse America. The album title grew from the idea that as people of Japanese heritage, we are ethnically in the middle of black and white, drawing from the traditions of both races yet also creating an identity that is unique to our heritage.”

June Kuramoto, who’s the only member who was born in Japan (she moved to the U.S. as an infant) has released several solo albums as well as a duet album with Derek Derek Nakamoto.

Hiroshima’s other bandmembers have also been busy with other projects over the years:

Aside from touring with such greats over the years as Miles Davis, Hiroshima’s members have engaged in some interesting side projects between recording and traveling dates. Dan, June and Johnny Mori have played on numerous soundtracks together, including those for “Black Rain” and the Oscar nominated “The Thin Red Line,” while Kimo Cornwell has produced and played with top Hawaiian artists, including Randy Lorenzo.

In all, Emmy winner Dan Kuramoto has scored over 50 plays, films and TV shows including the Showtime miniseries, “Home Fires,” “Bean Sprouts” and the Oscar nominated “The Silence.” He also served as the musical arranger for the L.A. and New York productions of the play/musical, “Zoot Suit.” June Kuramoto was trained on koto by Madame Kazue Kudo, herself a protégé of Japan’s most famed kotoist and composer, Michio Miyagi. She’s played on countless recordings (including the #1 hit record, “Sukiyaki” by Taste of Honey), films, television and concert performances with artists like Ravi Shankar.

The full band was also featured in a 1976 documentary titled “Cruisin’ J-Town,” directed by Duane Kubo, and they’re part of a permanent video installation at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. The group also wrote an original song titled “The Moon is a Window to Heaven” for the 1989 film “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.”

They’ve been representing Asian Americans for 30 years in an industry that still has too few Asians in the spotlight — it’s not an overstatement to say that Hiroshima has broken new ground, and gone where no Asian Americans have gone before.

Here’s one of their most famous songs, “San Say,” in a decideldy 1980s video treatment:

SIGN UP FOR DAN KURAMOTO’S FREE LIVE INTERVIEW AT 6 PM PDT (9 PM EDT) TUESDAY, MARCH 2! You can listen to the live interview over the phone (long distance charges may apply) or FREE via a webcast. You can also submit questions for Secretary Mineta before and during the interview. If you miss the live event, you can listen to the interview for a limited time online.

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