Toshiko Akiyoshi

2018 Living Legacy Awardee

Head shot of Toshiko Akiyoshi. Toshiko is an Asian woman with brown hair cut into a chin length bob with bangs. Her head is turned slightly to the right. She is wearing a black blazer with a soft white v-neck blouse and necklace.

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Image: Toshiko Akiyoshi. Credit: Courtesy of the artists.

Toshiko Akiyoshi’s interest in the piano started at age six and 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 innovative big bands in jazz.

Toshiko’s work has been performed by the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra, Hawaii Symphony Orchestra, and Portland Symphony. Toshiko realized a long-time dream in 1996 when she completed her autobiography. “Life With Jazz.” Among the many honors she has received are the Shijahosho, the Japan Foundation Award, Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosetta, the Asahi Award, and New York City’s Liberty Award. Toshiko is a 2007 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master and her recordings have received a total of 14 Grammy Award nominations.

In 2002, Toshiko retired her big band projects and returned to the piano, touring as a trio and sometimes a quartet with her husband, Lew Tabackin.

*Bio from Award presentation.

View a tribute video to 2018 Living Legacy Jazz Award Honoree Toshiko Akiyoshi.