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Ima Ima by The Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble
The Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble will record a collection of works by Meg Okura, exploring Asian and Judaic musical cultures.Created By: Meg Okura
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Meg OkuraNew York, NY
“accomplished violinist with flawless technique…complete artist and a major one.” – All About Jazz
All About Jazz called her “the queen of chamber jazz,” violinist/composer Meg Okura, the founder of the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble, has received numerous grants and awards including Meet The Composer, American Composers Forum, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Independent Music Awards, and The Brand Personality Award (Asia Pacific Brands Foundation). Hailed by the New York Times as “vibrant” and “sophisticated,” she toured internationally with the late Michael Brecker, Steve Swallow, Tom Harrell, as well as her own groups upon her graduation from Juilliard, where she was the concertmaster of the Juilliard Opera Orchestra.
After dedicating herself to mastering jazz improvisation and soon, with her switch of genres and evolution into what she explains as “a more complete musician,” Okura began to advance her career as a jazz violinist, and has been heard at venues from the Knitting Factory to Carnegie Hall to Madison Square Garden, from Barbican Centre in London to Hollywood Bowl in California, from Village Vanguard to Blue Note Tokyo, and festivals and concert halls around the world.
As her reputation grew, Meg Okura quickly became one of the most sought-after violinists on the New York’s music scene, appearing on dozens of recordings with wide range of artists including David Bowie, Lee Konitz, Diane Reeves, Heidi Grand-Murphy, Sam Newsome, Jesse Harris, Jeremy Pelt, Ziggy Marley and others. She is also creditted on many movie soundtracks as a solo violinist, erhu player and composer/arranger, including most recently on Louie, TV series. Her work as an improvising violinist extends to three Cirque du Soleil productions (Varekai, Wintuk and Corteo), and has collaborated and performed with Oscar nominee actor and Columbia recording artist Terrence Howard. For the past ten years, Okura has been a member of a Jewish/Middle Eastern band Pharaoh’s Daughter. As a composer, she has been commissioned to write music for various groups, including C. Eule Dance, the New York Symphonic Ensemble, Sirius String Quartet, Asia America Youth Orchestra, the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble and others.
Born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, Meg Okura started violin and piano lessons at four. By age six, she was playing the piano and organ for the local church, while receiving intensive musical training at Asia’s top conservatory, the Toho School, where, barely in her teens, she became one of the top students and was the youngest winner of the Tokyo Bunkakaikan Emerging Musicians’ Debut Audition in 1990. At seventeen, she was invited to take the concertmaster chair in the Asian Youth Orchestra, leading one hundred of the finest young musicians from nine countries and touring all of Asia. The following year, Ms. Okura was invited back as a soloist to tour with the orchestra under the baton of the great American composer Lukas Foss. During the same year, she made her U.S. solo debut at the Kennedy Center with the late Alexander Schneider’s New York String Orchestra. She then moved to New York City and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in classical violin from The Julliard School.
While in school, she released three albums on Japanese Christian labels, and toured throughout Japan as a recitalist. In 1998, she received a full scholarship to attend Henry Mancini Institute in Los Angeles, CA, where she was the soloist and the concertmaster for the orchestra backing up Herbie Hancock, Shirley Horn, Diana Krall, and Terence Blanchard, under the batons of Jerry Goldsmith, Quincy Jones, and Jack Elliot.
In 2006, Okura founded the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble, and released its self-titled debut album, which became the finalist in 2006 Independent Music Awards. Since then, the ensemble has appeared in over fifty concerts, including the NYC Winter JazzFest, The Lincoln Center, Knitting Factory, Rubin Museum, Levitt Pavilion in California, and sold-out concerts in Japan in 2008.
In 2010, Meg Okura and the PACJE released their second album, “Naima”, highlighting Okura’s “breathtaking version” (Raul D’Gama Rose, All About Jazz) of Coltrane’s classic. Featuring rare instruments such as the shinobue and the erhu, the album is a collection of Okura’s original works, which “…elegantly intertwine(s) elements of classical, jazz and world folk into a new sound.” (Elliot Simon, All About Jazz)
In 2013, the PACJE released a new album, “Music of Ryuichi Sakamoto”– re-imagining his classics from the Yellow Magic Orchestra to the Academy award winning soundtrack, The Last Emperor and beyond. “In paying homage to Sakomoto, Okura and the PACJE revealed the common threads that unite all music. From Asia to Africa and the Americas, and from classical to jazz—via the inspiration of electronic music—Okura sees beauty everywhere and translates it into her own exquisite idiom.” – Ian Patterson, All About Jazz
The ensemble has just returned from a tour performing at 16 different schools and public concerts in Illinois and Iowa, performing for over 3,500 audience members. The ensemble concluded the tour with a concert in Bettendorf, Iowa, featuring Quad City Symphony Orchestra Youth Choir, singing an original jazz arrangement of “Jasmine Flower”, a traditional Chinese song.
Coltrane’s classic, arranged by Meg Okura in the style of French Impressionist. To create fluidity in texture and colors–an essential element for Impressionism–I have written arpeggios moving in different directions and with different subdivisions of beats (poly-rhythms),while slowly shifting the chords to encompass stillness within movements. A hint of Japanese music from”Koto Song” by Dave Brubeck.
Meg Okura (Vn.), Jun Kubo & Anne Drummond (Fl.), Mamiko Kitaura (Pf.), Rubin Kodheli (Vc.), Jennifer Vincent (Bs.), Willard Dyson (Dms.)