Tatsu Aoki

Artistic Director & Executive Director 


Tatsu Aoki is a leading advocate for the Asian American community, as well as a prolific composer, a performer of traditional and experimental music forms, a filmmaker, and an educator. He was born in 1958 into the Toyoakimoto artisan family, and performing by the age of four. The Toyoaki house was an okiya or geisha house and specialized in traditional chamber music, including taiko and shamisen. In the 1970s during his teens, Aoki was active in Tokyo’s underground arts movement as part of the Gintenkai Troupe, presenting experimental musical and theatrical productions throughout the city, which built upon his traditional training and expanded his immersion in the cultural scene.

In 1977, Aoki left Tokyo and is now one of the most in-demand performers of bass, shamisen, and taiko, contributing to more than ninety recording projects and touring internationally over the last 35 years. He is noted for being the longest associated bassist for the late Chicago legend Fred Anderson.  Aoki is founder and artistic director of Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival, which celebrates its silver anniversary this year (2020).  His sustained and intensified endeavors have resulted in many awards from multiple cultural and musical organizations for his cross-cultural collaborations. Of note, in 2007 he received the Milestone Award by the Asian American Institute. In 2010, he received the Chicago’s Cultural Achievement Award from the Japan America Society. And in 2014 he received the “Living in our Culture” Award from the Japanese American Service Committee. In addition to receiving the Illinois Arts Council Ethnic and Folk Arts Master Apprentice Grant over multiple years, he has received the Illinois Secretary of State Community Service Award by Asian American Advisory Council and also a Commendation for Promotion of Japanese Culture by the Foreign Ministry of Japan in 2017.  In 2019 Aoki was also awarded the Community Service award from the Asian American Coalition of Chicago for his continued leadership and contribution to the community. 

His Miyumi Project ensemble was chosen as the official musical presenters for the groundbreaking and unveiling of Yoko Ono’s installation, “SKYLANDING” in Chicago’s own Jackson Park; which also resulted in the group recording the album “SKYLANDING”, produced by Yoko Ono. In 2017, the group contributed their unique vibe to the soundtrack of the Japanese American Incarceration film documentary: “And Then They Came for Us”, and released a corresponding album. In May of 2018, Aoki was honored as the first recipient of the “George Award”, for his years of support, recording, and performance with renowned American Jazz and soul guitarist George Freeman. This year (2020), he received the United States Artists Fellowship for Traditional Arts and also the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship Award for Ethnic and Cultural Arts.

As Executive Director of Asian Improv aRts MidWest (AIRMW), an Asian American cultural arts presenter organization, Aoki has initiated and managed several programs to advance the understanding of traditional arts and community through the arts. These include the annual Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival, the Tsukasa Taiko Legacy, and the Toyoaki Shamisen arts residency projects. The concept of cultural legacy is very prominent in all of Aoki’s music and projects. He insists on demonstrating the authenticity of the Japanese legacy using traditional instruments such as shamisen and taiko, especially with newer contemporary applications. His traditional Japanese drumming group, Tsukasa Taiko, is profiled as one of the most active and successful taiko drumming groups in the Midwest and has also produced a number of recordings, the most recent on vinyl.  Aoki’s annual Taiko Legacy presentation celebrated its 16th anniversary year at the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Chicago and has been the largest and most popular ethnic community concerts presented at the museum.  He has also restored Chicago’s shamisen lute music culture with Toyoaki Shamisen and performances with Shubukai Classical Dance.  

Aoki continues to establish artist-guided community participation as well as projects that have exclusive artist involvement, which raise the bar for quality and awareness of the Japanese cultural arts in Chicago. He continues to be based in Chicago, working locally, nationally and internationally in a wide range of musical genres including Japanese traditional music, experimental, and creative jazz. His collaborative projects ranging from puppetry, neoclassical Japanese dance, and experimental dance films.


東京・四谷荒木町の料亭に生まれ、幼少期より芸事に囲まれ育つ。三味線や鳴物などに親しむ一方、70年代東京におけるアングラアート集団「銀天界」での活動を経て1977年に渡米、79年よりシカゴ在住。 シカゴ美術館付属芸術大学准教授 。

 1985年にアジア系アートを支援するNPOを立ち上げてからは、和太鼓や三味線をフィーチャーしたアジア系ジャズを定着させるなど、シカゴにおけるアジア系音楽の開拓者としても活躍。 2001年から司太鼓のディレクターに就任、AIRMWの伝統芸能プログラムとして和太鼓、日本舞踊、三味線プログラムを始動させた。現在は道場経営のかたわら司太鼓コンサート、アルバムなどの制作を通して太鼓音楽のさらなる発展を志している。

また個人としても邦楽からフリージャズ、クリエイティブミュージック、映画音楽、映像作品まで幅広い創作活動を通して、伝統的美学の継承と新世代のシカゴ日系人の芸術支援活動に貢献。これまでにオノ・ヨーコプロデュースによる「SKYLANDING」(2016)を含め 90枚以上の音楽アルバム、40本の映像作品を発表。2001年シカゴ・ジャズ協会、アメリカン・コンポーザー協会「ジャズ・ヘリテージ・アワード」を受賞、シカゴ・トリビューン紙「シカゴアンズ・オブ・ザ・イヤー」(Chicagoans of the year)に選ばれる。2007年アジア・アメリカ協会「マイルストーン賞」。2010年シカゴ日米協会「文化貢献賞」、3Artsファンデーション「芸術賞」。2015年全米ジャズジャーナリスト協会「シカゴ・ジャズヒーロー賞」。2017年にはカナダ国際映画祭で映像音楽作品「LIGHT」が「BEST Experimental Award」受賞、同時にイリノイ州政府「アジアン・アメリカンコミュニティー貢献賞」、日本政府「外務大臣表彰」。2020年ユナイテッドアーテイスト協会「伝統芸術賞」、イリノイ州アーツカウンシル「伝統芸術フェローシップ」受賞など、多分野において高い評価を受けている。



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