Ryo Kawasaki, jazz guitarist and guitar synth pioneer has died at 73

A pioneer of the guitar synthesizer and home recording technologies.

Ryo Kawasaki Onstage

Photo: Tom Copi / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

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Ryo Kawasaki, jazz guitarist and guitar synth pioneer, has died at 73. News of his death was reported by the Estonian public broadcaster ERR, as well as by his daughter in a Facebook post.

As a jazz guitarist, Kawasaki performed in groups led by Elvin Jones, Gil Evans and Chico Hamilton. He was a revered side man – part of New York’s loft jazz scene, and was also a member of Tarika Blue, a lesser-known East side fusion outfit that saw a late resurgence after being sampled in Erykah Badu’s hit, Didn’t Cha Know.

Kawasaki was one of the earliest adopters of the guitar synthesizer – performing on a self-modified Roland GR-500, and assisting Roland and Korg in developing their guitar synthesizer technologies.

The instrument was featured heavily across his solo catalogue, notably in his 1982 song, Hawaiian Caravan.

The musician was also known to embrace burgeoning recording technologies. He was the first to use the Fostex A8, a quarter-inch, eight-channel, open-reel multi-track recorder for home recording. Consequently, his 1981 album, Ryo features Kawasaki on all instruments.

With sideband, The Golden Dragon, Kawasaki put out Live – one of the first completely digitally recorded albums.

With the release of the Commodore 64, Kawasaki turned his attention towards developing music software – releasing Kawasaki Synthesizer, Kawasaki Rhythm Rocker, Kawasaki Magic Musicquill and Kawasaki MIDI Workstation.

In the late 80s, Kawasaki established his own label, Satellites Records, and released a string of self-produced singles that fused house, acid house and ambient music. Incidentally, artists like Puff Daddy and Kool G Rap would sample Kawasaki’s music in their tracks in the 90s.

Kawasaki’s final studio effort was a solo jazz guitar LP called Giant Steps. It was released last year.

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