100 Jazz Profiles
1929 - present
Pianist and composer. She grew up in China, and only discovered jazz in her late teens after her family moved back to Japan. There she led her own band from 1952, and in due course moved to the USA to attend Berklee College of Music from 1956. She made a reputation as a fiery bebop pianist, and played in a quartet with saxophonist Charlie Mariano, whom she married. She also worked with Charles Mingus, before spending the mid-1960s back in Japan.
After returning to the USA she led a trio, which grew to a quartet with the addition of tenorist and flautist Lew Tabackin, who became her second husband. By this time she was writing material of great originality and flair, and in 1973, she and Tabackin founded a large orchestra on the West Coast that made her an international reputation as a brilliant big band composer and bandleader.
In the 1980s, already recognised as a major force in the big band world, she relocated to New York, and re-formed her band, which she continued to lead into the 21st century. Her distinctive, percussive piano style is rooted in bebop, but her compositions have a broad stylistic range, and many of her pieces conjure up a feeling of Japanese delicacy and grace.
Len Lyons: The Great Jazz Pianists (New York, Da Capo) 1983
With the Toshiko Akiyoshi / Lew Tabackin Orchestra: Kogun (RCA 1350)
Piano solo: Toshiko Akiyoshi at Maybeck (Concord)
Suggested track: The Village
Profile by Alice Wang
Biography, photos, and comprehensive list of recordings
on radio 3
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