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Shoko Nagai

SHOKO NAGAI - Biography

Pianist Accordionist Improviser Composer

Shoko Nagai is a versatile musical artist who improvises and performs with world-renowned musicians on piano and accordion and composes original scores for films and live performances. As a teenager in her native Japan, Nagai was trained on Yamaha's electronic organ, the "Electone," to perform popular music. Since moving to the U.S. from Japan and studying classical and jazz music at Berklee, she has adapted her mastery of the keyboard to prepared piano, accordions, the melodica and other instruments, often inspired by the minimalist approach of composer Takemitsu Toru. Whether she is performing Klezmer, Balkan or experimental music, Nagai is a charismatic presence onstage, who hypnotizes audiences with her intense focus and virtuoso sound.

Since moving to New York in 1999 she has been dubbed an "MVP" of the downtown jazz scene, performing with John Zorn, Erik Friedlander, Ikue Mori, Marc Ribot, Frank London, Matana Roberts, Miho Hatori (Cibo Matto), Satoshi Takeishi, Butch Morris, Elliot Sharp, Isle of Klezbos, Sanda Weigl, and many eclectic performers. Nagai frequently tours internationally, performing in Sweden (2009 Nobel Prize ceremony for German writer, Herta Muller with Sanda Weigl), Italy (Napoli Teatro Festival 2015), Austria( Saalffelden Jazz Festival 2014), France ( Banlieues Bleues 2012), Switzerland (Rote Fabrik 2012), Holland (Bimhuis 2012), Japan (Fuji Rock Festival 2012), Israel (Romanian Institute 2011), Canada (Suoni Popolo Festival 2008), Germany ( Moers Jazz festival 2007), and Brazil (resfest 2007) and in the U.S. ( Newport Jazz Festival 2015, Saratoga Jazz Festival 2008). She has received grants from CMA (Chamber Music America) in 2021, NYFA ( New York Fine Arts) in 2010, JazzJants (Painted Bride Arts Center) in 2008.

Nagai's compositions for directed by Mari Kawade HodoBuzz (2020), Quartet of films directed by Linda Hoaglund : Edo Avant-garde ( NHK 2019) The Wound and The Gift, narrated by Vanessa Redgrave (Vancouver, DOC NYC, Tokyo FilmX 2014) Things Left Behind, (2012) produced by Japan's national broadcaster, NHK ANPO: Art X War (2010 Toronto, DOC NYC, Vancouver, and Hong Kong film festival, CARE (2016 DOC NYC, AFI DOCS, Sheffield Doc Fest, Reelworld Impact Award) directed by Diredre Fishel festivals), L'amour Cache (2007), directed by Alessandro Capone and conducted by Butch Morris.

Recent Recordings

Shoko Nagai: Taken Shadows

Erik Freidlander: Nothing On Earth

Jeremiah Lockwood/ Frank London: Songs of Zebulon

Leslie Pintchik: You eat my food, You drink my wine, You steal my girl

FIDO Quartet

Isle Klezbos: Live in Brooklyn

Inna Barmash: Yiddish Lullabies& Love Songs

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Shoko Nagai’s Taken Shadows, recorded live at Roulette in Brooklyn, March 10, 2014, and released earlier this year features flittering sounds and shapes that seem to intermingle, expand rapidly, disappear, reappear, and so forth in an interesting panorama of sonic expressions. Nagai, bassist Stomu Takeishi, and drummer Jim Black take turns in grounding the music at the rhythmic core, while Nagai, in another form, Todd Reynolds (violin/electronics) and Jonathan Goldberger (guitar/effects) cut across the textured, multi-faceted, shifting underbelly. The music that emerges from this mix is eclectic, well-balanced, and driving. All three lead voices (Nagai, Goldberger, and Reynolds) cut across the top brilliantly at different moments. Nagai’s compositions never spill over and find their center by oscillating between exuberant exclamations and occasional recessions into solitude. The electronics and other effects provide enough glint to make the darker interior parts of the sound stand out even more. Nagai continues to be a unique and unpredictable figure on the New York scene.

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Album Discography

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson


Enna Records


Take'n Shadows

Animul Records



Self Produced



Unknown label



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