Jeff Kashiwa’s not simply toying around.
“I’m attracted to it because I still love acoustic instruments,” Kashiwa said of his progressive EWI. “It’s not a toy or a gimmick.
“It makes available many emotions and moods. It lends itself to a lot of expressiveness. The range is almost unlimited.”
Such openness to possibility has elevated Kashiwa in the jazz-saxophone orbit — since he spent 10 years with The Rippingtons, a progressive collective that helped originate smooth-jazz and fusion styles.
“I’m always living in the possible,” said the Seattle-based innovator and instructor. “The what-if. To catch what I imagined, hoped and played for.”
His EWI’s helped enable such advances. He demonstrates the ever-evolving results Sunday at Stockton’s University Plaza Waterfront Hotel. Darryl Williams (bass), Tony Moore (drums) and Tateng Katendig (keyboard), from Los Angeles, join him.
Kashiwa’s EWI (an electronic wind instrument, pronounced “ee-wee”) is a “wind controller” that approximates the sound of a soprano saxophone. Kashiwa also plays all alto, tenor and bass saxes and flute.
The EWI's internal computronics create enough flexibility to emulate 4,000 tones and variations.
Developed by Nyle Steiner, from Brecksville, Ohio, it’s been streamlined steadily. Japan’s Akai is an EWI manufacturer.
“The 'old' version — 10 or 15 years ago — had this big box (of electronics),” Kashiwa, 53, said from his Seattle studio, where he tinkers with technology and sound. “Now, it’s so cool. I don’t have to lug that big box around.
“I’d hit notes by mistake. Basically, I had to dumb it down. It’s got a lot lighter touch. You literally play as fast as you can go. It has eight octaves. A sax has three. But it’s not like it’s an either/or thing.”
His studio is “ever-shrinking" as technology — apps, tuners, loops, samplers — become smaller and more compact.
Kashiwa said he’s “really excited” about his still-untitled 10th studio album since 2000.
“They’re nice songs I’ve been saving over the years,” Kashiwa said. “The original mood was very slick. Smooth jazz. Why not gravitate?”
So, he added a version of Steely Dan’s “Do It Again” (1972). Kashiwa didn’t attempt to emulate the vocal of Donald Fagen, who wrote the song with Walter Becker. He’ll try some new tunes during Sunday’s 90-minute show.
Though he left the Rippingtons in 1999, Kashiwa took part in the Los Angeles-based group’s 30th anniversary tour this summer and still “sits in” with Russ Freeman’s band.
Born in Louisville, Kashiwa got jazzed-up early by dad Herbert, a biological researcher at the University of Louisville. Also a big-band jazz admirer, dad played clarinet for a hobby with Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller as stylistic models.
“We had the most fascinating conversations,” Kashiwa said of his father, who died in 1992. “We were the same. Always trying to be creative.”
Mom, too. Ann, the “energizer bunny” for Kashiwa, his sister and brother, is a retired high-school administrator who’s written two books.
The family moved to Seattle, where a row of saxophones at school fascinated Kashiwa in eighth grade. His dad had given him an old silver clarinet.
Kashiwa still has lunch with John Law, his eighth-grade jazz-band teacher and major musical guide and supporter: "He treated us like adults. He expected us to learn most of seven or nine jazz cassettes. 'You don’t have to like them. But listen to them all and report back if you like it'.”
Kashiwa “didn’t wanna return ‘Bob James 4.’ It was instantaneously contemporary,” he said of “BI4,” the now 76-year-old keyboard player’s 1977 recording.
Kashiwa found more instructive inspirations at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. Especially Leo Potts, a classical alto sax player.
“He taught me to play properly,” Kashiwa said. Two years (1981-83) later, though, Kashiwa got hooked on Southern California during a visit to Anaheim. He completed his education at Long Beach State.
Now, in addition to his multi-faceted jazz endeavors — he leads the Jazz Pack after forming Coastal Access in 1999 — Kashiwa teaches music technology at Shoreline College in Seattle, where he and wife Chaunte live with daughter Catalina, 13. She's named for the island where her parents met at a jazz festival.
While radio programmers have “choked and killed” jazz, Kashiwa said, it’s still a viable Internet factor. The young people Kashiwa mentors remain interested and energetic.
“The state of jazz is well and fine,” he said. “Truthfully, it’s good music. If you choose to be a musician — let alone a jazz musician — you need to know what you’re getting into. What it’s not is a rock-star lifestyle. It’s a different paradigm. It’s not sour grapes. I enjoy grapes.”
— Contact Tony Sauro at (209) 546-8267 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @tsaurorecord.