|East Meets West Brunch feat. Shoko Amano w/ Norman Simmons Quartet
Norman Simmons - Piano
Pall Bollenback - Guitar
Paul West - Bass
Bernard Purdie - Drums
**Price includes brunch, music and a drink.**
Jazz singer and recording artist Shoko Amano has been thrilling audiences around the world for nearly four decades and shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. To date, Amano has recorded six albums, all of which have included the stellar lineup of Norman Simmons on piano and Houston Person on woodwinds. 2013’s “Shoko Sings Lady Day,” on the HP New York label is the most CD, but Amano is hard at work on another, slated for release in winter 2010.
Born in Tokyo, Japan, Amano’s earliest exposure to the music that she would become so passionate came at about three or four years old. Her father, a cook on a U.S. Army base, often played jazz records in their home. Still, before she heard a Sonny Rollins recording as a teenager, she was still interested primarily in R&B and American pop. But once she heard what is perhaps Rollins’s most enduring album, “Saxophone Colossus,” she had an epiphany. She realized that a song’s freshness was limited only by the artist’s imagination. Her obsession with jazz had begun.
Amano did not begin actually singing jazz until she saw the 1972 film “Lady Sings the Blues,” in particular, until she viewed the scene in which Diana Ross, starring as Billie Holiday belts out “All of Me,” the Gerald Marks-Seymour Simons classic. It was a watershed moment. So inspired by it, she watched the movie another 37 times! Before long, she was transcribing the lyrics to jazz standards from records. Once she had finished capturing all the words of a tune on paper, she would practice singing it no less than 100 times, determined to commit it to memory and perfect her own interpretation of it.
Her success as a winner on Japan’s version of “American Idol” (“Anata Deban Desu”) – for ten weeks in a row—played a major role in launching her singing career. Soon afterward, she found herself singing for Hori, one of Japan’s biggest production companies. And later, as the lead singer of a Japanese group called Beat Shop, she opened for the Three Degrees and for R & B singer Freyda Payne (“Band of Gold”) when they performed in Tokyo’s fashionable Ginza district. Both of these appearances convinced her that there was something going on, in the American music scene and she wanted to become a part of it.
After a short stint in Taipei and Hong Kong, where she performed with various pop and R & B groups in Taipei and Hong Kong, Amano moved to America in 1974. There she joined a jazz septet in Los Angeles who were blown away by her take on “All of Me” at an audition. She studied voice there with Carl Jones of the Delta Rhythm Boys and sang at venues like the Jazz Pot and the Playboy Club with the septet and then lived in Chicago for a short time in the early 80s, where she landed gigs at jazz spots like The Moosehead through her association with the late Joe Pass.
As important to her development as a musician as these experiences were, it was mentor Norman Simmons who brought Amano to New York, where he applied his expertise as a coach and arranger to her talents in 1984. Their hard work culminated in her 1988 debut album “Shoko Celebrates in New York City.”
In New York, she has made special appearances at jazz landmarks like the Blue Note, Eddie Condon’s and world famous performance spaces like Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, where she sang with the Frank Wess Orchestra, it is no wonder that jazz legends like Wess himself, Grady Tate, Louis Nash and Rufus Reid have chosen to work with her.
With five albums to her credit and an annual performance in Tokyo on the eve of that city’s marathon, her appeal to listeners continues. But what is it exactly, about Ms. Amano, that jazz audiences from New York to Brazil to Japan connect with? “For me, [Shoko Amano] is the most resilient, individual, engaging vocalist from Japan, the ichiban (number-one) singer” writes William Minor in his book Jazz Journeys to Japan: the heart within. The late jazz writer Leslie Gourse, once described Amano’s signature sound as “soft and malleable—ideally suited for jazz,” and called her improvisations, “surprising and fresh.”
Her next recording will celebrate the 40th year of her career. This one will be on the HPNY label and will feature a ballads-only selection. “I like a very acoustic sound, like in the 1950s, she says. “These days, people like a lot of technique, which is good. But feeling and being able to touch the listener is more important to me.”