Pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi overcame numerous challenges during her long career, immigrating to a new country, establishing herself as both a top bandleader and composer/arranger, in addition to the difficulties of maintaining a large jazz ensemble. Her husband, tenor saxophonist and flutist Lew Tabackin, was a star soloist in her big band and he helped her recruit top musicians when she formed the band in 1973. Akiyoshi recorded numerous albums until disbanding the group in 2003, though many of these excellent recordings have unjustly lapsed from print.
Fortunately, Mosaic licensed five of her big band's RCA albums from the '70s, including Kogun, Long Yellow Road, Tales of a Courtesan, Insights and March of the Tadpoles, for this limited edition three-CD boxed set. While there is no mistaking Akiyoshi's bop pedigree (and particularly the influence of Bud Powell) in her rousing "Elegy," her introspective "Memory" reveals her Japanese roots with its novel use of the flute. The humorous up-tempo blues "Henpecked Old Man" is another highlight, with sparkling contributions by Tabackin, trumpeter Bobby Shew and alto saxophonist Dick Spencer.
Disc two showcases Tabackin on both flute and piccolo in the pianist's haunting "Tales of a Courtesan (Oirantan)," which also features some of her best ensemble writing. Her amusing blues "I Ain't Gonna Ask No More" is an unusual feature for contrabass trombone (an instrument rarely utilized, let alone used for solos in a big band), played by Phil Teele. The driving, insistent "Village" is a bustling affair that instead suggests a busy metropolis.
The final disc begins with the extended work "Minimata," a three-movement piece that represents the diversity of Akiyoshi's writing, combining both elements of traditional Japanese music and modern jazz. "March of the Tadpoles" is another cooker that quickly reveals itself to be a superb bop reinvention of "All the Things You Are." The surprising "Notorious Tourist From the East" actually incorporates flamenco rhythms in a hard-charging performance.
Akiyoshi's music has been so personal that others have been hesitant to explore it, though she has contributed many memorable works worthy of attention. Hopefully, this set will prompt additional reissues of her distinctive, unique music.
Track Listing: CD1: Elegy; Memory; Kogun; American Ballad; Henpecked Old Man; Long Yellow Road; The First Night; Opus Number Zero; Quadrille, Anyone?; Children In The Temple Ground. CD2: Since Perry / Yet Another Tear; Road Time Shuffle; Tales Of A Courtesan; Strive For Jive; I Ain't Gonna Ask No More; Interlude; Village; Studio J; Transcience; Sumie. CD3: Minamata: Peaceful Village / Prosperity & Consequence / Epilogue; March Of The Tadpoles; Mobile; Deracinated Flower; Yellow Is Mellow; Notorious Tourist From East.
Personnel: John Madrid, Don Rader, Mike Price, Stu Blumberg, Steven Huffseter, Richard Cooper: trumpets; Bobby Shew: trumpet, flugelhorn; Charles Loper, Jim Sawyer, Britt Woodman, Bruce Paulson, Bill Reichenbach: trombones; Phil Teele: bass and contrabass trombones; Dick Spencer, Gary Foster: alto saxophones, flutes, clarinets; Lew Tabackin: tenor sax, flute; Tom Peterson: tenor sax, soprano sax, flute, clarinet; Bill Perkins: baritone sax, soprano sax, bass clarinet; Toshiko Akiyoshi: piano; Gene Cherico and Don Baldwin: bass; Peter Donald: drums; Scott Elsworth: voice; Tokuko Kaga: vocal (CD1#10); Lynn Nicholson: trumpet, replacing Stu Blumberg (CD1#9, CD2#2); Joe Roccisano: alto sax, replacing Gary Foster (CD1#8); Chuck Flores: drums, replacing Peter Donald (CD1#8, CD2#2); King Errison: congas (CD2#7); Hiromitsu Katada: kakko (CD2#10); Jerry Hey: trumpet, replacing Richard Cooper (CD3#1); Michiru Mariano: vocal (CD3#1); Hisao Kanze: uta; Tadao Kamei: ohtsuzumi; Hayao Uzawa: kotsuzumi.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.