Meeting fellow shakuhachi maker Jem Klein

Jon and Jem shakuhachi
Me and Jem play fighting over the "wishbone" Madaké root end bamboo that I harvested for shakuhachi, NC, 2013

Jon and Jem shakuhachi
Jem Klein as a young teenage shakuhachi making apprentice in the workshop of Monty Levenson of, c. 1990's

I had the great joy of meeting and befriending Jem Klein who has been crafting shakuhachi since age fifteen, mostly as Monty Levenson’s top apprentice doing much of the work over there at for years (if you bought a shakuhachi from Monty from 1995 to 2012 you most likely also have Jem to thank for it). Me and Jem met on a very auspicious day as I was removing the first ever complete Bell Shakuhachi casting from its mold [this gave Jem ideas for making his own cast-bore shakuhachi by adapting my methods with silicone].

Me and Jem talked for quite a while and I was surprised to learn that he had never stamped a root end shakuhachi with his signature before; Monty had signed his name to Jem's works under him which is common practice with apprenticeship within shakuhachi. I promptly took Jem to the barn where I was keeping my root ends and gave him a few. We also posed for a funny picture of us “fighting” over “the wishbone” root end which are two root ends connected by a rhizome that I harvested together, as seen in the first photo above. [Jem would also come to me around a year or so later and ask if I would author a book on how to play the shakuhachi, which resulted in my first book, Your Shakuhachi Journey published in 2015 (out of print).]

Here’s what Jem had to say about our meeting and also a bit of his history as a shakuhachi craftsman…

“I learned that Jon [Josen] was living outside of Asheville. It’s kind of rare to run into another shakuhachi maker and I was excited to meet them. We hit it off right away. Jon took me into his barn where they had so many cured root end pieces, just beautiful Madake bamboo. My jaw must have been on the floor. They were shocked to learn that, in the past, I hadn’t had access to root end bamboo for crafting my own shakuhachi, just those for Monty which he signed with his signature. Jon kindly handed me a few cured root end pieces and said, “You deserve these.”

[Later, this is what Jem had to say after crafting shakuhachi from the root ends I gave to him.] I will never forget your kindness. That first root end shakuhachi I was able to stamp with my signature, made from the bamboo you gave me, was such an accomplishment for me. I had made hundreds for Monty but to have one with my signature on it felt so wonderful.

Jon and Jem shakuhachi
Jem Klein with his son Oak crafting shakuhachi for Monty Levenson, 2007

A bit of Jem's shakuhachi story

I started apprenticing with Monty Levenson shortly after I turned fifteen, in the spring of 1995. Monty is a well known, self taught, master shakuhachi maker [epoxy resin cast-bore shakuhachi -]. Nearly every penny I earned went toward buying my own flute making & wood working tools.

A dear friend of mine recently asked me how many shakuhachi flutes I have made in my life: with Monty and on my own. I had never really thought about this before. It has somehow just been part of my nature, something I must do, but his question made me curious.

There is no way for me to count the hundreds, if not thousands of shakuhachi that I worked on in Monty’s shop from 1995-2012, but I do have records from 2006 on. I made 562 shakuhachi flutes (not including "shakalutes") for Monty bearing his signature from 2006-2012. It is wild to think that that many shakuhachi have been crafted by my hands. There are so many others that I have put the inlay on, done the bindings, or have repaired or tuned. It would be so fun to be in a room with ALL those flutes.

Eventually, me and my family packed up in March of 2013 and headed to the Black Mountains of Western North Carolina. Eventually, we bought a little log cabin an hour’s drive northeast of Asheville. We now live near the beautiful South Toe River in a community rich in artists. [Update: Jem and his wife Meredith now primarily focus on running their business Reverence Botanicals (]

Jon and Jem shakuhachi
Jem and Meredith on their homestead, the center of operations for Reverence Botanicals.