This month, the esteemed venue, The Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City, will host a concert dedicated to the music of Japanese-American pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi.
Toshiko is a musician who has impressed audiences with her talent all over the world. This is her story.
Toshiko was born to a Japanese family in Manchuria in December 1929. When World War II ended, Toshiko and her family moved to Japan. As a young girl, Toshiko played the piano. However, her family had lost most of their things after the war, and she had no piano, so she began practicing and playing in music clubs.
She fell in love with jazz after hearing a record from Teddy Wilson, the American jazz pianist. Toshiko started playing jazz piano in the clubs where she worked, and in 1952, she was discovered by pianist Oscar Peterson while he was on tour in Japan.
Oscar set up a meeting for Toshiko to play and record a record for American jazz record producer Norman Granz.
After recording her debut album, Toshiko’s Piano, Toshiko set out to the United States in 1956 to attend the Berklee School of Music in Boston. She was the first Japanese student to study at Berklee.
Toshiko’s name started circulating the American jazz scene, especially when she moved to New York City in 1959 and played in some of the city’s most famous jazz venues.
Although many of those who got to hear Toshiko play early in her career were adoring fans, she faced much discrimination for being a female Asian jazz musician.
There weren’t many women who looked like her playing jazz piano at the time, and she was changing the music scene.
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