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Take Five With Katsuko Tanaka

AAJ Staff By

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Meet Katsuko Tanaka: Katsuko Tanaka, born and raised in Osaka Japan, resided in California as a Rotary International Foundation Ambassador in the nineties. Being inspired by the live jazz music during her stay in the U.S., she decided to immerse herself into the jazz world. After being back in Japan (Tokyo and Osaka) for ten years, she came to New York in 2008 to further pursue her music.



Teachers and/or influences?

My first jazz piano teacher was Kei Akagi, who was in the late Miles Davis band. I also met Kenny Garrett around the same time I met Kei. They both greatly influenced me regarding writing, establishing my own voice, and challenging new things. In 2008-2009 I studied at Queens College where I received a MA from: American jazz spirit from Antonio Hart; big band arrangement from Michael Philip Mossman; and musicianship in the NY jazz scene from David Berkman. Recently I saw Willie Jones III and Danton Boller—who have been my long-term friends from L.A. and play on my debut album—who are my influences in terms of maintaining good spirits as a musician and a human being to live and work in NYC. Also, many great musicians in the young generation I met in NYC inspire me and open my eyes/ears.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

I saw Willie Jones III and Danton Boller playing at the World Stage, which is the L.A. local jazz club of Master Billy Higgins. The next day I called Kei Akagi and said "I am a classical pianist who knows nothing about jazz now. But I want to become a jazz pianist. Could you tell me how I can make it possible?"

Your sound and approach to music:

My piano sound is coming from the classical training I had studied with a strict Japanese teacher in my childhood. The way I live exactly reflects on my approach to music, and I don't think I can really control it. So, I simply am trying to live truthful to myself.

Your teaching approach:

Just as learning the second language for the basic because the music is like the language.

Your dream band:

The musicians on my debut album.

Road story: Your best or worst experience:

I was scheduled to fly in one day before the audition at Queens College from Kansai airport in fall 2007. The flight from Kansai was cancelled, so I needed to use four different airlines to make two hours before the audition. Due to the several transfers, my arms were swollen by carrying my suitcase, and I didn't get enough sleep. So, I learned the lesson: For a gig, pay a little more money to catch a reliable airline!

Favorite venue:

Villege Vanguard, Jazz Standard, Smoke, Smalls, Zinc Bar.

The first Jazz album I bought was:

Herbie Hancock Trio (with Ron Carter and Tony Williams);

Herbie Hancock, Solo.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

The passion and continuous efforts, which I believe are the most important elements to make any dream come true. Hope I can be a jazz ambassador between the U.S. and Japan. There are more numbers of great Japanese jazz musicians in Japan, than in the U.S., who want to live in other countries but are financially difficult. I've been always self-supported, so I understand them. I also would like to bring the American jazz musicians to the young Japanese jazz students who don't have opportunities to come overseas.

Did you know...

I was a translator/interpreter in the day and a jazz pianist at night and weekends in Japan, in order to start my new life in NYC.

CDs you are listening to now:

((Joe Henderson)), Four! (Verve);

The Thelonious Monk Quartet, Monk's Dream (Columbia);

Sonny Rollins, All The Things You Are (BMG);

Willie Jones III, The Next Phase (WJ3 Records);

Willie Colón & Rubén Blades, Siembra.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

Respect to the tradition and history. Challenging spirits with the humble attitude.

By Day:

Hope not to have a day jobs any more.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

I am pretty sure I could have been easily a great wife (or a girl friend) of a great jazz musician if I were not a jazz musician!

Photo Credit

Courtesy of Katsuko Tanaka


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