Ryo Kawasaki, jazz virtuoso and synth pioneer, has died at 73

He was a celebrated musician in New York’s ‘loft scene’.

Ryo Kawasaki Onstage

Photo: Tom Copi / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

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Ryo Kawasaki, jazz fusion guitarist and synth pioneer, has died at 73. He is reported to have passed in his adopted hometown of Tallinn, Estonia, according to ERR and his daughter, who broke the news in a Facebook post.

As a jazz guitarist, Kawasaki has played in bands led by Gil Evans, Chico Hamilton and Elvin Jones – as well as in Tarika Blue. His career began in his native Japan after his first release with Polydor, and led him to reside in New York, where he was a celebrated musician in the city’s ‘loft jazz’ scene.

During his tenure as jazz sideman, the guitarist turned his attention towards a solo career – eventually releasing Juice with RCA in 1976, making him one of the earliest Japanese jazz artists signed to an American label.

Kawasaki was also a pioneering performer of the synth guitar, featuring the instrument heavily within his solo work. He was known for assisting in the development of emerging guitar synthesiser technologies with Korg and Roland, the latter of which produced the GR-500 Synth Guitar in 1977.

As a programmer, Kawasaki also developed music-making software for the Commodore 64, including Kawasaki Synthesizer, Kawasaki Rhythm Rocker and Kawasaki MIDI Workstation.

Kawasaki’s final studio album Giant Steps, which saw him cover the likes of John Coltrane and Dizzy Gillespie on solo guitar, was released last year.

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