Toshiko Akiyoshi's unique contributions to the jazz world have evolved like falling dominoes through a series of events that started with a piano-loving little Japanese girl in Manchuria and brought her to prominence as an unparalleled pianist, composer and leader of the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra. Manchurian-born Akiyoshi's interest in the piano started at age six, and by the time her family had moved back to Japan at the end of World War II. Toshiko had developed a real love for music. She soon began playing piano professionally, which eventually led to being discovered by pianist Oscar Peterson in 1952 during a Norman Granz Jazz at the Philharmonic tour of Japan. On Peterson recommendation, Toshiko recorded for Granz, and not long after, she went to the U.S. to study at the Berklee School of Music in Boston.
Her years in Boston, and later on in New York, developed her into a first class pianist. Her interest in composing and arranging came to fruition when she moved to Los Angeles in 1972 with her husband, saxophonist/flutist Lew Tabackin. The following year they formed the world-renowned big band that is now known as the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra featuring Lew Tabackin. The band, which began as a vehicle for Toshiko's own compositions, grew in stature during its 10 years on the west coast and gained a reputation as one of the most excellent and innovative big bands in jazz. In 1976 the band placed first in the Down Beat Critics' Poll and her album, Long Yellow Road, was named best jazz album of the year by Stereo Review. The late Leonard Feather, eminent jazz critic and author, summed up the brilliance of Toshiko Akiyoshi big band in his review of that album, " ... greatness is greatness, whether on the East Coast, the West Coast in Tokyo or anywhere else in the world. I think you will find it in this magnificently variegated, consistently exciting example of one of the outstanding orchestras of our time." In 1977 the recording Insights was named as record of the year by Down Beat magazine.
In 1982 the couple returned to New York, where Toshiko reformed her band with New York musicians, In 1983 the new Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra featuring Lew Tabackin, had a critically successful debut at Carnegie Hall as part of the Kool Jazz Festival. That same year a documentary film by Renee Cho depicting the Akiyoshi/Tabackin move from L.A. to New York was released, entitled "Jazz is My Native Language" (Rhapsody Video).