Pianist, composer, bandleader
Manchurian-born Japanese pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi, as an Asian woman pursuing jazz in America, battled many prejudices and stereotypes at the onset of her career. Indeed, upon her arrival in the United States in 1956, she generated more attention for her appearance than for her musicianship. “I got a lot of press. You know why? Because I was an oddity,” she recalled to Zan Stewart in the Los Angeles Times. “In those days, a Japanese woman playing like [jazz pianist] Bud Powell was something very new. So all the press, the attention, wasn’t because I was authentic. It was because I was strange,” she added, laughing.
In time, however, Akiyoshi proved herself more than just a novelty. Earning the respect of critics and working harder than many of her peers for acceptance, she became one of the most respected pianists/composers in her field. Akiyoshi furthermore successfully upheld the tradition of the big band and is considered one of the greatest contemporary leaders for her rich orchestrations, original arrangements, and rhythmic sophistication. “The fresh-sounding musical excitement generated by this 16-piece ensemble comes not so much from its exceptional players,” wrote Frank-John Hadley in Down Beat about the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra, “but from the brilliant composing and arranging of Ms. Akiyoshi, whose value to the international jazz community is incalculable.”
In addition to garnering numerous Grammy Award nominations, Akiyoshi won in both 1978 and 1979 the Down Beat Critics’ Poll Award for Best Arranger and Best Band, and in 1989, the magazine named her the year’s Best Arranger. In 1986 the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations awarded Akiyoshi the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. That same year, she became the only Japanese New Yorker to receive New York City’s Liberty Award.
Born on December 18, 1929, in Dairen, Manchuria, China, to well-off Japanese parents, Akiyoshi, the youngest of four daughters, was introduced to music early in life. Her father encouraged his children to study the arts, enrolling them in lessons in ballet, traditional Japanese dancing, and piano. Akiyoshi started studying classical piano at age six but was not introduced to jazz until years later.
During Akiyoshi’s early childhood, which extended into World War II, Manchuria became an increasingly dangerous area, especially for people of Japanese descent. In 1946 the Akiyoshi family returned to Japan, moving to the resort town of Beppu. Akiyoshi took a job playing piano at one of the many dancehalls frequented by post-war soldiers during the American occupation of Japan. Soon after her arrival in Japan, a teenage Akiyoshi received her first meaningful exposure to jazz. Inspired by a recording of pianist Teddy Wilson’s “Sweet Lorraine,” she resolved that jazz was her calling.
Born on December 18, 1929, in Dairen, Manchuria, China; daughter of Tatsuro and Shigeko (Hiraike) Akiyoshi; married Charlie Mariano (a saxophonist), 1959; divorced; married Lewis Tabackin (a saxophonist and flutist), 1969; children: Michiru Mariano. Education: Graduated from Berklee College of Music, Boston, MA, 1959.
Started playing classical piano, age six; returned with her family to Japan, started playing professionally in dance-halls, 1946; formed first jazz group, 1951; moved to the United States, 1956; moved to Los Angeles, 1972; formed the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra, 1973; released Kogun, 1974; released Tales of a Courtesan, 1975; relocated to New York, 1982; released trio set Interlude, 1987; released Remembering Bud: Cleopatra’s Dream, a tribute to Bud Powell, 1992; released with her jazz orchestra, Desert Lady—Fantasy, 1994.
Awards: Down Beat Critics’ Poll Award, Best Arranger and Best Band, 1978-79; Ellis Island Medal of Honor, 1986; Liberty Award, 1986; Down Beat Critics’ Poll Award, Best Arranger, 1989.
Addresses: Record company —Columbia Records, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022, (212) 833-8000.
Desiring greater opportunities than her small town could offer, Akiyoshi eventually moved to the city of Tokyo and, in 1951, formed her first jazz group. Two years later, Oscar Peterson discovered the young pianist/bandleader during a Norman Granz Jazz at the Philharmonic tour. Upon the elder pianist’s recommendation, Akiyoshi made her first recording for Granz, receiving backing from Peterson’s own rhythm section.
In 1956 Akiyoshi left Japan, traveling to the United States to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1959 Akiyoshi graduated and married her first husband, saxophonist Charlie Mariano, with whom she had a daughter named Michiru. Throughout the 1960s, Akiyoshi lived in Boston, then in New York City, where playing club gigs enabled her to further develop into a first-rate jazz pianist. She also studied and played with the Charles Mingus Workshop, co-led the Toshiko Mariano Quartet with her husband, and recorded a series of small-group solo albums.
In 1969, now divorced from Mariano, Akiyoshi married Lew Tabackin, a saxophonist and flutist. The couple moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1972, and thereafter Akiyoshi’s composing and arranging skills flourished. The following year, she and Tabackin formed a “rehearsal” band as a showcase for her own work. It would soon become known as the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra featuring Lew Tabackin. Over the next ten years, the orchestra grew in stature to become regarded as one of the best, and most innovative, groups in big-band jazz.
In the meantime, Akiyoshi was considering quitting music altogether, feeling as though she had not created a distinct identity within the jazz world. Then, when Duke Ellington, one of her idols, died in 1974, Akiyoshi was inspired to push forward. “When Duke died, I read that he was very conscious of his race,” she said to Stewart, “and I thought that maybe that was my role, to portray my heritage within jazz, to utilize both. That was probably my most important discovery.”
With this revelation, Akiyoshi completed and recorded one of her first pieces for a large ensemble, a work entitled Kogun, in 1974. A dramatic composition, it describes, in musical terms, a Japanese army officer found living in the Burmese jungle in the 1970s, unaware that World War II had ended. Two years later, Akiyoshi and her orchestra returned with Long Yellow Road, which was named Stereo Review’s Best Jazz Album of the Year. The 1975 recording Tales of a Courtesan also won praise from critics. The epic work tells the story of a young Japanese woman sold into prostitution in the seventeenth century. Akiyoshi concluded the decade with the 1978 albums Insights, Notorious Tourist from the East, and Finesse, the latter showcasing Akiyoshi’s talents leading a trio.
In the early 1980s Akiyoshi continued to win acclaim for works such as the tribute Farewell to Mingus in 1980 and European Memoirs in 1984. The decade also marked Akiyoshi and Tabackin’s return, in 1982, to New York City, where the couple re-formed their big band with East Coast musicians. Their move from Los Angeles back to New York was documented in a film about Akiyoshi entitled Jazz Is My Native Language.
Akiyoshi continued to record and perform in both big-band and small-group settings. The 1987 album Interlude was recorded by a trio consisting of bassist Dennis Irwin and drummer Eddie Marshall. The album included Akiyoshi originals alongside the standards of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and even a classical piece. In 1990 in Japan, Akiyoshi recorded in two separate trio sessions the album Remembering Bud: Cleopatra’s Dream. A tribute to one of her primary influences, Bud Powell, the set was released two years later. The Carnegie Hall Concert, also released in 1992, was recorded in 1991 and marked the thirty-fifth anniversary of Akiyoshi’s arrival in America.
In late 1994 Akiyoshi and her big band returned with Desert Lady—Fantasy, the title track based on a song originally written by Tabackin. Returning to work as a soloist, Akiyoshi released Maybeck Recital Hall Series, Volume 36, part of the Concord Jazz solo-piano series, in 1995. She continues to tour all over the world with her jazz orchestra. In 1996 Akiyoshi completed her autobiography, Life with Jazz.
Kogun, RCA, 1974.
Tales of a Courtesan, RCA, 1975.
Long Yellow Road, RCA, 1976.
March of the Tadpoles, RCA, 1977.
Insights, RCA, 1978.
Finesse, Concord Jazz, 1978.
Notorious Tourist from the East, Inner City, 1978.
Farewell, Ascent, 1980.
European Memoirs, Ascent, 1984.
Top of the Gate, Denon, 1986.
Interlude, Concord Jazz, 1987.
Remembering Bud: Cleopatra’s Dream, Evidence, 1992.
Carnegie Hall Concert, Columbia, 1992.
Desert Lady—Fantasy, Columbia, 1994.
Maybeck Recital Hall Series, Volume 36, Concord Jazz, 1995.
Notable Asian Americans, Gale Research, 1995.
Swenson, John, editor, Rolling Stone Jazz and Blues Album Guide, Random House, 1999.
The Complete Marquis Who’s Who, Marquis Who’s Who, 2001.
Boston Globe, June 26, 1995, p. 38.
Down Beat, April 1994, p. 50; February 1995, p. 40; March 1995, p. 53.
Entertainment Weekly, January 12, 1996, p. 57.
Los Angeles Times, February 21, 1993, p. 59; November 14, 1993, p. 8; November 15, 1993, p. 2; December 3, 1994, p. 2; December 5, 1994, p. 6; September 14, 1995, p. 3; July 6, 1998, p. 4; February 17, 1999, p. 2; September 22, 1999, p. 2; November 3, 2001, p. F6.
Ms., May 1993, p. 82.
“The Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra,” USC Spectrum, http://www.usc.edu/dept/spectrum/94-95season/toshiko.html (May 9, 2002).
“Toshiko Akiyoshi,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (May 9, 2002).
“Toshiko Akiyoshi,” The Berkeley Agency, http://www.berkeleyagency.com/toshiko.html (May 9, 2002).
Lew Tabackin was first exposed to jazz as a child, when his mother took him to movies at Philadelphia's Earl Theater. In addition to films, each day's feature also included a live stage show. "The stage shows usually involved a band, and I can still remember seeing bands like Cab Calloway and Lionel Hampton," Tabackin recalled to Martin Richards in Jazz Journal International.
Tabackin's interest in the musical form was piqued, and when he entered middle school he joined the school band hoping to play the clarinet. When the clarinet wasn't available, he was switched to the flute. "Not too many people wanted a flute," he explained to Richards. "It wasn't exactly a macho thing, and where I grew up in south Philadelphia guys didn't play the flute. Nobody even knew what it was! Anyway, I was stuck with this instrument, but it was something to do so I started playing."
Tabackin learned to play the tenor saxophone at 15 when Frankie Avalon, a fellow Philadelphian, needed one for his band. Too young to enter the clubs they played, Tabackin scored fake identification to get in. After high school, he attended the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music, where he returned to the flute—the school didn't teach saxophone. He also began to study with composer Vincent Persichetti during this time.
After graduating from the conservatory in 1962, Tabackin was drafted into the army—and even while serving in South Carolina and New Jersey he found time to jam with fellow musicians. Upon his discharge in 1964, Tabackin headed straight for New York. "That's when my real musical life began," he told Richards. "I went to New York with $400 and found a place to stay and I figured that the only way I would be able to do anything was to force myself to go places and sit in." Soon he began playing with Elvin Jones, the Thad Jones–Mel Lewis Big Band and others, often substituting for saxophonist Joe Farrell when Farrell couldn't make a gig.
In 1965 or 1966 Tabackin joined Cab Calloway's band and, from there, began playing with trumpet players Maynard Ferguson and Clark Terry. In 1967 composer and pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi invited him to join her for a concert at New York's Town Hall. Contrary to popular legend, Tabackin declined the gig to tour with the Alan Mills Band. Afterward he and Akiyoshi reunited and began collaborating; he also joined saxophonist Doc Severinsen's Tonight Show band. In 1969 Tabackin and Akiyoshi married; the following year they went to Los Angeles.
The move came at an opportune time, since the social and political factors of the time, Tabackin told Fred Jung of the All About Jazz website, made work for white jazz musicians hard to find. "New York was very strange because there was almost like a black revolution happening. Martin Luther King was assassinated ... [as was] Malcolm X and it was very difficult for white jazz musicians. It was really tough and I respected it and I understood it and I didn't have any bitterness, but I remember Duke Pearson was trying to get me a contract with Blue Note and they weren't interested in white musicians. It was rough."
Tabackin stayed with Severinsen's band for only a short while before jumping to the Dick Cavett Show. In 1970-71 he and Akiyoshi toured her home country of Japan. In 1973 Tabackin, Akiyoshi, and other Los Angeles musicians began to rehearse Akiyoshi's compositions, with Tabackin on both flute and saxophone. The ensemble rented the Wilshire Ebell Theater for their first concert later that year, where they were joined by drummer Shelly Manne. The group then recorded Kogun as the Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin Big Band. The album was released by BMG in Japan, where its fusion of eastern and western sounds became a major hit, selling 30,000 copies. Their album Long Yellow Road was released domestically the same year. The Big Band drew its first major attention in the United States when it was invited to play at the 1975 Monterey Jazz Festival.
The Big Band remained active throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and Tabackin also pursued solo and small group projects with both Manne and Billy Higgins. His first solo album, Tabackin, was released on RCA in 1974 and featured Akiyoshi and pianist Roland Hanna. Dual Nature, released on the smaller Inner City label the following year, emphasized Tabackin's split musical personality. His mystically tinged, eastern-influenced flute playing spans one side of the album, while his hard bop tenor sax fills the other. While the early albums are difficult to track down, later releases from Tabackin's longstanding relationship with the Concord Jazz label are more readily available. This fruitful partnership began with 1989's Desert Lady, which features pianist Hank Jones, bassist Dave Holland, and drummer Victor Lewis.
Tabackin and Akiyoshi returned to New York in the early 1980s, seeking creative reinvigoration and additional performing opportunities. Tabackin told the All About Jazz website that his time in Los Angeles had been crucial to his musical development, however. "[W]hen I was in New York, I was involved in everyone else's projects. I played in so many bands at the same time, but I never focused on my own thing. In Los Angeles, I felt that I had to make an attempt to create my own little world, which I did.... There were some wonderful things that happened and it forced me to find out who I was because I had to create my own identity, so the ten years we spent in L.A. were quite important. But I felt like I had to get back to a certain energy that I missed in New York."
Tabackin primarily pursued independent projects in the late 1980s and through the 1990s, although the Big Band became more active around its thirtieth anniversary in 2003. In addition to major retrospectives at the Detroit Symphony's Orchestra Hall, Chicago's Jazz Showcase, Lincoln Center, and Carnegie Hall, the ensemble released two CDs on BMG: Tanuki's Night Out and Tales of a Courtesan. Tabackin has also focused on his international jazz trio, featuring Russian bassist Boris Kozlov and British drummer Mark Taylor. Even after four decades, Tabackin makes it clear his sound is still evolving—and that his sense of humor is intact. "I am trying to find ways to be more expressive and reach a larger audience without doing anything stupid," he told Jung. "I am trying to develop little projects and trying to keep my music as pure as possible."
For the Record . . .
Born on March 26, 1940, in Philadelphia, PA; married Toshiko Akiyoshi (a pianist). Education: Graduated from the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music, 1962.
Moved to New York City, 1965; joined Cab Calloway's band, then played with Maynard Ferguson, Clark Terry, the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, Joe Henderson, and Elvin Jones; main soloist with Danish Radio Orchestra, 1968-69; joined Doc Severinsen's Tonight Show orchestra, moved to The Dick Cavett Show, 1969-70; toured Japan with Toshiko Akiyoshi, 1970-71; formed Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin Big Band, 1973; principal soloist with Big Band, 1973–; released Kogun with the Big Band in Japan, 1974; performed at Monterey Jazz Festival, 1975; recorded as soloist/bandleader for Inner City, 1974-77; Ascent, 1979; and Concord, 1989–.
Addresses: Website— Lew Tabackin Official Website: http://www.lewtabackin.com. E-mail— [email protected]
Tabackin, RCA, 1974.
Dual Nature, Inner City, 1976.
Tenor Gladness, Inner City, 1976.
Trackin', RCA 1976
(With Toshiko Akiyoshi Orchestra) Road Time, RCA, 1976.
Rites of Pan, Inner City, 1977.
Black and Tan Fantasy, Ascent, 1979.
Desert Lady, Concord Jazz, 1989.
I'll Be Seeing You, Concord Jazz, 1992.
What a Little Moonlight Can Do, Concord Jazz, 1994.
Tenority, Concord Jazz, 1996.
In a Sentimental Mood, Camerata, 1998.
My Old Flame, Atlas, 1999.
Pyramid, Koch, 1999.
With Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin Big Band
Kogun, RCA, 1974.
Long Yellow Road, BMG, 1974.
Insights, BMG, 1976.
March of the Tadpoles, BMG, 1977.
Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin Big Band Live, RCA, 1977.
Tales of a Courtesan, BMG, 2003.
Tanuki's Night Out, BMG, 2003.
Down Beat, June 3, 1976.
Jazz Journal International, January 1989; February 1989.
"A Fireside Chat with Lew Tabackin," All About Jazz, http://www.allaboutjazz.com (February 1, 2004).
"Lew Tabackin," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 1, 2004).
"Lew Tabackin," Grove Dictionary of Music, http://www.grovemusic.com (February 1, 2004).
Lew Tabackin Official Website, http://www.lewtabackin.com (January 30, 2004).
One of the first Asian-born musicians to succeed in the jazz and big band arenas, Toshiko Akiyoshi (born 1929) is also a pioneering woman in these traditionally male-dominated arts. Her jazz orchestra has become one of the most popular of its kind and has received 14 Grammy Award nominations since 1976.
Atruly international music star, Akiyoshi was born of well-to-do Japanese Buddhist parents in Darien, Manchuria Province (now part of China), on December 12, 1929. Her father, the owner of an import-export textile business and a practitioner of classic Japanese Noh drama, encouraged Akiyoshi and her three sisters to take music, acting, and dance lessons. Akiyoshi later recalled feeling a strong affinity for the piano by the age of six, and her early training was exclusively in classical music.
Early Interest in Music Interrupted by
By the early 1930s the ancient kingdom of Manchuria had become a furiously contested piece of land as Japan, the Soviet Union, and China battled over its sovereignty. The conflict worsened during World War II, as one country's domination quickly gave way to that of another. Soldiers commandeered the Akiyoshi home several times, eventually prompting the family to flee to the resort town of Beppu, Japan. Financially ruined, they were met at Beppu by American occupation troops who deloused the entire family with DDT.
When asked if she remembers the American atomic bombs dropped in nearby Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, that put an end to World War II in August of 1945, Akiyoshi, who was then age 15, recalled in a Down Beat interview with Michael Bourne: "All I knew was that the war was ended. We knew that a bomb was dropped, but we didn't know the effect. People at that time tried to avoid speaking about it. Even the victims didn't want to talk about it."
Living in Japan during her teen years, Akiyoshi heard for the first time the jazz rhythms popular with the American GI's occupying the country after the war. Although she had begun to consider a career in medicine during the tumult of wartime, by the time she was 16, Akiyoshi had found a job as a jazz pianist for four dollars an hour at one of the many new dance halls being set up for occupation troops. Her parents initially disapproved but told her she could play until school started in March. The musician later remembered, "March came and went, and no one noticed. I just kept playing!" A young admirer and record collector also introduced Akiyoshi to the music of Teddy Wilson. She fell in love with the song "Sweet Lorraine" and swore that she would one day play "like that."
Started New Life
Akiyoshi eventually tired of the dance-hall scene and in 1952, at age 23, got permission from her parents to move to Tokyo. After playing with ten jazz groups and three symphonies, she started her first band in Tokyo and quickly became the highest-paid studio musician in Japan and within a year was discovered by popular American pianist Oscar Peterson. At Peterson's request, Akiyoshi made a recording in 1953 for entrepreneur Norman Granz, who was running the Jazz at the Philharmonic tour of Japan. Peterson was very impressed by the young woman's work, telling Granz that she was "the greatest female jazz pianist" ever. Peterson recommended Akiyoshi for a full scholarship to the Berklee School of Music (now Berklee College of Music) in Boston, Massachusetts. She won the scholarship, moved to the United States, and began attending Berklee as a full-time student in 1956.
In the United States Akiyoshi's passion for music continued to build. She quickly developed a reputation as a fierce bebop pianist but had to deal with constant sexual and racial prejudice. As she told Downbeat, "I played clubs and TV wearing a kimono, because people were amazed to see an Oriental woman playing jazz." She soon met saxophonist Charlie Mariano while playing in a quartet. They fell in love and married in 1959 and had a daughter, Michiru, together. Akiyoshi finished her studies at Berklee in 1959.
Began Band with Second Husband
During the 1960s Akiyoshi often traveled to Japan for extended periods, and she also worked with bassists Charles Mingus and Oscar Pettfried in small combos in New York City and around Japan. She made her debut as a conductor-composer in 1967 in the Town Hall in New York in a concert for which she had raised funds by playing the Holiday Inn circuit for seven months. She had by now divorced Mariano, and now she met Lew Tabackin, a Jewish saxophonist and flautist. Marrying in 1969, the couple formed a group they thought of as a rehearsal band that designed to showcase Akiyoshi's new jazz and big band compositions.
Moving to Los Angeles in 1972, the couple transformed their rehearsal band into the wildly successful Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra in 1973. Following the death of jazz great Duke Ellington in 1974, Akiyoshi read an article about how proud he had always been of his heritage. This prompted her to begin studying Japanese music for the first time, looking for ways to, as she put it, "return to the jazz tradition something that might make it a little bit richer." In the meantime, the awards poured in as the band began recording albums such as Long Yellow Road (1976), Insights (1977), Minamata (1978), and Kogun (1978), the last which included her first Japanese jazz pieces. Meanwhile, Akiyoshi and Tabackin received increasing kudos for what had become one of the most innovative and accomplished big bands in the jazz world.
In 1982 Akiyoshi and Tabackin moved to New York, where Akiyoshi recreated her band with local musicians. The following year the new Jazz Orchestra received high critical praise during its debut at the Kool Jazz Festival. Also in 1983, Renee Cho released a documentary film about Akiyoshi titled Jazz Is My Native Language. Unlike others before them, the husband-and-wife team impressed people with their equality. Akiyoshi composed, conducted, and played piano, emulating such greats as Fletcher Henderson, Ellington, Earl Hines, and Count Basie, while Tabackin served as the ensemble's principal soloist.
Japanese Heritage Integral to Music
Once she accepted her Japanese heritage as an asset, rather than fighting it as a liability in a world of prejudice and racism, Akiyoshi decided to make Japanese themes and cultural elements part of her music. The 1976 album Tales of a Courtesan, for instance, was reportedly inspired by Akiyoshi's interest in the courtesans of the Edo period in 18th-century Japan. Other pieces, for both small groups and big band, incorporated elements of traditional Japanese folk songs, such as susumi and taiko drumming and vocal cries from Noh dramas, to evoke Japanese grace and delicacy. In addition, Akiyoshi and Tabackin liked to emphasize the juxtaposition of what they call the "vertical" rhythmic syncopation of jazz music with the "sideways" way Japanese music is played. Playing these elements against each other produced what many critics call an unparalleled sound in jazz. Despite its quality, however, much of Akiyoshi's music (like many of her predecessors in jazz) was given short shrift in the United States, finding appreciative audiences instead in Japan, Brazil, Germany, and France.
When asked who has influenced her career the most, Akiyoshi has frequently cited Ellington as her main inspiration. From the way she composed pieces to highlight the virtuosity of particular bandmembers—usually Tabackin—to how she has led and conducted the band, Akiyoshi clearly showed her admiration for the late bandleader. Other musicians she credited in helping shape her musical development include Roy Haynes, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, and Sonny Rollins, while her big-band compositions often paid tribute to such artists as Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, and Gil Evans. Akiyoshi even recalled her piano teacher at the Berklee School who insisted that she learn pieces backward and forward in order to create an intimate familiarity with the music. This practice may have led to Akiyoshi's unique multi-meter compositions in which accents are often placed in unusual spots and forms are extended beyond what the listener expects.
Akiyoshi and her band continued to produce powerful and popular music throughout the 1980s and 1990s, including such milestone albums as Farewell to Mingus (1980), European Memoirs (1982), Wishing Peace (1986), and Four Seasons in a Morita Village (1996). Her 2001 work, Hiroshima: Rising from the Abyss, received a great deal of attention from critics everywhere, not only because of its quality, but for its subject matter. The album was recorded in Hiroshima on the anniversary of the bombing of that city, and reviewers and fans alike found the work haunting and evocative. Akiyoshi was reportedly inspired to write the piece, after a lifetime of avoiding the subject, by the wish of a Buddhist priest and jazz fan from Hiroshima.
Closed down the Big Band
On October 17, 2003, Akiyoshi, then age 73, and Tabackin played a farewell concert with their Jazz Orchestra at New York's Carnegie Hall, recording the event live for their last album. The event marked the end of three decades' work and 30 years of Akiyoshi composing for and holding a band together—an unprecedented accomplishment. Akiyoshi told reporters at the concert, "I started my career as a pianist, and I want to devote my remaining years to composing and playing in solo and small-group formats. I am artistically challenged by this decision and want to become a better pianist, and for me this is the way."
Akiyoshi never formally became an American citizen. She and Tabackin live in New York City, where they own a brownstone on the upper West Side, Akiyoshi reportedly writing and practicing upstairs while Tabackin works in the basement. They both enjoy collecting wine and keeping track of baseball, their favorite sport. Their last gig at Birdland, the famous New York City nightclub where the Jazz Orchestra once performed every Monday, took place in December of 2003. Akiyoshi published her autobiography, Life with Jazz, in 1996.
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Akiyoshi, Toshiko, outstanding Chinese jazz artist; b. Darien, Manchuria, China, Dec. 12, 1929. Toshiko Akiyoshi is living proof that jazz is a world-wide phenomenon. Born in China and raised in Japan, Akiyoshi was introduced to jazz when she was still in her teens through the recordings of Teddy Wilson. While in her twenties and performing around Tokyo, she was heard by Oscar Peterson, who then told impresario Norman Granz that Akiyoshi was “the greatest female jazz pianist” This in turn led to her receiving a scholarship for the Berklee School of Music. She later formed a quartet with her husband at the time, alto saxophonist Charlie Mariano, recording for the Candid label prior to hooking up briefly with Charles Mingus in 1962. Shortly after the Mingus stint, Akiyoshi went back to Japan before returning to America where, in 1965, she was a piano teacher at jazz clinics in Reno, Nev. and Salt Lake City, Utah. Since that time she has founded her big band, now known as the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orch. (featuring saxophonist Lew Tabackin, her current husband), and recorded with it for RCA, Jam, and Ascent. The orchestra is now considered her main musical voice and her writing and arranging for them are widely considered to be among the best in the world.
Toshiko Mariano Quartet (1961); Finesse (1978); Interlude (1987); Desert Lady-Fantasy (1995).