Born: January 2, 1933 Primary Instrument: Bass
Isao Suzuki is the grand master of jazz in Japan. He is a bassist, multi instrumentalist, composer, arranger, producer, and bandleader. He was born on January 3, 1933 in Tokyo.
When he was a college student back in December 1953 he went to see Louis Armstrong All Stars in Tokyo. Milt Hinton, the best player ever, 43 at the time, was playing. Luckily Isao could see him playing from the front seat, and he was totally taken aback by Milt’s bass. When Milt said, “I pick and you clap,” and played solo bass very casually for 15 minutes, Isao was so moved by the sound that he couldn’t stop crying. Milt smiled at Isao when he noticed that Isao was so moved and crying. Isao was so fascinated by his performance, so three days later, Isao asked his mother to buy him a double bass.
Some time after Isao got the bass, a bandleader of a strip joint asked him if he wanted to play for them. The question, or his answer rather, would become the first step onto a professional path. At that time, live performing was very common and good strip theater had jazz players. Isao couldn’t do anything at the beginning, but he was able to read music scores and play in about six months. Among the customers frequenting the strip joint was guitarist Tony Tekiseira, a G.I. working with the military band. One day Tony invited Isao to the U.S. military base in Tokyo. He liked the way Isao played, and Isao joined his band. Isao spent three or four years there and gained confidence, because he played with real American jazzman.
In 1960, Isao joined a very popular band named George Kwaguchi and Big Four and sometimes it became George Kwaguchi and Big Four plus one, when Sadao Watanabe joined in. Isao was having lots of jam session at that time. Once Tony Scott, the clarinet player, listened to his performance and Tony wanted to play with him. Tony lived in 1960 to 1965, and joined hands with Isao throughout 1962 with the legendary Tony Scott quartet. After Tony left the band, Hidehiko Matsumoto joined and it became Hidehiko Matsumoto Quartet. This is where Isao met Paul Chambers. In 1964, lots of great musicians such as Miles Davis, Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers came to Japan for “the first world jazz festival.” Hidehiko Matsumoto Quartet was the only Japanese band to join the festival, then Isao met Paul and they spent lots of time together.
In 1966, Isao joined the Sadao Watanabe quartet, with pianist Masabumi Kikuchi and drummer Masahiko Togashi. After he quit Sadao Watanabe quartet, he became a band leader of a house band at Five Spot in Jiyugaoka that was ran by Teruo Isono who is very famous jazz critic in japan. Isao played every day for almost two years. Isono knew lots of people, and he brought great musicians such as Oscar Peterson, Horace Silver, Winton Kelly and Art Blakey, then Isao often played with them. Especially Blakey came there often and once he said, ‘Isao, come to Ner York and we can play together.’ So in 1970 he went to New York at the encouragement of Art Blakey and officially joined his lengendary group JAZZ MESSENGERS. He even stayed at Blakey’s place. During this time, he worked and recorded with Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Ella Fitzgerald, Wynton Kelly, Bobby Timmons, Jim Hall, Ron Carter, Sun Ra and others. Isao spent about a year with Art Blakey’s band and then returned to Japan.
Since his return to Japan, Isao has contributed to the development of many young musicians enlisting them as members of his band 'OMA SOUND', a practice which has kept his sound on the cutting-edge of progressive jazz to this day. “This might be Art Blakey’s influence. But in music, especially jazz, you don’t need to say anything. Experience is more important than anything else,” Isao said.
In 1971, guitarist Baden Powell came to Japan to have concerts tour and recordings. Isao was replacing an original bassist. “Despite of Isao Suzuki’s unplanned contribution he proved to be and equal and versatile musician, finding his way between Alfredo and Baden. It can only be guessed how this setting with the Japanese bass player influenced his future studio work. At the end of this year he sould seek again the collaboration with a professional Jazz bassist recording enough material for two records.” (http://www.brazil-on-guitar.de)
On his solo album Self-Portrait (1980), Suzuki played 20 or more instruments, sealing his unique standing in the Japanese jazz scene. Now, with more than 60 albums released, including several winners of the prestigious Japan Jazz Prize award, Suzuki's reputation as a unique leader of jazz in Japan has been secured.
His group called OMA SOUND was participated on Miri International Jazz Festival in 2008, and JAVA Jazz Festival in 2009.