REVIEW: Pianist Kei Akagi shows the beauty of music through improvisation

Japanese American jazz pianist Kei Akagi visited CSUSM as part of the Arts & Lectures series.

Photo credit to Kei Akagi and CSUSM Arts & Lectures

Japanese American jazz pianist Kei Akagi visited CSUSM as part of the Arts & Lectures series.

Angelica Cervantes, Staff Writer

CSUSM held a virtual concert that featured well-known pianist Kei Akagi on April 2. Music department chair Ching-Meng Cheng hosted this musical event that allowed students, faculty and community members to enjoy Akagi’s artistry. 

Cheng gave attendees a brief introduction on who Akagi is and what he does. 

Akagi currently teaches at UC Irvine, but has extensive experience and knowledge in piano playing. He began playing at the age of four, and with much practice and eagerness, even went on to play with the legendary trumpet player Miles Davis. He has recorded 14 of his own albums and even accompanied in over 60 albums.

When Akagi made his entrance onto the virtual screen, he welcomed his audience with a large smile and great fervor. This was his very first virtual concert. Though he is used to playing with three or four other accompanying musicians, due to the pandemic, he was by himself sitting at his baby grand piano. 

To start off he played “New Children Song Part 3” from his album Circle Point and transitioned into “Simply 5” which has a time signature of 5:4 and is from his album Contrast & Form. Each note he played was like a jumpy pitter patter of rain. What started off as sporadic formation of notes slowly turned into a soft melody that was unique to what most people identify as piano music. 

In his second set, he played a piece written by bass player and composer Marcus Miller. Akagi had played with both Miller and Miles Davis during the late 1980s. This specific piece was often played during the end of their concerts to help slow down the intense music they had been playing before. 

This piece is called “Mr. Pastorius,” and it is dedicated to another great bass player. 

The next piece was a song called “Playground: The Dog and The Snake” which is also from his Contrast & Form album. The two songs of his second set had a slower pacing and emotional tones. They provided quite a contrast to his first set and helped mellow the mood for the virtual concert.

Akagi later revealed that he mostly improvised during the pieces he played. e stated that jazz can be all improvisation and that the set he played that night will never be played by him again. Each performance he gives is unique from one another.

Over 200 people attended this event, including students from CSUSM and UC Irvine and even Akagi’s followers from San Francisco. 

It is evident that Akagi has a large influence on his listeners and provides a singular experience that is both inspiring and fascinating. 

For more on Akagi’s music, check out his Spotify page. To find out about upcoming Arts & Lectures events, visit

Angelica Cervantes is a recent transfer to CSUSM and is now a staff writer for The Cougar Chronicle. She enjoys writing her own stories as well as watching various types of films. She aspires to become a screenwriter and to have an influence in cinema.