Taro Okamoto: Too Many Unknown Greats
I first met this great drummer from Osaka Japan twenty years ago when I went to my very first New York audition for a band run by singer Carla White and trumpeter Manny Duran. Taro was living downtown at the time in a huge loft near the World Trade Center and Carla asked me if I could pick up her drummer on the way uptown to Bretton Hall where the audition was to take place. From the moment Taro and I met we became friends and from the first bar we played we became musical compatriots. If you want to hear how a drummer can swing and play with dynamics and support the soloist all with great taste, uplifting energy and a positive spirit check out Taro. He listens carefully to what's going on around him in the band always adding something interesting for the soloist to play off of, but never gets in the way and his own solos are creative and clearly organized. Taro and I played together with Carla and Manny for a few years and it was also at this time that we both began playing with brilliant tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh who was famous as the musical partner of Lee Konitz in the Lenny Tristano quintet. Since that time Taro and I have worked together in many different groups. Lately we've been playing with saxophonist David Schnitter who is back in New York after living as an expatriate in Europe for quite a while.
Taro has been living in New York for more than twenty-five years. One of his first important gigs in New York was working and recording with the legendary Sadik Hakim (who is the real composer of the thought to be Monk tune 'Eronel'). Taro has also played with many other great artists including Duke Jordan, Hank Jones, Reggie Workman, Gary Bartz, Frank Rosolino and many others. Taro performs often back in Japan and also helps other musicians get gigs there as well (It was Taro who helped me get to Japan for the first time fifteen years ago). For the past ten years or so he has been working with the Richie Vitale Quintet. He's recorded three burning CD's with the group all on the TCB Music label. The first, which was released in 1994, is called Dreamsville and features Gary Bartz, the second is a live recording at Smalls from 1997 and the third which was just released in October, is entitled Shake It. Don't be fooled by fame or the lack of it. Taro Okamoto deserves to be heard and is definitely great! Go check him out in New York or Japan when you get a chance!