Kiyoshi Osawa on jazz philosophy & ‘Nadie Te Quiere’ inspirations

"I think that building community and keeping a DIY attitude are so important for independent artist today"
17 April 2024

Explore the vibrant fusion of solo jazz guitar, boleros, and much more with Kiyoshi Osawa’s debut EP, Nadie Te Quiere. In this insightful ​interview, Kiyoshi uncovers the creative journey behind it, providing glimpses into his jazz philosophy and diverse inspirations. From spontaneous musical exchanges to evocative melodies, Kiyoshi extends an invitation for listeners to immerse themselves in the depth of his musical expression, urging them to appreciate the multifaceted nature of his artistry…“A Telecaster guitar trying to sound like a string quartet”.

As a guitarist and improviser, Kiyoshi Osawa immerses listeners in an emotive journey, drawing inspiration from legends like Chet Atkins, Ted Greene, The Beach Boys, and JS Bach. In this exclusive interview, Kiyoshi unveils the intimate narratives behind his music, tracing his path from punk and garage bands to jazz exploration, and outlining his aspirations for his solo career.

Hailing from Mexico City, Kiyoshi’s musical story commenced at just 11 years old, igniting a lifelong dedication to the guitar. Influenced by the DIY ethos and communal ethos of punk, Kiyoshi’s formative years laid the groundwork for his artistic evolution. Venturing into the realms of jazz and improvisation, Kiyoshi’s sonic landscape expanded, culminating in the birth of Nadie Te Quiere.

Mexico City has a very vibrant live music scene. There are so many artists with unique voices today. We can all share, support, connect, and most of all, listen to each other

Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your debut EP, Nadie Te Quiere?

The inspiration for this project began with an invitation to play a show back in January 2024. I had no recordings or any way of explaining my music or even what a 45 minute set of my tunes would sound like. Playing guitar has been a personal exploration for the past 15 years; I left the music industry and the local punk scene to pursue an academic career. As my playing started to come together into a style or identity, I started feeling like I wanted to share these sounds with people. And so I decided to make this short EP with a little taste of where my mind is musically at this time. I tried to keep it simple, although sometimes my fingers got the best of me!

How do you see your background in punk and garage bands influencing your current solo jazz guitar work?

I think that building community and keeping a DIY attitude are so important for independent artist today. This is the way all the legendary indie bands from the late 80s and 90s did it back in the day. Except there was no social media to facilitate those connections. So, just like Sonic Youth, or The Ramones, or The Mummies, or ‘name-drop-your-favorite-band-here’, who just got in a van and found a way to share their music and connect with an audience, it’s up to us as individuals to put in the work.

Mexico City has a very vibrant live music scene. There are so many artists with unique voices today. We can all share, support, connect, and most of all, listen to each other. Build communities around venues, neighborhoods, cultural centers…The farther away you get from the global north, the clearer it becomes that these small islands of connection can have a positive impact at local, regional, and global levels. They can become sites of resistance, identity, refuge for the disenfranchised, etc…

I know many musicians who are not accepted for who they are at home, but have found a way to build safe and supportive spaces for themselves, where we can all hear a diversity of voices and music, where we can at least imagine a different world.

This is also why I incorporate Boleros into my repertoire. It is a musical form that developed in Latin America that was, in many ways, an answer or a contrast to jazz. So, it appropriates much of the harmonic vocabulary of American jazz and swing music, but it speaks a different language!

What led you to explore jazz and improvisation as a solo artist?

A few years ago, I read somewhere online that Jazz is a curatorial art form now. It is a texture, or a mood that you can pick and sprinkle on whatever you are composing, producing or arranging. Although this may be true, improvisational Jazz music is still the pinnacle of instrumental development for any musician. Yet, it is a scene that is plagued by machismo and bravado. You are only good if you can blow everyone away playing giant steps at 300bpms at the local jam session. The harder the tunes you can play, the faster you can play, the better you are. This is great if you want to participate in a pissing contest every time you play, but I believe there are other ways of improvising, of being spontaneous, that can be beautiful with out being competitive. Jim Hall famously said he couldn’t play as fast as everyone else, so he tried to play beautiful melodies instead.

So… I play alone, I accompany myself, I play my own rhythm, harmony and melody. There’s nothing wrong with spending time with yourself, being happy in your own company!

How did you approach the songwriting and recording process for Nadie Te Quiere?

Jazz is usually heard through a very well known repertoire. Everybody plays the same 40 or 50 tunes. I play them too! Very few artists in jazz play original tunes but I felt that it would be more personal and intimate for me to make my own songs. So…to compose the music that became this EP, I tried to keep it as simple as possible.

Simple ideas that could become a platform for exploring melody and harmony in interesting ways. The tune “Ramona” for example, is just a bassline that goes up and down the major scale. But each time around I play different harmonies or melodies around it. The only tune that is more thoroughly composed is Nadie Te Quiere. I was going for a nostalgic 60s vibe, with a tremolo effect and using gospel chords to move things along. You can squeeze out a lot of depth and meaning out of two or three notes if you slow down and take it easy…That’s what I tried to do in all these tunes.

Your EP is described as a “spontaneous musical conversation” between artists like Chet Atkins, Ted Greene, The Beach Boys, and JS Bach. Can you elaborate on that?

    So it’s spontaneous in the sense that what I play is not through composed. Each time I play the tunes, they come out completely differently. I’ve been playing them now for a couple of months after the release and they keep evolving…And when I’m playing, trying to let go of all my daily worries, trying to connect with the different little harmonic pathways and let the music take me somewhere.

    That’s when stuff starts to come out… Little snippets that feel like or evoke a Bach Fugue, or an old Chet Atkins tune, or a solo in a Ventures song from their psychedelic era, or a flashy Django Reinhardt lick… whatever is in here (points to head)…

    How do you hope listeners will feel when they hear your music?

      I hope that people will feel like it’s a good time to stop and take measure of things. I hope they can feel comfortable with slowing down and enjoying a little change of pace. Everything moves so quickly these days… maybe there’s value in listening to simple melodies, simple arrangements?

      What can fans expect from your future projects and collaborations?

        I hope to keep growing as a musician. I hope to be able to evoke evermore complex and deep textures and feelings in my playing. I want to share my music with musicians and audiences in other places, other scenes. There are independent artists all over the world! And, although I mostly play solo jazz guitar, I’m not against the idea of collaborating with other artists to make beautiful music.

        If you could join a tour with any musicians, past or present, who would they be and what draws you to them?

          I would love to have toured with Django Reinhardt. He was such a unique talent… and so extravagant! I can imagine playing a posh Paris dance hall for a few hundred people, then losing all our earnings from the night in a game of dice in the alleyway behind the venue! Also, Juan Gabriel, Patsy Cline, The Ventures, Los Panchos, Jose Jose… what was the question? Lol…

          In three words, how would you characterize your sound?

            A Telecaster guitar trying to sound like a string quartet.

            What has excited you most over the past 12 months in music?

              The music industry in Mexico is growing so much lately. Festival season is pretty crazy these days! New sounds and genres are popping up everyday in what is known locally as ‘regional’ genres (Banda, Norteño, cumbia, Corridos Tumbados, etc.). These sounds and artists are starting to speak to audiences all over the world. I hope that this musical dialogue will bear fruit and form a primordial soup for more new sounds and voices from all around the globe, that can speak to new audiences or give voice to groups and identities that don’t participate in global discourse at the moment. I hope that I can be there to hear, sing along, and share these new musical directions!