Toshiko Akiyoshi - Lew Tabackin Big Band - 1984

Toshiko Akiyoshi - Lew Tabackin - A groovy Roux of East and West.

Toshiko Akiyoshi – Lew Tabackin Big Band – Live In Montreal – 1984 – Past Daily Downbeat.

Toshiko Akiyoshi - Lew Tabackin Big Band - 1984
Toshiko Akiyoshi – Lew Tabackin – A groovy Roux of East and West.

Toshiko Akiyoshi – Lew Tabackin Big Band – live at the Montreal International Jazz Festival – June 30, 1984 – Radio Canada-Montreal.

Toshiko Akiyoshi – Lew Tabackin Big Band, live at the 1984 Montreal Jazz Festival and preserved for posterity by Radio Canada – Montreal on June 30, 1984.

Before they picked ups stakes in 1982 and moved to New York City, The Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin Big band were an almost weekly fixture on the L.A. Jazz circuit from their start in 1973. And for good reason – they were a very popular and well regarded outfit among Jazz aficionados on the West Coast.

The Toshiko Akiyoshi – Lew Tabackin Big Band was a 16 piece jazz big band created by pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi and tenor saxophone/flutist Lew Tabackin in Los Angeles in 1973. In 1982 the principals moved from Los Angeles to New York City and re-formed the group with new members under the name, The Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra featuring Lew Tabackin. Akiyoshi arranged all of the music for the band and composed nearly all of the music recorded by the two groups over a 30-year period. Tabackin served as the bands’ featured soloist on tenor saxophone and flute. The two groups recorded 23 albums, toured in North America, Asia and Europe and, after the move to New York, had regular performances at the jazz club Birdland before disbanding in 2003. The bands’ recordings received several Grammy nominations and regularly scored high in Down Beat magazine’s critics’ and readers’ polls.

Toshiko Akiyoshi has received fourteen Grammy Award nominations and was the first woman to win Best Arranger and Composer awards in Down Beat magazine’s annual Readers’ Poll. In 1984, she was the subject of the documentary Jazz Is My Native Language. In 1996, she published her autobiography, Life with Jazz, and in 2007 she was named an NEA Jazz Master by the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts.

Akiyoshi studied jazz in at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. In 1955, she wrote a letter to Lawrence Berk asking him to give her a chance to study at his school. After a year of wrangling with the State Department and Japanese officials, Berk was given permission for Akiyoshi to enroll. He offered her a full scholarship, and he mailed her a plane ticket to Boston. In January 1956, she became the first Japanese student at Berklee. Soon after, she appeared as a contestant on the 18 March 1956 broadcast of the CBS television panel show What’s My Line?. In 1998, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Music.

In March 1973, Akiyoshi and Tabackin formed a 16-piece big band composed of studio musicians. Akiyoshi composed and arranged music for the band, and Tabackin served as the band’s featured soloist on tenor saxophone and flute. The band recorded its first album, Kogun, in 1974. The title, which translates to “one-man army”, was inspired by the tale of a Japanese soldier lost for 30 years in the jungle who believed that World War II was still being fought and thus remained loyal to the Emperor. Kogun was commercially successful in Japan, and the band began to receive critical acclaim.

The couple moved to New York City in 1982 and assembled the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra featuring Lew Tabackin). Akiyoshi toured with smaller bands to raise money for her big band. BMG continued to release her big band’s recordings in Japan but remained skeptical about releasing the music in the United States. Although Akiyoshi was able to release several albums in the U.S. featuring her piano in solo and small combo settings, many of her later big band albums were released only in Japan.

Lew Tabackin met Toshiko Akiyoshi in 1967 while he was playing in Clark Terry’s band and she was invited to sit in for Don Friedman. They formed a quartet in the late 1960s, married in 1969, and in 1973 co-founded the Toshiko Akiyoshi – Lew Tabackin Big Band in Los Angeles, which later became the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra featuring Lew Tabackin, playing bebop in Duke Ellington-influenced arrangements and compositions by Akiyoshi. Tabackin was principal soloist for the band from 1973 through 2003.

Critic Scott Yanow describes Tabackin as “one of the few jazz musicians who has been able to develop completely different musical personalities on two instruments”, with his forceful hard bop style on sax contrasting with his delicate flute playing.

Enjoy the gig and seek out the albums – there’s a bunch.

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