John Ryder Sōzan was born in London, England, on May 29, 1947. He has been involved in music, on an amateur basis, all his life, starting, as a child, with membership of his local church choir and various other choirs, madrigal groups, and so on. He has sung in such famous venues as Saint Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, and the Royal Festival Hall. While still at school, he developed an interest in blues and jazz, and later formed a blues band in which he sang and played a “very mean” blues harp. He also played a little guitar, and has recently started playing again, especially bottleneck blues. He hopes to emulate the Rolling Stones by continuing to play well into his late 60s!|
After leaving grammar school, John also became interested in so-called ethnic music – what is often now called World Music. He started studying the tabla in London, and then continued his studies in India for a year. He finally gave up when he realized he could never play as well as the tabla maker’s five-year-old son! However, his fascination with Indian music continues to this day. In addition, he likes to think he is something of an expert on the music of the world, and often introduces music of many countries, including Japan, to the students in his music classes here at high school in Kyoto.
John met his Japanese wife in London, and they moved together to Kyoto in 1975. He had first heard Japanese music in England when he was about 18, and immediately fell in love with it. When Fumiko decided to study the koto, John decided to provide her accompaniment by learning the shakuhachi. He has now played the Tozan-Ryu style of shakuhachi for more than 30 years, and is a qualified Master, with the name Sōzan. “Through learning the shakuhachi, and mixing with many Japanese shakuhachi players”, he says, “I have also learned much about the culture of this extremely fascinating country, my home for more than half my life”. Although only an amateur musician, John has appeared on Japanese TV and radio, and has successfully taught many students, who are now active all over the world. In addition, for the benefit of foreigners who can only spend limited time in Japan (visiting scholars, for example), he has devised his own unique “intensive course” which, while respecting the traditional learning methods under which John himself studied with Kobayashi Jōzan-sensei for many years, gives students a good grounding in the basics of Tozan shakuhachi in only a year or less.