When Keiko Matsui arrives onstage, it may not even be noticed until she takes command of her instrument and becomes a force to be reckoned with. Small in stature, and with a voice that barely surpasses a whisper, it’s no wonder she prefers expression via thundering grand piano.
The pianist and composer performed at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall two days before her 54th birthday, with the energy and stamina of someone 30 years her junior. Originally from Tokyo, Matsui has been recording and touring actively since the age of 19. She is the definition of prolific, having released over 20 albums in a career spanning 40 years.
All of Matsui’s work is instrumental, as she opts to employ powerful melodies in the place of vocals. Although her heavily-accented English is at times difficult to follow, she charms her audience with anecdotes or her music’s origin stories. For instance, preceding “Forever Forever,” Matsui explained it was inspired by when her daughter was two years old, and told Matsui (in Japanese), “I love you Mommy, forever forever.” Eliciting an “aww” from the audience, of course.
Alternating between keyboards, a grand piano and a keytar, Matsui resists genre. Her sound has been described as smooth jazz, new age, or jazz fusion. It holds an element of spirituality, but also retains influence from her classical training.
Like her music, Matsui herself is not one-dimensional. She is an activist for the environment and many charities. In fact, her showstopping encore is called “Antarctica – A Call to Action.” Several of her albums’ proceeds go to organizations like the National Marrow Donor Program and the United Nations World Food Programme.
Matsui’s most recent album, Soul Quest, was released in 2013. While she has no official plans for her next record, she is faithfully writing music and constantly touring the globe to meet and connect with her fans. As she told her PVCH audience, “Music is what connects our spirits.”