Discover the Best of Japanese Jazz Music

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Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Discover the Best of Japanese Jazz Music. Get to know the history and find out which artists are making waves in the scene today.

Introduction to Japanese Jazz

Japanese Jazz, or “J-Jazz”, is a unique blend of traditional Japanese music and Western Jazz. This fusion of styles creates a beautiful and distinctive sound that has gained popularity both in Japan and abroad. Japanese Jazz has a rich history, and many famous Japanese Jazz musicians have made names for themselves both in Japan and internationally. In this article, we’ll introduce you to some of the best Japanese Jazz musicians and their music.

What is Japanese Jazz?

Jazz is a music genre that was developed in the United States in the early 20th century. It is characterized by a syncopated rhythm, improvisation, and unique melodies. Jazz has been influenced by various music genres from around the world, including blues and African American music.

Japanese jazz is a type of jazz that developed in Japan in the 1970s. It is influenced by traditional Japanese music, as well as by American and European jazz. Japanese jazz often features a distinctive blend of instruments, including the shamisen, taiko drums, and the koto.

Japanese jazz musicians have often been influenced by American jazz greats such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Some of the most popular Japanese jazz musicians include Sadao Watanabe, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Ichiro Kurosawa, and Akira Miyazawa.

If you’re interested in exploring Japanese jazz, there are a few albums that are essential listening. These albums will give you a good introduction to the genre and its many subgenres.

some essentialalbums:
1) Sadao Watanabe – B accumulation (1975)
2) Toshiko Akiyoshi – Live at Newport (1976)
3) Ichiro Kurosawa – Take Off! (1977)
4) Akira Miyazawa – Ethnic Expression (1978)

The History of Japanese Jazz

Japanese jazz has been around for almost a hundred years, and its popularity has only grown in recent decades. While the genre has been influenced by American and European jazz musicians, it has developed its own unique sound and style.

Some of the earliest Japanese jazz recordings date back to the 1920s, when American sailors brought records with them to Japan. These early recordings were mostly of popular songs, but they introduced Japanese audiences to the new genre of music.

In the 1930s, Japanese musicians began to experiment with jazz, and the first Japanese jazz band was formed. This band, led by clarinetist Hideo Shiraki, became known as the Tokyo ensemble. They performed popular American Jazz standards, as well as original compositions.

During World War II, Jazz was banned in Japan because it was seen as a symbol of Western Cultural imperialism. However, after the war ended, Jazz became popular again. In the 1950s, several famous Japanese Jazz musicians emerged, including trumpeter Fumio Nanri and saxophonist Sadao Watanabe.

Since then, Japanese Jazz has continued to evolve and grow in popularity. Today, there are many different subgenres of Japanese Jazz, including fusion, acid Jazz, and bebop. Japan is now home to some of the world’s most iconic Jazz Festivals, such as the Tokyo Jazz Festival and the Sapporo Snowmessage Jazz Festival.

The Best of Japanese Jazz

The Best Japanese Jazz Albums

Japan has produced some of the best jazz musicians in the world, with a sound that is uniquely their own. If you’re a fan of Japanese jazz, or just want to explore something new, here are some of the best albums to start with.

-Sgetsu Ohno Quintet- “Sgetsu Ohno Quintet” (1956)
One of the earliest and most influential Japanese jazz albums, this record features the legendary Sgetsu Ohno on piano, with a quintet that includes saxophonist Sadaharu Inoue and trumpeter Fumio Nanri. The group’s sound is based in bebop but also incorporates traditional Japanese melodies, giving it a distinct flavor that would set the stage for much of subsequent Japanese jazz.

– Terumasa Hino- “Hino Terumasa Quintet” (1966)
Trumpeter Hino’s debut album as a leader is one of the most essential documents of early Japanese jazz. Hino was only 22 years old at the time, but his command of his instrument and his group were already at a high level. The rest of the quintet consisted of fellow young lions such as alto saxophonist Nobuo Hara and pianist Hajime Kanazawa, both of whom would go on to have long and illustrious careers themselves.

– Sadao Watanabe- “Birds” (1972)
A classic album by one of Japan’s most popular jazz musicians, “Birds” features Watanabe on alto saxophone in a quartet setting with Hiroshi Murakami on piano, Kiyoshi Sugimoto on bass, and Motohiko Hino on drums. Watanabe’s mellow yet distinctive tone is in full display on this record, along with his gift for writing catchy melodies. The title track, “Birds,” has become one of Watanabe’s signature tunes.

– Masabumi Kikuchi Trio- “Black Orpheus” (1975)
Pianist Kikuchi leads a trio featuring Motohiko Hino on drums and Akira Sakata on alto saxophone and clarinet. The group tackles two standards: Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” and Luiz Bonfa’s “Black Orpheus.” Both are given fresh interpretations that highlight Kikuchi’s virtuosic playing and the group’s tight interplay. The album also features Kikuchi’s original composition “Winter Moon,” which has become one of his best-known pieces.

The Best Japanese Jazz Artists

Japanese jazz has been gaining popularity around the world in recent years, with many talented artists emerging on the scene. If you’re looking to discover some new Japanese jazz music, here are some of the best artists to check out.

Yusei Matsui is a Japanese jazz saxophonist who has been making waves in the international jazz scene. His上栖大作 – Usei Matsui Quintet debut album won the Best Jazz Album award at the 2018 National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Grammy Awards.

Hiromi is a world-renowned jazz pianist who has released several successful albums. She has toured with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke.

Toshiko Akiyoshi is a Japanese jazz pianist and composer who is considered one of the pioneers of Japanese jazz. She has released over 30 albums and has received numerous awards for her work.

Kai Nakamura is a Japanese jazz trumpeter who has played with some of the biggest names in the genre, including Wynton Marsalis and Herbie Hancock. He has released two albums as a leader, and his latest album won the Best Jazz Album award at the 2020 Grammy Awards.

Ryo Kawasaki is a Japanese jazz guitarist who has been active on the scene since the 1960s. He has released over 30 albums and played with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Miles Davis and Dexter Gordon.


After exploring the best of Japanese jazz, it’s safe to say that the genre is rich and varied. From the accessible and melodic sounds of Yusef Lateef to the avant-garde experimentation of Masabumi Kikuchi, there’s something for everyone. The best Japanese jazz albums offer a window into a creative and vibrant music scene that continues to evolve.

Why Japanese Jazz is Worth Checking Out

Japanese jazz, or “J-jazz” as it’s called, has been gaining in popularity in recent years. While it may not be as well-known as American jazz, there are many reasons to give it a listen.

For starters, J-jazz often has a more delicate sound than its American counterpart. This is due in part to the use of traditional Japanese instruments, such as the koto and shamisen. The music also tends to be more melodic and lyrical, with a focus on beauty and simplicity.

If you’re looking for something new and different, J-jazz is definitely worth checking out. Who knows? You might just find your new favorite type of jazz!

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