Born: 1956 Primary Instrument: Piano
Noted jazz critic Francis Davis, one of the first to recognize her as an extraordinary talent, placed Sumi Tonooka “among the best of today's young pianists.” During a career now spanning more than 20 years, Sumi Tonooka has been surprising and delighting audiences ��” and quietly piling up accolades from jazz writers and her fellow musicians. Working in trio or quartet with such noted jazz stalwarts as bassist Rufus Reid and drummers Akira Tana and Lewis Nash, Tonooka's recordings characteristically blend her own compositions with highly personal readings of jazz standards. Her first professional stint at age 18 was with the Philly Joe Jones quartet, Le Grand Prix. From there she went on to perform with such luminaries as Kenny Burrell, Little Jimmy Scott, Sonny Fortune, Red Rodney, Benny Golson and David Fathead Newman. Ms. Tonooka holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Philadelphia College of Performing Arts. She studied piano with Bernard Peiffer, Susan Starr, Mary Lou Williams, and Stanley Cowell, and received additional training in piano and composition from Madame Margaret Chaloff of the New England Conservatory of Music. In addition to her jazz recording and performing, she has composed for film and dance.
Japanese-American and African-American by background, Sumi Tonooka has also broken new ground in her extended compositions blending Japanese musical instrumentation with jazz. Her 1988 work, “Out from the Silence,” for koto, shakuhachi, and jazz ensemble, was commissioned by the Japanese-American Citizens League to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the World War II��”era internment of Japanese-Americans. JazzTimes called the music “spellbinding.” In 1993 a commission from Meet the Composer and an NEA Jazz Fellowship enabled Ms. Tonooka to continue exploring new musical territory combining Eastern and Western musical idioms. In December, 1993, this led to the New York premiere of the Taiko Jazz Project, wherein 8 interrelated pieces based on the I Ching were scored to feature taiko master Kenny Endo, together with some of the most highly respected players in jazz. Since then, the Taiko Jazz Project has appeared on both coasts in trio and sextet aggregations. Tonooka's career has been chronicled on several highly regarded jazz books, including Living The Jazz Life by Royal Stokes, ln The Moment by Francis Davis, and Madamme Jazz by Leslie Gourse (all on Oxford University Press). She now divides her time between composing, teaching, and performing for an increasingly widespread audience of jazz aficionados who have discovered her wide ranging talents.
FILM AND DANCE SCORES BY SUMI TONOOKA
Selected list of dance and film scores - Film clips are available for some films at www.SumiTonooka.com in either Real Audio (RA) or Streaming Quicktime (QT) format; click on the links under the photos. ---
Family Gathering (1988) A film by Lise Yasui, produced by Lise Yasui and Ann Tegnell. Music composed by Sumi Tonooka.
RA clip QT clip On December 12, 1941, Masuo Yasui was arrested by the FBI as a “potentially dangerous enemy alien.” His family was left to fend for themselves; then they were separated by being sent to government internment camps. Family Gathering is a deeply personal exploration by Masuo’s granddaughter of that time period and the family’s memories. This film received an Academy Award nomination and premiered on PBS as part of the American Experience series. ---
Shizue (1990) Directed by Emi Tonooka and produced by Nadine Paterson and Emi Tonooka.
Emiko Tonooka, a Nisei American woman (and Sumi’s mother) tells the story of her search in Japan for her half sister whom she had never known. Through story telling, photography and carefully choreographed video work, a powerful portrait of family, history and connection emerges. ---
Susumu (1991) Directed and produced by Gei Zantzinger. Musical director: Sumi Tonooka.
This film offers a musicologist’s view of Sumi Tonooka’s original work, Out From the Silence. The piece was dedicated to Sumi’s mother, who at the age of 16 was taken with her family and thousands of other Japanese from her home on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle, to internment camps. Jazz Times called the work “spellbinding.” The film includes interviews with Ms. Tonooka and her mother, the late Emiko Tonooka. It also has live footage of the actual piece being performed live in the studio, by a band featuring Rufus Reid on bass, Akira Tana on drums, Wallace Roney on trumpet, Bill Easley on clarinet, Clifton Anderson on trombone, John Blake on violin, Bob Kenmotsu on tenor sax, Fusako Yoshida on koto, Ronnie “Nyogetsu” Seldin on shakuhachi, Steven Hideo Morris on vibes and percussion and Sumi Tonooka on piano. ---
Japanese Women: A Sense of Place (1992) Produced by Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro and Leita Hageman. Original music composed and performed by Sumi Tonooka.
This documentary addresses the lives and points of view of Asian American women who examine questions of ethnicity, racism and identity, and how these issues have shaped their lives and experiences. ---
Mysterical Awakenings (1994) Dance work commissioned, choreographed and performed by Mariko Tanabe. Original music by Sumi Tonooka, performed by Sumi Tonooka and John Blake.
Mariko Tanabe, a former premier dancer for the Edwin Hawkins Dance Company, now leads her own company, Mariko Tanabe Danceworks. This piece explores the metamorphosis and arrival of a woman's creative soul. With a magical kind of grace, it illuminates Ms. Tanabe’s personal influences, which have included modern dance, traditional Noh and butoh dance from Japan, and flamenco. Scored for synthesizer, koto and percussion. ---
Voices Found (1995) Dance piece commissioned, choreographed and performed by Mariko Tanabe DanceWorks. Original music performed and composed by Sumi Tonooka.
Voices Found looks at the connection between mothers and daughters. Through explorations of the past and present, it delves into emotions expressed and transferred in the womb. An intimate view of the maternal bond and its capacity to evoke, sometimes all at once, expressions of love, anger, loss and triumph. ---
Are You Black, White or What? (1998) Directed by Lillian Paulmier and produced by PBS. Original music composed and performed by Sumi Tonooka.
A mother examines the effects of identity and race on her bi-racial child. How do parents best help their children to cope with questions such as, “Are you black, white, or what? ---
Daring to Resist (1999) Directed and produced by Barbara Attie and Martha Goell Lubell, original music performed and composed by Sumi Tonooka.
RA clip QT clip Janeane Garafalo narrates this trilogy of three teenage girls fighting genocide during WWII, taking risks they never dreamed possible: Faye, a photographer and partisan fighter in Poland; Barbara, a ballerina in Amsterdam who hid and moved Jews to safety; and Shulamit, who led groups of Jews in underground border crossings from Hungary to Rumania. Despite losing their own families to the Nazis, these young women chose resistance, rather than submission, and helped keep others alive. ---
You Don’t Know Me (2000) Directed and produced by Cambiz Khosravi. Original music composed and performed by Sumi Tonooka.
RA clip QT clip This film tells the story behind the trial of Dewin Vargas, a teenage boy charged with the murder of his foster parent. By exploring Dewin's life and the events that led to his act of violence, the film is a window into the institutionalized injustices of the foster care system. ---
Crosstown (2001) Directed and produced by Miriam Camitta (2000). Original music composed by Sumi Tonooka.
RA clip QT clip The story of how a community saved itself through the dedication, solidarity, struggle and ultimate triumph of everyday people. These hometown heroes came together to prevent the building of a crosstown expressway that would have divided Philadelphia in half and destroyed some of the city’s oldest neighborhoods.
Her best to date, and a highly recommended recording, it seems Tonooka is still tapping potential while refining her search techniques on this very satisfying and enjoyable effort. - Michael G. Nastos, **** 4 STARS - All Music Guide
Tonooka's music is beautifully conceived and enthralling; a constant joy that will hopefully be followed up more often. - Jerry D'Souza, All About Jazz
... she plays with a mature and entirely personal style that makes her a contender for the ranks of today's jazz piano elite. - Jeff Dayton-Johnson, ALL ABOUT JAZZ
Her compositions are like the fourth player in the room; they veer into unusual patterns and give everyone something challenging. Tonooka tames them, though, making them sound flowing and of one piece. - Karl Stark, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
****....every single track on the date has something special about it and its really worth trying to get a copy on the internet. UNRESERVEDLY RECOMMENDED - Tony Hall****4 STARS, jazzwise magazine
...her assets are speed, power, and harmonic and rhythmic ingenuity, the track Quantum Question proves that at her best she can knock you down and run you over. - Thomas Conrad, Jazz TImes
Sumi creates a kaleidoscope of timbres & textures in her delivery, as well as a true jazz idiom sensibility with her impressionistic style. She also brings an 'original' voice to piano jazz with her obvious paranormal pianistic skills, thus complementing the art of jazz piano in general. Bravo Sumi! - George W Carroll, The Musicians' Ombudsman (eJazzNews)
Tonooka has been applauded for being a force of nature on the piano by aficionados of her work, and she still is with the compositions on Long Ago Today. The way her piano rings communicate with the bass pulls and delicate drum shuffles is inviting. - Susan Frances , JAZZ REVIEW
All originals, except for one Cole Porter tune. State of the art postbop, hard for me to nail down, but I'm impressed with how the pieces build and move. B+(***) - Tom Hull, Jazz Consumer Guide
She teams with Rufus Reid on bass, who she has played with since her debut in 1986, and Bob Braye, who passed away shortly after this recording, but it’s Tonooka’s command of the keyboard that keeps this interesting throughout. The same can be said of her compositions. - Kyle O'Brien, Jazz Society of Oregon
Tonooka is also flexible enough to engage in three-way dialogue if that's the way a performance unfolds. Nothing outre - just an exceptional player doing her thing well.(****) - RAY COMISKEY, THE IRISH TIMES
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