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Our Collaborators

Mwata Bowden


Multi-instrumentalist Mwata Bowden was born in Memphis but has his roots in Chicago's jazz history. After training under legendary band director Walter Dyett at DuSable high school, touring with the rhythm and blues band the Chi-lites and developing a reputation as a riveting multi-instrumentalist Bowden established a jazz scene at the University of Chicago where he is currently the Director of Jazz Ensembles. As a second generation member and former Chair of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), he helped evolve the concept of collective improvisation through its signature band, the Great Black Music Ensemble. His 20-year partnership with Tatsu Aoki's Miyumi Project, helped create an amalgam of American jazz with Japanese Taiko, and as a member of Edward Wilkerson's Eight Bold Souls, Bowden has performed at jazz and blues festivals throughout Chicago and around the world. He is a long time educator who understands how learning and applying the skills of improvisation can provide life-long benefits for youth; from Chicago Public School elementary and high school students to the AACM School to the many Jazz X-Tet students and alumni at the University of Chicago as well as workshops he has presented to students worldwide. In 2013 he received the Jazz Journalists Association's Jazz Hero award for his advocacy for and cultivation of a strong and vibrant jazz community in Chicago and in the world.

Grand Master Fujima Shunojo

Shubukai Founder and Artistic Director

FUJIMA SHUNOJO received his natori (professional performance name) - a major milestone for a practitioner of the Japanese cultural arts - at an early age. He opened his own school of classical dance and taught for several years in Tokyo before coming to the United States, first on tour with a classical dance troupe, and later permanently. For the past thirty-seven years, Fujima sensei has directed his own dance group in Chicago. In 2013 he received the Japanese Foreign Minister's Commendation Award for his ongoing work in the US promoting Japanese culture through teaching and performing Japanese classical dance. In addition to the annual recitals, Fujima and his dancers perform for various civic and cultural groups, colleges, universities and various festivals in and around Chicago and the Midwest.

Grand Master Fujima Yoshinojo (Rika Lin)

Interdisciplinary Performing Artist

Chicago native Rika Lin has studied Japanese classical dance for the last twenty-four years. In 2006, as a member of the Fujima Ryu of Chicago dance troupe, she received her natori. She continues to train with Shunojo Fujima Sensei, Founder and Director of Fujima Ryu of Chicago, to attain her shihan (teaching license), and develops her artistry working with Asian Improv aRts Midwest and Toyoaki Shamisen. She has performed in collaborations with Tatsu Aoki, Tsukasa Taiko, Bellisima Productions, and Yoko Noge's Japanesque.

Melody Takata

Founder and Director of GenRyu Arts

Melody Takata has been performing in the traditional arts for over 25 years, from her upbringing in the Japanese American community of Los Angeles. She is founder and director of GenRyu Arts, established in 1995 as Gen Taiko and incorporated in 2008. She completed the ACTA master apprentice program for shamisen with Hideko Nakajima Sensei in 2003, and, in celebration of Gen Taiko's 10th anniversary, the ACTA master apprentice program with 90 year-old Madame Fujima Kansuma. Takata has been one of the most significant collaborators for Tsukasa Taiko's national expansion program.

Michael Zerang

Professional Musician, Composer, and Producer

Michael Zerang is a first-generation American of Assyrian descent and was born in Chicago. He has been a professional musician, composer, and producer since 1976, focusing extensively on improvised music, free jazz, contemporary composition, puppet theater, experimental theater, and international musical forms. Zerang has collaborated extensively with contemporary theater, dance, and other multidisciplinary forms and has received three Joseph Jefferson Awards for Original Music Composition in Theater - in 1996, 1998, and 2000 - in collaboration with Redmoon Theater. As a percussionist and composer, he has more than eighty titles in his discography and has toured nationally and internationally to thirty-three countries since 1981. Zerang is a percussionist with the creative music group The Trio Waz with Tatsu Aoki and Edward Wilkerson Jr. He tours and holds workshops and teaches private lessons in improvisational music, rhythmic analysis, music composition, and percussion technique.

Chizuru Kineya

Nagauta Shamisen Artist

Chizuru Kineya started studies at the age of six and is a nagauta shamisen artist, a master of the instrument accredited by the legendary Kineya Shamisen family. She performs with numerous contemporary classical musicians in regular engagements at the National Theater of Japan and in the mainstream Japanese music and performing arts scene, and teaches workshops at regional schools. Her US debut with the Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival in 2011 marked her first collaboration with Chicago blues musicians. Kineya has regularly collaborated with Tatsu Aoki and GenRyu Arts in San Francisco since her first Taiko Legacy engagement in 2005. Her 2012 Tokyo Shamisen CD project, Toyoakimoto, features Aoki.

Hamid Drake

Chicago-based Jazz Drummer and Percussionist

Hamid Drake is a Chicago-based jazz drummer and percussionist who frequently tours internationally. His earliest collaboration was with legendary Chicago tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson. In 1977, he cofounded the Mandingo Griot Society with Foday Musa Suso, the celebrated kora player from Gambia, and composer-percussionist Adam Rudolph. Other regular collaborators include bassist William Parker, saxophonist David Murray, free-jazz saxophonists Peter Brotzmann and Ken Vandermark, and fellow drummer Michael Zerang. More recently, Drake has performed with Archie Shepp in various configurations, the group Phat Jam, and human beat boxer and rapper Napoleon Maddox as part of the jazz/hip-hop group ISWAHAT. He performs frequently with several Hungarian jazz groups, recording with Viktor Toth and Mihaly Dresch.Dake and Tatsu Aoki worked together in Fred Anderson Trio/Quartet from 1998 through 2009.
Dohee Lee

Dohee Lee

Performing Artist

Dohee Lee is a native of South Korea's Jeju Island. She studied Korean dance, music, percussion, and vocals at the master level. Since relocating to the US, she has contributed to traditional and contemporary art forms in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she resides, as well as internationally. In 2008, she received the Isadora Duncan Special Award honoring Outstanding Achievement for her multimedia work Flux. She is a 2013 Creative Capital Grantee for her project MAGO. She has been awarded residencies by Montalvo Art Center, Headlands Center for the Arts, Djerassi Art Center, Watermill Art Center, and Paul Dresher's Artist Residency Center. She has collaborated with a range of dance, performance, and music artists such as Anna Halprin, the Kronos Quartet, Tatsu Aoki, Francis Wong, Larry Ochs, Shinichi Iova-Koga's inkBoat, Amara Tabor-Smith, Sherwood Chen, Yannis Adoniou's Kunst-Stoff, and the Degenerate Art Ensemble.

Fukuhara Hyakkyo (flute)
& Fukuhara Tsuruka (taiko)

Both artists are certified performers from the traditional Fukuhara clan performing actively in the Kabuki - Nagauta tradition as well as other collaborative works. Outside of Kabuki Theaters' house musicians, there are only a handful of certified classical players in Japan today. These players are in high demand for supporting roles in classical shamisen music, Kabuki music, and other festive music. Hyakkyo and Tsuruka are working in the classical tradition.

Kizan Kawamura

Kizan Kawamura is a one of the rising young grandmaster in contemporary Japanese classical music. Born into a traditional Shakuhachi (bamboo flute) family, he started his formal practice in early age under acclaimed grand master Taizan Kawamura. He was a winner of the Kumamoto Japanese classical music competition and was awarded by the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in 2009. From contemporary new music to the traditional, Kizan collaborates with many different artists internationally

Eigen Aoki

Tsukasa Taiko Gintenkai Lead Performer

Eigen Aoki’s Taiko career started at age 4 on the stage of JASC’s annual Holiday Delight. While he started as a solo act, with help from his father and sister, he grew to perform in Tsukasa Taiko. Recently, Tsukasa Taiko developed a performing team Gintenkai, which Eigen has become a lead performer of. Eigen has since performed with Tsukasa Taiko, Gintenkai, and a host of renowned artists such as Mwata Bowden, Nicole Mitchell, Dohee Lee, Hamid Drake, Michael Zerang and more. Throughout his career, he has played at major venues in Chicago as well such as the Chicago Jazz Festival and Taste of Chicago and at many locations such as the DuSable Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Yoko Reikano Kimura

Koto, Shamisen Japanese classical musician

Yoko Reikano Kimura performs classical Japanese music in the Yamada School style as well as more contemporary music on the koto and shamisen. She has lived in the US since 2010 and has given numerous recitals in New York as well as Chicago. A graduate of the Tokyo University of the Arts and Music, she continued her studies at the NHK School for Young Professionals and at the Institute of Contemporary Music for Japanese Instruments. The Agency of Cultural Affairs elected her as an internship trainee. Her teachers include Kono Kameyama, Akiko Nishigata, and Senko Yamabiko who is a living national treasure for Kato-bushi shamisen. Kimura has won numerous awards including top prize at the prestigious 10th Kenjun Memorial All-Japan Competition and first prize at the Great Wall International Music Competition. She has received the Osaka Chinese Counsel Award and has performed many classical Yamada pieces for NHK-FM radio.

An enthusiastic supporter of contemporary music, Kimura has premiered new works at the Japan Society for Contemporary Music. She performs with her husband Hikaru Tamaki, the principal cellist of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Orchestra, and in 2011 the duo was awarded the Janet Latz Professional Fellowship. Since 2004, she has performed around the world in places such as Poland, Switzerland, France, Lithuania, Korea, China, Israel, Qatar, and Italy. She has visited Jamaica, Bolivia, and Peru for the Japanese Arts in Latin America program promoted by the Japan Foundation New York. Currently, she holds a teaching position at the Institute of Contemporary Music for Traditional Japanese Instruments, an affiliate of Senzoku Gakuen Music University in Japan. For more information about the artist please visit www.reikano.yamadaryu.com

Coco Elysses

Screenwriter and poet

Coco Elysses hails from Robbins, Illinois. She is a member of the Association of the Advancement of Creative Musicians and works in theater, for voice-overs and film, and is a screenwriter and poet. She recently completed her MFA in Creative writing from National University. She originated the voice score for the Adler Planetarium permanent installation Skywatchers of Africa. Her voice can also be heard on spots for BET, BlackVoices.com, McDonald's, Nike, IN and OUT Burger, Saints Row video game and EverQuest II. Her acting credits include Organic Theatre's The Old Settler, for which she received a Black Theatre Alliance Award nomination for Best Featured actress in a drama. She performed in the Chicago Theatre Company, Black Theatre Alliance Award-winning, and Jeff Nominated production of Shakin the Mess Outta Misery.

Douglas R. Ewart

Composer, multi-instrumentalist, instrument builder and visual artist

Douglas R. Ewart (http://aacmchicago.org/douglas-ewart-0) was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and as a child experimented with material, texture, and sound of objects around him. Ewart emigrated to the United States in 1993 and entered the School of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) in 1967 as a student of Shaku Joseph Jarman and Roscoe Mitchell. In 1983 he founded his own recording label, Arawak Records and has since released two of his own albums, Red Hills and Bamboo Forest. His constantly evolving suite, Music from the Bamboo Forest , comprises six movements and use numerous instruments, many of them hand-made, such as bass and alto flutes, shakuhachi, panpipe, and nay flutes, blocks, bells, gongs, and bamboon.

Ewart has served as the Chair of the AACM multiple times between 1986 and 2009, and he regularly travels as lecturer, teacher, and workshop leader throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan. He has been received at the Contemporary Art Center (New Orleans, LA), the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum of Natural History (Chicago, IL), the DuSable Museum of African-American Art (Chicago, IL), Urban Gateways (Chicago, IL ), the Creative Music Studio (Woodstock, NY), the Museum of Contemporary Craft (New York, NY), the Langston Hughes Center (New York, NY), the University of Illinois (Champaign, IL), Norfolk State University, the Riverside Museum (Baton Rouge, LA), the Washington Performing Arts Center, and the National Museum of American History (Washington, DC). He has led many ensembles including Douglas Ewart and Inventions, Clarinet Choir, Nyhabingi Drum Choir, Quadrasect, and Elements. Ewart has performed with a number of musicians including Muhal Richard Abrams, Fred Anderson, Anthony Braxton, Anthony Davis, Robert Dick, Ameen Muhammad, Von Freeman, George Lewis, Leo Smith, Cecil Taylor, Alvin Curran, Kahil El Zabar, Joseph Jarman, Kalaparush, Roscoe Mitchell, and Mwata Bowden.

Dee Alexander


Born on Chicago’s west side, Dee Alexander is one of Chicago’s most gifted and respected female vocalist/songwriters. Her talents span every music genre, from Gospel to R&B, from Blues to Neo-Soul. Growing up in a household that was steeped in recordings of Dinah Washington, Ms. Alexander gravitated toward jazz from an early age. Other influences include Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and a little-known, much respected Chicago saxophonist, Light Henry Huff, with whom she worked in the late 80s. Huff encouraged her to take chances with making her own sounds, and the result is that her skills as an improviser are without boundary. A veteran on the Chicago scene since the 80s, Alexander’s associations with Chicago’s jazz elite include Ramsey Lewis, Orbert Davis’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, Chicago Jazz Orchestra, pianist Ken Chaney, Ernest Dawkins Chicago 12, Nicole M. Mitchell and Douglas Ewart’s Inventions. Her affiliation with the Association of the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) has also proved invaluable in her musical journey. Her 2007 Sirens of Song tribute to Nina Simone and Dinah Washington in Chicago’s Millennium Park introduced her to a larger audience and marked the beginning of world recognition for her artistry as well, touring extensively in France, Italy, Germany and Poland. She leads her own Dee Alexander Quartet, and the Evolution Ensemble whose music ranges from original compositions to renditions of James Brown and Jimi Hendrix. She has garnered accolades in African, Australian, European and North American press and was the recipient of the Chicagoan of the Year in Jazz award in 2008, and her CD Wild is the Wind was named the album of the summer in France in 2009 and earned her top votes in Downbeat’s readers and Critics polls; received 5 stars in Downbeat and was chosen as one of its top ten recordings on the first decade of the new Millennium. She was the recipient of the 3Arts Award for Music in 2012. Her performance at the 2013 Newport Jazz Festival was selected by the NY Times as one of the best concerts with staying power. Dee’s current project, “Songs My Mother Loves” has received rave reviews and is intended not only to express thanks and pay tribute to Dee's mother for her inspiration and influence, but also to pay homage to the music that has become such a significant part of her life.

Yasushi Shimazaki

Chindonya : Traditional Japanese street performer

Yasushi Shimazaki is a native of Tokyo and an active figure in preserving and contemporizing the traditional Japanese street performance form chindonya. Characterized by their marching-band instrumentation and colorful costumes, chindonya performers are commonly engaged to advertise businesses. Chindonya originated in nineteenth-century Osaka and Tokyo, and flourished until the 1960s. In 1993, Shimazaki established a theatrical troupe, U-Stage, to revitalize the tradition as part of his experimental theater investigations. U-Stage has toured their chindonya work, Seven Lucky Gods, throughout Japan, Southeast Asia, the United Kingdom, the US, and Australia.

Ayako Kato


Ayako Kato is a dancer and choreographer from Yokohama, Japan. She trained in classical ballet in Japan, butoh with master Kazuo Ohno, as well as tai chi, Noh theater dance, and modern dance upon moving to the US. In 1998, Kato established Art Union Humanscape (AUH) with double bassist Jason Roebke. Their extensive performance history throughout the US, Japan, and Europe includes more than 100 music and dance duets as well as extended collaborations with other musicians and dancers and, most recently, a dance installation project. Kato has been honored with a Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist Award and funding from the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, the Japan Foundation, the Puffin Foundation, the Illinois Arts Council, and the City of Chicago. Since 2010, Kato has been an artist in residence at Hamlin Park Fieldhouse Theater as part of Chicago Moving Company's Dance Shelter Program. That same year, she formed an expanded version of Art Union Humanscape, called AUH++, which performed in the Chicago Jazz Festival's opening ceremony.