Menu
Satoko Fujii's Orchestra Chicago

Satoko Fujii's Orchestra Chicago

  • Festival Performance Date: Saturday, August 31, 2013
  • Festival Performance Time: 3:30 – 4:30pm
  • Festival Performance Location / Address: Millennium Park - Von Freeman Pavilion (South Promenade), 201 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60601
  • Instrument: Piano

Critics and fans alike hail pianist and composer SATOKO FUJII as one of the most original voices in jazz today. A truly global artist, she splits her time between New York and Japan and tours internationally leading several ensembles. Just as her career spans international borders, her music spans many genres, blending jazz, contemporary classical music, rock, and traditional Japanese music into an innovative synthesis instantly recognizable as hers alone. Her wide-ranging compositions can incorporate the simple melodies of folk song, the harmonic sophistication of jazz, the rhythmic power of rock, and the extended forms of symphonic composers. Although Fujii's compositions are full of sudden shifts in direction and mood, the extremes are always part of a greater conceptual whole. As an improviser, Fujii is equally wide-ranging and virtuosic. In her solos, explosive free jazz energy mingles with delicate melodicism and a broad palette of timbre and textures. She has showcased her astonishing range and ability on over 50 CDs as leader or co-leader since 1996. With each new recording or new band, she explores new aspects of her art.

Critics and fans alike hail pianist and composer SATOKO FUJII as one of the most original voices in jazz today. A truly global artist, she splits her time between New York and Japan and tours internationally leading several ensembles. Just as her career spans international borders, her music spans many genres, blending jazz, contemporary classical music, rock, and traditional Japanese music into an innovative synthesis instantly recognizable as hers alone. Her wide-ranging compositions can incorporate the simple melodies of folk song, the harmonic sophistication of jazz, the rhythmic power of rock, and the extended forms of symphonic composers. Although Fujii's compositions are full of sudden shifts in direction and mood, the extremes are always part of a greater conceptual whole. As an improviser, Fujii is equally wide-ranging and virtuosic. In her solos, explosive free jazz energy mingles with delicate melodicism and a broad palette of timbre and textures. She has showcased her astonishing range and ability on over 50 CDs as leader or co-leader since 1996. With each new recording or new band, she explores new aspects of her art.

Born on October 9, 1958 in Tokyo, Japan, Fujii began playing piano at four and received classical training until twenty, when she turned to jazz. From 1985–87, she studied at Boston's Berklee College of Music, where her teachers included Herb Pomeroy and Bill Pierce. She returned to Japan for six years before returning to the US to study at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where her teachers included George Russell, Cecil McBee, and Paul Bley, who appeared on her debut CD Something About Water (Libra, 1996).

Since then Fujii has founded and led numerous ensembles, ranging from duos to big bands. Her New York trio with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black has released seven critically acclaimed CDs. "Her most substantial and musically rewarding small group outing to date," wrote Glenn Astarita of their third release, Toward 'To West' in All About Jazz. "Besides all of the purposeful soloing, sinuous flow and hard-edged musings, Ms. Fujii injects a potpourri of underlying themes and fluctuating cross-currents into her music." In 2004 trumpeter/husband Natsuki Tamura joined this trio to form the Satoki Fujii Four, which released the critically acclaimed Live in Japan 2004 and 2006's When We Were There.

In 2001 came the radically different Vulcan (Libra Records), an avant-rock/free jazz-fusion album by a new group, the Satoko Fujii Quartet featuring Tatsuya Yoshida of the Japanese avant-rock duo, The Ruins. Each of the Japanese quartet's five albums, including Zephyros (Polystar, 2004) and Angelona (Libra, 2005), has received enthusiastic approval. "The sensibility here is aggressive to the point of primitive," said Bill Bennett in JazzTimes. "Vulcan is ... a masterpiece of jazz expression."

Fujii founded two big bands in 1996 and 1997, one in New York City and the other in Tokyo. Each band appeared on one CD of the unique two-disc set, Double Take (EWE, 2000). "I have learned to appreciate how they are different," Fujii said in a jazzreview.com interview with Don Williamson, "I think the Japanese free jazz players have a very strong influence from the '60s free jazz scene in America. They have a lot of energy, and when they play, they like to show that. Many times, their expression is very aggressive in a good way. New York Downtown musicians have strong influence from many kinds of music, like contemporary music, world music, and jazz. They also have great energy in a different way." The New York big band has released seven CDs to date including 2006's Undulation which was one of four big band CDs she simultaneously released featuring her bands in NY, Tokyo, Nagoya and Kobe. Dan Ouellette of Billboard put out the word: "There's a raft of jazz CDs streeting September 12, but by far the most noteworthy launch is free-spirited Satoko Fujii's unprecedented delivery of four orchestral CDs." Marc Chénard in Coda proclaimed that Fujii "...has reinvigorated the big-band concept for the new century – and placed herself at the forefront of the style at the same time." 2006 also saw the release of In Krakow, In November a compelling duo CD with Tamura; Fragment, a CD by her new trio called JunkBox with Tamura and percussionist John Hollenbeck; and Nomad with Tamura's ensemble Gato Libre, in which Fujii plays accordion. Fujii's 2006 touring highlights included appearances at FIMAV (Victoriaville Festival, Canada), and performances in Toyko, New York, Germany, Austria, Poland, Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia.

In 2007 Fujii released four new CDs: Crossword Puzzle by Double Duo (Angelo Verploegen and Natsuki Tamura, trumpets and Misha Mengelberg as well as Fujii on piano); Minamo, a live recording with violinist Carla Kihlstedt, which Ben Ratliff of the New York Times says "is extraordinary, a series of tight, dramatic events;" Bacchus (Satoko Fujii Quartet), Fujin Raijin, (Min-Yoh Ensemble) which Steve Smith of Time Out New York describes as "a quietly masterful album that deserves to be heard not only by Fujii devotees, but also by those who have yet to take the plunge." In 2008, Fujii released seven CDs: Trace A River (Satoko Fujii Trio with Mark Dresser and Jim Black) which Cadence magazine called "music without compromise, music without boundaries, music made like it means something;" Cloudy Then Sunny a second release from the trio Junk Box featuring Fujii, Tamura and John Hollenbeck on percussion; Sanrei with the Satoko Fujii Orchestra Nagoya which Dan McClenaghan of All About Jazz called: "an expect-the-unexpected affair, with rock riffs and brassy big band harmonies, aural riots of fist fighting horns and histrionic group scatting that sounds like some sort of manic mass religious ecstasy;" Chun, a duo CD with Natsuki Tamura which Troy Collins describes in his All About Jazz review as "Another brilliant document in the growing discography of one of today's most important composers;" Summer Suite with the Satoko Fujii Orchestra NY, and "Heat Wave" by her new band Satoko Fujii's ma-do with Tamura, Norikatsu Koreyasu(bass) and Akira Horikoshi (drums). She's also featured on Natsuki Tamura's new Gato Libre release Kuro. Her 2008 touring schedule included stops at the Montreal, Vancouver, Guelph, Glasgow, Angel City, Earshot, and Tokyo Jazz Festivals, among others.

In 2009 Fujii toured the US and Canada with the Larry Ochs Sax and Drum Core and has released two CDs: Under the Water, a limited edition duo CD recorded live at Maybeck Recital Hall with Myra Melford which earned 4-stars in DownBeat; and Kuroi Kawa – Black River a duo CD with violinist Carla Kihlstedt released on John Zorn's Tzadik label which earned a place as one of the top new releases on the Village Voice Critics Poll as well as one of the "Best CDs of 2010" in DownBeat Magazine. Fujii also toured extensively in 2009 including a European tour with her ma-do ensemble with performances at the North Sea Jazz Festival, Ljubljana Jazz Festival as well as stops in Belgium, Germany, the UK, Austria, Poland and France. She also performed with Satoko Fujii Four at the Angel City Jazz Festival, and toured America and Europe with the Larry Ochs Sax and Drumming Core, and released a new CD "Stone Shift" with Ochs' group. In addition, Fujii was featured on the 2009 CD "Cities" with Raymond MacDonald. She also earned the designation "#1 Pianist of the Year" (w. Marilyn Crispell) as well as "# 4 Best Live Band" by El Intruso 3rd Annual Musicians Poll Results.

In 2010 Fujii toured to Moscow, Germany, the UK, France and Japan, and performed worldwide with Carla Kihlstedt and Myra Melford. She also toured Europe with both Kaze and ma-do and released four new CDs: Desert Ship, which showcases the small-scale intimacy of her Japanese acoustic quartet Satoko Fujii's ma-do (Nottwo); and three on Libra Records: Zakopane featuring the Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo, Cut the Rope with Natsuki Tamura's new band First Meeting which the Boston Globe called "essential and ranks among Fujii and Tamura's most accomplished," and Shiro with Tamura's Gato Libre. Fujii appeared on El Intruso's 4th Annual Music Poll, this time as #2 Piano and #4 Best Live Band. In addition, Fujii performed three pieces on the new CD All Kinds of People Love Burt Bacharach produced by Jim O'Rourke for the B.J.L. label.

Fujii kicked off 2011 as a resident artist at the Montalvo Arts Center. She also toured the US, Canada, Japan and Australia with her band ma-do, performed on trumpeter Natsuki Tamura's 60th birthday concerts in Tokyo and performed in duo with Tamura at the Angel City Jazz Festival. In addition, she released three new CDs on the Libra label: Watershed featuring the Satoko Fujii Min-Yoh Ensemble, ETO with the Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York, and Rafale with her new band Kaze featuring herself on piano, Tamura on trumpet and two extraordinary French musicians - drummer Peter Orins and trumpeter Christian Pruvost. Most recently, Fujii toured Italy performing both solo and duo concerts and toured to Sweden, Poland, Belguim and Germany with ma-do before heading to Glasgow for a solo performance at the renowned Glasgow Improvisors Orchestra Festival. In addition, the Satoko Fujii Orchestra has been named "Rising Star Big Band" in DownBeat Magazine.

Fujii tirelessly continues to explore the possibilities and expand the parameters of the many groups she's established over the past 15 years, and there is certainly more provocative and exciting listening in store as she pursues her ultimate goal: "I would love to make music that no one has heard before."

Media