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Asian American Creative Music
in the 1990s

by Bruce Takeo Akizuki
Oakland, California

Anthony Brown Band. All photos by Bruce Takeo Akizuki.
Anthony Brown Band.
photos by Bruce Takeo Akizuki.

Francis Wong.
Francis Wong.

Jon Jang.
Jon Jang.

Liu Qi Chao.
Liu Qi Chao.

Glenn Horiuchi, Miya Masaoka, and Mark Izu.
Glenn Horiuchi, Miya Masaoka, and Mark Izu.

I was one the principal photographers during the 1990s volunteering for Asian Improv aRts and photo documenting the Asian American creative music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area.

What is creative music? Max Roach and Charlie Parker did not use the word jazz, they referred to it as "our music". The term "creative music" emerged later as a self defining term. The African American musicians from the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians of Chicago originated the word in the 1960s. Sadly, current Jazz music is marketed like a commodity rather than as an art form. Creative music is a broader term that means more music and other elements, artistic, cultural and political, etc, can be drawn upon and integrated into artistic expression.

Organized jazz in America started in the early 20th century. The work of Asian American creative musicians reached a new level of development in the 1960s and 1970s. Musicians of this period included saxophonist Gerald Oshita, pianist Flip Nuñez, and saxophonist Russell Baba. Coming a little later in the '70s were bassist Mark Izu and drummer Anthony Brown.

A new generation of artists including Mark Izu, Anthony Brown and later Francis Wong and Jon Jang made significant contributions in the 1980s and 1990s. During this period there were new compositions, regular performances, and several Asian American Jazz Festivals emerged in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York (later in Chicago). A major part of this development was the founding of record label RPM by the band United Front (Mark Izu, Anthony Brown, Lewis Jordan, George Sams). Following later. Wong and Jang created Asian Improv Records, a creative music label based in San Francisco, which promoted creative music and musicians and Asian Improv aRts, a non-profit production company. Asian Improv Records and Asian Improv aRts today have branches in San Francisco and Chicago and are now into their third decade.

What makes Asian American creative music unique is it's ability to integrate the musical traditions, practices, and instruments that were traditionally associated with Asia and America. Asian American jazz musicians who combined these elements are the late Glenn Horiuchi, Jon Jang, Francis Wong, Mark Izu, Anthony Brown, Miya Masaoka, and Hafez Modirzadeh among a significant number of other artists active today.

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Published in In Motion Magazine November 11, 2009

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