Healing sounds

In concert

Keiko Matsui, performing at American Diabetes Association Hawaii's inaugural Rainbow Rhapsody gala dinner

Where: Hilton Hawaiian Village Ballroom

When: 8 p.m. Thursday

Tickets: $150 (all proceeds will benefit the organization)

Call: 947-5979

"Music is like a prayer for me, not like making a song."

Jazz pianist Keiko Matsui is always mindful of her responsibilities as an artist. Ever since she started her solo career with 1987's "A Drop of Water" (with husband and producer Kazu Matsui and former island resident and arranger Derek Nakamoto always at her side), she's combined her successful career with the occasional benefit gig to help out worthy causes.

Over the years, she's offered her musical services to the fight against breast cancer and, in 2001, helped raise awareness of the need for bone marrow donors by donating a portion of the ticket proceeds of that year's tour to the National Marrow Donor Program and the Marrow Foundation. She also released a special CD to help raise more funds for those organizations.

Now she and her four-piece band will do their part for the local office of the American Diabetes Association by performing at its inaugural Rainbow Rhapsody gala dinner Thursday night at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. (Matsui is scheduled to do a 40-minute set, preceded by dinner and a silent auction.)

Matsui's two recent albums offer a few variations on her smooth and sometimes luxurious music. "The Piano" is simply that, a collection of acoustic tracks from previous albums and older compositions rearranged for a more classic sound, reminiscent of her beginnings as a classical player.

"The Ring," while firmly in the genre of smooth jazz, still distinguishes itself with its lovely and gentle attention to detail and texture, far from being mere "aural wallpaper" that's usually the knock on this kind of music. Part of that can be attributed to Nakamoto's arrangements.

"He has established his position as a fine arranger and melodist," Matsui said in a brief phone interview from a tour stop in Seattle. "His is a sensitive talent, one who understands my music and its spiritual elements.

"When I began my music, I studied the classical composers. But since then, I like different elements of varying genres. I like to think of my music has having no borders -- a combination of not only jazz, but other elements as well, sometimes with an R&B feeling.

"I believe music has a mystic power," she said. And though she's been told her music sometimes has a curative power, "while I create, I'm not thinking about making healing music. I like to believe I do and would be honored, but sometimes my fans' e-mail say my music is uplifting. Comments like that touch my soul, because during those times I feel we're sharing the same space through my music."

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