Born: 1956 Primary Instrument: Piano
Sumi Tonooka (pronounced To-NO-ka) has been called a “fierce and fascinating composer and pianist” (Jazz Times), “provocative and compelling” (New York Times), and “continually inventive, original, surprising, and a total delight,” (Cuadranos de Jazz, Madrid).
During a career spanning more than 30 years that has taken her from bases in Philadelphia & Boston, to New York & Seattle, Tonooka has been developing a body of work that surprises and delights audiences - quietly piling up accolades from jazz writers and fellow musicians.
In 2013, the American Composers Orchestra and The Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University, in cooperation with EarShot, the National Orchestra Composition Discover Network, presented Tonooka's first work for symphony ochestra as part of the second Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute (JCOI) Readings.
In her most recent solo recording, NOW, Tonooka covers a lot of stylistic territory in a perfectly sequenced show, and plays with a rare spirituality and musical sagacity. A superb solo piano outing (All About Jazz). Her 2009 recording, Initiation (2009 ARC Records, with tenor saxophonist Erica Lindsay), garnered an “Honorable Mention” in the 2010 Village Voice Jazz Critic’s Poll. Recording often in trio or quartet with such noted jazz stalwarts as bassist Rufus Reid and drummers Akira Tana and Lewis Nash, Tonooka characteristically blends her own compositions with highly personal readings of jazz standards.
In addition to her symphonic and chamber works, jazz recordings and performances, Tonooka has composed over a dozen film scores, including the Academy Award-nominated Family Gathering by Lise Yasui and Daring To Resist by Martha Lubell, aired on PBS. She is also featured in A Note of Hope, released in 2011, a full-length documentary from Citygate Films on the youngest victiims of HIV/AIDS in Africa. She toured West Africa as part of a sextet featuring her musical compadre of two decades, jazz violinist John Blake, Jr. Their recorded output includes A New Beginning: Live at The Village Gate, Kindred Spirits (as a duo), and the Traveler featuring Boris Koslov on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums. As a member of the Rufus Reid Quintent, Tonooka appears on the CD and DVD The Rufus Reid Quintent: Live at the Kennedy Center (Motema). The group appeared at Dizzy's Club Cocoa Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York in 2007 for the release performance.
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 Madame Jazz by Leslie Gourse (all on Oxford University Press). As a professional response to an inherent void within the music industry, Tonooka, along with alto saxophonist Chris Burnett and tenor saxophonist Erica Lindsay, co-founded the Artists Recording Collective (ARC), an internationally recognized brand and professional recording label. She now divides her time between her responsibilities as the Chief, Public Relations Officer for ARC, composing and performing for an increasingly widespread audience of jazz aficionados. In his liner notes to pianist, composer and educator Sumi Tonooka's fifth CD, Long Ago Today, journalist Russ Musto restated his praise from thirty years ago:...it has been a pleasure to hear her blossom into one of the most talented musicians of her generation.
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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