Born: December 12, 1929 Primary Instrument: Piano
Toshiko Akiyoshi's unique contributions to the jazz world have evolved like falling dominoes through a series of events that started with a piano-loving little Japanese girl in Manchuria and brought her to prominence as an unparalleled pianist, composer and leader of the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra. Manchurian-born Akiyoshi's interest in the piano started at age six, and by the time her family had moved back to Japan at the end of World War II. Toshiko had developed a real love for music. She soon began playing piano professionally, which eventually led to being discovered by pianist Oscar Peterson in 1952 during a Norman Granz Jazz at the Philharmonic tour of Japan. On Peterson recommendation, Toshiko recorded for Granz, and not long after, she went to the U.S. to study at the Berklee School of Music in Boston.
Her years in Boston, and later on in New York, developed her into a first class pianist. Her interest in composing and arranging came to fruition when she moved to Los Angeles in 1972 with her husband, saxophonist/flutist Lew Tabackin. The following year they formed the world-renowned big band that is now known as the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra featuring Lew Tabackin. The band, which began as a vehicle for Toshiko's own compositions, grew in stature during its 10 years on the west coast and gained a reputation as one of the most excellent and innovative big bands in jazz. In 1976 the band placed first in the Down Beat Critics' Poll and her album, Long Yellow Road, was named best jazz album of the year by Stereo Review. The late Leonard Feather, eminent jazz critic and author, summed up the brilliance of Toshiko Akiyoshi big band in his review of that album, ... greatness is greatness, whether on the East Coast, the West Coast in Tokyo or anywhere else in the world. I think you will find it in this magnificently variegated, consistently exciting example of one of the outstanding orchestras of our time. In 1977 the recording Insights was named as record of the year by Down Beat magazine.
In 1982 the couple returned to New York, where Toshiko reformed her band with New York musicians, In 1983 the new Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra featuring Lew Tabackin, had a critically successful debut at Carnegie Hall as part of the Kool Jazz Festival. That same year a documentary film by Renee Cho depicting the Akiyoshi/Tabackin move from L.A. to New York was released, entitled Jazz is My Native Language (Rhapsody Video).
Toshiko has recorded 18 albums with the Jazz Orchestra. Her recording Four Seasons of the Morita Village, was awarded the 1996 Swing Journal Silver Award. Toshiko's big band albums have received 14 Grammy Award nominations since 1976. The band was also voted #1 in Down Beat magazine's Best Big Band category, and Toshiko has placed first in the Best Arranger and Composer category in the Down Beat Readers' Poll, making her the first woman in the history of jazz to have been so honored.
In 1986 Toshiko was the only Japanese New Yorker ever to receive New York City's Liberty Award. In 1992, her work was performed by the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra, and the following year by the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra. In 1996 Maestro James De Priest conducted the Portland Symphony in a program of Akiyoshi's works. In 1993 a live concert of the big band, Strive for Jive, was released in video.
Toshiko realized a long time dream in 1996 when she completed her autobiography. Life With Jazz. The book is now in its third printing in Japanese and will soon be translated into Korean. In 1995 the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra was invited to play in China.
The Orchestra follows the great Duke Ellington tradition of using each musician's individual sound and style as an integral part of the ensemble's musical identity. To this Akiyoshi adds her own complex, boppish lines and contemporary colors and textures, mingled with elements of her Asian roots to produce a sound that has no equal in jazz.
Summing up her own career, Toshiko, with characteristic modesty commented in an interview with the San Bernardino Sun, I would hope that my work might have more substance and more quality rather than quantity of notes. And I hope the notes I produce today are more selective than 20 years ago.
Toshiko_Akiyoshi Discography on Wikipedia
Good discography with links to Wiki articles on every listed album.
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