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Akiyoshi, Toshiko locked

  • J. Bradford Robinson

(b Dairen, China, Dec 12, 1929). Japanese jazz composer, pianist and bandleader. She studied classical music and turned to jazz only in 1947 after moving to Japan. There she was discovered by Oscar Peterson, who urged her to take up a career in the USA. After studying at Berklee College of Music (1956–9) she became a highly regarded bop pianist, especially in groups with the alto saxophonist Charlie Mariano (who was at that time her husband). She worked in Japan (1961), joined Charles Mingus in the USA (1962–3), then returned to Japan until 1965. In 1973 she founded a large rehearsal band in Los Angeles with the tenor saxophonist and flautist Lew Tabackin, whom she had married in 1969. Its first album, Kogun (1974, RCA), was commercially successful in Japan, and the group attracted increasing popularity and critical acclaim until, by 1980, it was generally regarded as the leading big band in jazz. The band allowed Akiyoshi to write a number of rich, subtle scores in the modern big-band tradition of Gil Evans, Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, though they were often enriched by elements from Japanese music: shakuhachi-style flute solos; tsuzumi drums and biwa; and nōh vocal recitations. This can be heard to advantage on the album Road Time (1976, RCA) which was recorded during a concert tour of Japan and includes a second version of Kogun. She has continued to play the piano in a delicate, accurate bop style. In 1984 she was the subject of a documentary film, Toshiko Akiyoshi: Jazz is my Native Language. The same year she and Tabackin disbanded their group and in 1985 Akiyoshi formed a new big band in New York. The 35th anniversary of her arrival in the USA was celebrated with a big-band concert at Carnegie Hall in 1991.


(selective list)

Big band

Between Me and Myself, c1954

Kogun, band, tsuzumi drum, 1974

American Ballad, 1974

Notorious Tourist from the East, 1974

Warning!, 1976

Minimata, band, child's v, nōh vocalist, 1976

Sumie, band, 5 fl, 1976

Farewell (To Mingus), 1980

2 Faces of a Nation, 1983

Kourokan, 1991

Children of the Universe, 1991


My Elegy, 1958

Silhouette, 1958

Double Exposure, 1970

Fool, 1970

Tuning Up, 1973

Film scores and theatre music

Principal publishers: Kendor and Toba


  • C. Sheridan: ‘The Manchurian Candidate’, Jazz Journal International, 32/1 (1979), 6–7
  • L. Feather: ‘Akiyoshi/Tabackin’, The Passion for Jazz (New York, 1980), 109–11
  • C. Kuhl: ‘Akiyoshi & Tabackin: Interview’, Cadence, 8/7 (1982), 8–10
  • L. Lyons: ‘Toshiko Akiyoshi’, The Great Jazz Pianists, Speaking of their Lives and Music (New York, 1983), 249–56
  • K. Whitehead: ‘Toshiko Akiyoshi’, Down Beat, 58/12 (1991), 72–3

    Scores of compositions in George P. Vanier Library, Concordia University, Montreal