ShastaYama 2016 - Artists (more)

Toru Watanabe - Guest Artist

ShastaYama 2007 Photo: Tom Pava

Toru Watanabe is a renowned folk dance artist, creative performer, choreographer. and teacher.

He has trained and still has ties with Japan's folk dance group, Warabi-za, performing throughout Japan.

Toru was also a leading performing member of Portland Taiko and his presence raised Portland Taiko's presentations with his dance and artistic creativity.

He and wife Michelle Fujii perform in duo and collaborate with a variety of artists in America and Japan. The pair recently formed a new ensemble, UNIT SOUZOU, which combines dance, taiko, and theater to explore new directions for the performing arts.

Watanabe is keeping Japanese traditional folk dance alive while exploring new possibilities as a modern performing artist.

Toru Watanabe is a favorite ShastaYama guest artist and his dynamic artistry and energy adds a special magic to the festival.

ShastaYama 2009 - Toru Watanabe

ShastaYama 2009 - Toru Watanabe || photo: Sarah Diaz

Russel Hisashi Baba

Russel is a gifted musician and creative artist who has focused on refining an intuitive natural style.

His distinctive sound on the saxophone and flutes, plus the innovative approach in his writing, have opened opportunities to perform and tour with esteemed artists in the creative as well as traditional fields notably, jazz musicians drummer Eddie Moore, violinist Michael White, and pianist Andrew Hill; taiko artists Seiichi Tanaka, Kenny Endo, San Jose Taiko, and Jeanne Mercer; gagaku (Japanese Court music) Suenobu Togi; African drummers Malonga Casquelourd and Babatunde; and Japanese butoh dancer Min Tanaka.

Russel may be one of the first Asian American artists to produce his own work with the critically acclaimed recording “Hisashi” in 1978. In 1992 he produced “ Earth Prayer” which features Andrew Hill and in 1999 “Spirit Drum- Taiko Stories From America" with Jeanne Mercer. His latest recordings "Tadaima" and "KorewaKorewa" features original work with Jeanne Mercer and Masato Baba.

Russel started taiko training in 1972 with the San Francisco Taiko Dojo under Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka, who introduced and fostered the taiko tradition in North America. Russel Baba and Jeanne Mercer founded Shasta Taiko in 1985, offering the art of taiko to hundreds of Mt. Shasta area youth and adults.

With sponsorship from Shasta Mountain Playhouse, Russel and Jeanne established a successful annual taiko/music presentation, "Shasta Taiko In Concert" in 1996. In 2005, the annual show successfully expanded to a festival outdoors at Mt. Shasta's Shastice Park and renamed "ShastaYama."

Shasta Taiko's program has developed some individuals who are emerging as exceptional artists, teachers, and leaders themselves. Russel Baba has influenced and inspired his peers as well as the next generation artists and is a recognized pioneer in Asian American jazz and American taiko.

ShastaYama 2005 Photo: Jim Gilmore

Review Quotes

"...Russel Baba has managed to endow his alto saxophone with the timbre and flexibility of a violin. His new sound is extra-ordinarily beautiful."

"...a strong musician who in playing his own compositions is playing himself ... (and) projects a fierce, uncompromising integrity."
- DownBeat

"The reference to 'the Zen of the saxophone' applies to Russel's music because of its experiential qualities. There are powerful emotions present and there are strong conceptual elements. These are contained through a sense of embodiment. It is a direct music, not theoretical. It is this unity of force that makes the music very open and spiritual."
- Option

"...not only plays conventional items such as the alto saxophone, but a variety of ethnic instruments from all over the world. Even when Baba plays the alto, he gives it an eerie other-worldly quality that puts the music right into the twilight zone...a daring approach to the music, a worthwhile deviation from the norm."
- San Francisco Chronicle

"...precise sense of shading and detail that characterizes his work throughout. (This was) a significant debut."
- Musician Magazine

"...demonstrates agility and speed of both technique and imagination ... very rewarding and demanding music."
- Cadence

"...(Russel Baba is a) unique woodwind stylist ... (with a) bright, vibrant sound..."
- Jazz Times

Jeanne Aiko Mercer

Jeanne is an honored and highly respected American taiko artist and pioneer.

Jeanne’s considerable artistic and technical skills are widely admired, and her compositions are noted for their creativity and challenging direction.

She founded Shasta Taiko in 1985 with Russel Baba and has dedicated her life to the teaching of the art, discipline, and philosophy of taiko.

Mercer started taiko training with Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka in 1972 and toured the world performing with San Francisco Taiko Dojo for over 10 years. Jeanne has also collaborated with American taiko artists Kenny Endo, San Jose Taiko, and On Ensemble.

Sponsored by the Mt. Shasta Recreation District, she and Russel have received numerous California Arts Council Artist in Residence grants and Multicultural Entry grants to offer taiko to the Mt. Shasta community, founding Shasta Taiko in 1985 and ShastaYama in 2005.

Jeanne and Russel were selected to lead the first Summer Taiko Institute in Los Angeles - a series of intensive workshops for young recognized taiko leaders throughout North America. Mercer and Baba also lead workshops for several national and regional conferences on taiko.

ShastaYama 2006 Photo: Bob Hsiang

Jeanne Mercer has performed and recorded taiko at various jazz venues with Russel and other artists such as drummers Art Blakey and Eddie Moore, violinist Michael White, and pianist Andrew Hill.

Mercer has also contributed to film soundtracks most notably - "Apocalypse Now" and "Star Wars." Jeanne is featured with Masato Baba in Russel Baba's recordings "Hisashi," "Tadaima," and "KorewaKorewa."

Gary Fitzgerald - Guest Artist

Bassist Gary Fitzgerald began playing the upright bass while in the U.S. Air Force in 1963. Gary met pianist Ron Hart through jazz guitarist Bill deAngelo and started a long time relationship with the jazz pianist. Fitzgerald and Hart formed a quartet that worked the jazz scene and clubs in Cleveland.

Gary and Ron later joined drummer E.W. Wainwright in Los Angeles to form a jazz trio which toured the local college concert circuit. Fitzgerald and Wainwright also formed a long relationship as a dynamic rhythm section and leaders for many ensembles including the Los Angeles based African Roots of Jazz.

Gary met woodwind player Russel Baba through E.W. Wainwright and later toured Europe and recorded with Baba, and jazz legends drummer Eddie Moore, and violinist Michael White. Fitzgerald has also performed with notable jazz trumpeter Eddie Henderson.

Fitzgerald and Ron Hart recently produced a bass and piano duet recording of original work and standards - "April in Paris." In the notes on the CD booklet, they state that "...allowing the music to play though them led (them) on a journey of deep peace and a sense of wonder and discovery."

Isaku Kageyama - Guest Artist

Isaku Kageyama is an eclectic and versatile taiko performer, hand percussionist, and drummer, currently working with groups such as Asano Taiko UnitOne, film-scoring extravaganza The Masterpiece Experience, world music group Rhythm of the Universe, anime band Soulandscape, and the LA Japanese Music Ensemble.

His resume includes major corporate events and TV commercials for global brands such as Boeing and Toyota, performances at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, and tours including nations such as Brazil, China, Thailand, United Arab Emirates.

Formerly a principal drummer of premiere ensemble Amanojaku, he holds a Bachelor of Music from the Berklee College of Music and a Master of Arts from Longy School of Music of Bard College.
He is also a two-time National Odaiko (large drum) Champion, becoming the youngest person to win highest honors at the Mt. Fuji Odaiko Contest in 2000, and Hokkaido in 2003.

Joe Small - Guest Artist

Joe Small is a Los Angeles-based taiko drum artist whose creative approach incorporates postmodern choreography and performance art. Career highlights include a Fulbright Fellowship to Japan to research taiko drumming and festival culture (2005-2006), a two-year apprenticeship with the renowned taiko group, KODO (2007-2009), performing as a pick-up member of Marco Lienhard’s Taikoza (2009-), and ongoing activities since 2012 as the sole non-Japanese member of Fu-un no Kai, the professional ensemble of pioneering solo taiko artist Eitetsu Hayashi.

Joe has performed and taught in numerous locations throughout the United States and Japan, as well as in Hong Kong, Australia, Spain, and Switzerland. In 2015, Joe debuted his first original evening-length concert, Spall Fragments, and was a guest artist for the Sydney-based professional taiko group, TaikOz. He is a 2005 graduate of Swarthmore College (BA, Dance) and a 2015 graduate of UCLA's Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance (MFA, Dance).

Bruce (Mui) Ghent - Guest Artist

A “Distinguished Alumni” of SF Taiko Dojo and former Artistic Director of Somei Yoshino Taiko Ensemble, Mui has spent the last 33 years as a multi­faceted performing artist/producer/educator working in the fields of contemporary dance, dance theater, world music and Taiko.

As a dancer, he received his degree in Modern Dance & Choreography from CalArts, and then went on to work with the likes of MacArthur Fellow and Tony Award winning choreographer, Bill T. Jones, and George Coates Performance Works. As Taiko Artist he has shared the stage with luminaries within the jazz, world music and Taiko scene such as Kenny Endo, Riley Lee, Marcus Shelby, Kyoungil Ong and others. As a director, he has created ongoing Taiko productions for Disneyland and the Hotel Nikko SF.

He currently serves as Executive Producer/Director for the SF World Percussion Arts Festival and as an itinerant Taiko Educator for the SF Unified School District. He founded his Taiko School in San Francisco, Maikaze Daiko, in 2007 and received an Isadora Duncan nomination in the category of music for his work with longtime collaborator, Krissy Keefer & Dance Brigade.

Yeeman Mui - Guest Artist

Originally from Hong Kong, Yeeman graduated in University of Hong Kong in 2010 with an MPhil in Musicology. She is a dedicated taiko practitioner, performer and teacher.

Her passion as a performing artist blossom while studying Orff Schulwerk to teach music. After becoming a certified Orff instructor in 2013, she combined her love for Taiko with her enthusiasm to teach as she continually finds new ways to celebrate the essence of the mind, body and spirit. Mixing a combination of taiko and Orff education approach, it’s her dream to share the enjoyment of music to everyone of all ages and skill levels. Through activities such as body percussion, singing and dancing, her goal is to help develop the individual’s sense of natural musicality.

In 2012 and 2013, she was awarded a one-year fellowship to study with Kenny Endo at the Taiko Center of the Pacific (TCP). Since then she has been working as a performing member and teacher at TCP. Outside of TCP and Hong Kong, Yeeman has also taught and performed in Los Angeles (LATI), Las Vegas (NATC), Madrid (Taiko Film documentary), and recently conducted a series of music teacher workshops in Macau.

Heidi Chan - Guest Artist

Heidi Chan is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger, and music researcher. She plays Asian flutes (Chinese dongxiao, Japanese shinobue), percussion (Japanese taiko drums, percussion, drum kit), electronics (modular synth, software, effects) and bass ukulele.

She has performed with numerous music groups including professional Japanese taiko drumming ensemble Nagata Shachu (Toronto), ground-breaking rock band The Cliks (Toronto), and experimental music ensemble Brown Note Collective (Hong Kong).

She is currently a member of folktronic duo deenzi, experimental Japanese folk ensemble Ten Ten, ukulele duo My Bach Has Fleas, and continues to be involved in music projects that challenge and expand her musical knowledge, skills and sensitivities. She performs and collaborates regularly with a wide range of musicians and artists in Toronto and abroad.

Chan composes electronic music under her solo project Bachelard. She holds a Masters degree in music composition at York University, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D in Ethnomusicology at York University. She is also a Product Specialist at Saved By Technology, one of Canada's most unique music retailers specializing in computer-based music, audio, and video production equipment, and presents regularly on Ableton Live and other music technology-related things at the monthly Official Toronto Ableton Live User Group meetings.

Stephen Cervantes

Stephen Cervantes is a multi-instrumentalist who is exploring his Mexican and South American roots through music.

Joining the Chicano Theatre Movement, he contributed his music to El Teatro de la Gente de San Jose, El Teatro Compesino, El Teatro Visions, and to two works by playwright Cheri Moraga.

Stephen has toured throughout the country leading his own ensembles and with Dr. Loco and the Rockin' Jalapeno Band.

He has served as a California Arts Council Artist in Residence and created several multi cultural music programs and workshops for the greater San Francisco Bay Area and the Monterey Bay public schools.

Cervantes now lives in Shasta Lake.

For ShastaYama 2016, Stephen will perform interludes on pre-Columbian and pre-Hispanic instruments.