Dec 17, 2015

Collecting the Toshiko Akiyoshi and Lew Tabackin Big Band

The Toshiko Akiyoshi Lew Tabackin Big Band was founded in 1973 in Los Angeles California.

Saxophonist Lew Tabackin and arranger/pianist Akiyoshi have also been married to each other since 1969.

Akiyoshi (1929-) was born in Chinese Manchuria to Japanese immigrants.

In January 1956 Toshiko came to study in Boston at the Berkley school of music. She composed and arranged nearly every album for the Akiyoshi Tabackin Big Band, while Lew served as the lead soloist for the group. They made some fantastic albums during the 70's and 80's

There are many jazz musicians and groups that deserve more credit for their contributions, but none more than this band, who's 1970's output is some of the best jazz music and orchestra music ever recorded.

Albums like Kogun, Road Time, March of the Tadpoles, Insights, European Memoirs, and Tales of the Courtesan should be in every jazz collection. The band's use of traditional jazz and Japanese folk elements are startling in their originality. This combination of Japanese folk elements and jazz really offers an unusually haunting flavor to the music.

I have always felt a clear Duke Ellington influence in Akiyoshi's music. Duke always wore his most intimate influences on his sleeve, his music reflected who he was and where he came from, Toshiko's music does the same.

Toshiko has been nominated for a Grammy award 14 times, but unbelievably for some reason, has never won the award. She was also the first woman to win the best composer and arranger awards from Down Beat Magazine.

Hard to find music on CD!

The Big Band's music has become monumentally tough to find at reasonable prices on CD. Much of the output has been released only in Japan and can only be had on vintage vinyl or expensive imports.

Mosaic Records put out a 3 CD set that sold out quickly, that featured the first 5 albums, Kogun, March of the Tadpoles, Insights, Tales of the Courtesan, and The Stereo Review album of the year Long Yellow Road. No doubt that set, with remastered sound and ample liner notes is a must have for any jazz or big band collector.

Where vinyl records are concerned, that's a great way to acquire this music at reasonable prices. Almost all of the 70's albums can be had for under $10, this of course is all about supply and demand at any given time.

There are many options out there, like eBay, Amazon, and Discogs. Your best chance at a steal of a deal is on eBay via auction.

What should be the first album to get from the Toshiko Akiyoshi Lew Tabackin Big Band?

Personally I happen to like the album Insights the best, but any of the albums on the Mosaic Select Box are a great choice. Another couple of albums you could check out are a double vinyl called Road Time, and the studio album titled Salted Ginko Nuts.

The Akiyoshi Tabackin legacy

Of all the Jazz bands that came out of the 70's, an era where smooth jazz, jazz rock, and jazz funk ruled, a straight ahead jazz outfit like this was rare, even bands like Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson, and even Gil Evans himself were fusing pop culture styles like Jimi Hendrix into the music to make a buck.

In some cases, those bands were playing darned near straight up Funk and disco styled music. Ferguson's Chameleon comes to mind, or Buddy Rich's Speak No Evil and Herman's Giant Steps. These albums are interesting but seem to be lacking the creativity you get with the best composed jazz.

The Akiyoshi Tabackin big band was about creating, and advancing traditional jazz and fusing only authentic far eastern folk elements. If you like Gil Evans or Duke Ellington, you can't help but like this music. Shame the music is so obscure and underrated.

*All photos my own*

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