Interview with a Street Artist: KAZ, the Jazz Beatboxer

I don’t usually take the F train, but last week when I did I ran into something pretty interesting.  I heard a pretty sick beat over my headphones and assumed someone was playing some loud hiphop.  While waiting for the train at the 2nd ave stop, I pulled out my earbuds to catch the climax of the beat which was clearly progressing towards a drop.  When it did I couldn’t help but to dance a little and jam out to this incredibly unique beat.  When I turned to look for the source of the music I was surprised to find not a recording, or a DJ, or a rapper, but an edgy asian dude with nothing but a mike and an amp.  His name is KAZ (Kazuo Saito) and he’s a pretty killer jazz beatboxer.  After some lite Facebook stalking I reached out to him and asked about his life as a beatbox performer in the subways of New York.  Here’s what he had to say:

How’d you get into beatboxing?

I started at age 15.  At the time I was living in Tokyo.  I saw a band called Phiew Phiew Live.  I had never seen anything like them before.  They inspired me to learn.  I spent the next two years developing the skill.  Now I consider my skills to be just like an instrument, I can basically take the place of a drummer in a band.  When I’m not performing in the subways I’m a beatboxing member of a jazz band.  It’s the Danny Walsh Band, you should check it out.

What made you become a street artist in New York?

Unlike Tokyo, New York is very open minded to different types of music and art.  They are open to fusion.  In Japan if you like rock, then you buy the ticket to the rock show.  That’s it.  Different tastes and genres in music don’t really mix as much as they do here.  Also, Japan doesn’t have a tipping culture, so street performance isn’t as common in Tokyo.  You wouldn’t make any money if you did it.

Is performing in the subways decent money?

Yeah, honestly on a weekend night I make over $200.

What’s your favorite stop to perform at?

I think I like West 4th the best.

What kind of problems do you run into down there while you’re performing?

Well street performers are actually supposed to have MUNY permit (Musicians under New York).  I don’t have one, so sometime’s I’ll be shooed away by police but often they are nice and let me stay.  Drunk people at night can also be annoying.  Sometimes the homeless will come up to my audience members as they are trying to tip me and I’d have to ask them to stop.  Some time’s I’d pay them a part of my tip to make them stop.

How did you end up mixing jazz and beatboxing?

Unlike most beatboxers I am a musician just like anyone else with an instrument.  I can join a band no different than if I were playing a set of drums.  I’m drawn to jazz because it has more flow.  I perform every week at Matt’s Grill with the Danny Walsh Band (link to his badass jazz set).

What would your advice be to anyone who would want to learn beatboxing?

Start by trying to imitate everyday sounds.  Try mimicking the sound of a squeaking door, or a motorcycle driving by.  Also try to isolate each sound and understand the motion of your mouth that relates to creating it, and then repeat them in practice as training.  YouTube also helps, of course.

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