One of the highlights of my Golden Week this year was a concert by the Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin Jazz Orchestra at Blue Note in Tokyo. Reuniting her big band for the first time in a decade, Akiyoshi rolled back the clock with a superb set and some witty banter. The high point of the Sunday night show was "Kogun," with her husband, Tabackin, delivering a superb performance on flute.
Akiyoshi was a trailblazer — literally. She become the first Japanese musician to be accepted to study jazz in the United States, and has received numerous accolades since. Seeing her perform, with such a command of the stage, I wondered why the government's Cool Japan campaign doesn't tout her achievements more often.
In fact, over the last decade a number of female jazz artists have emerged here, each with their own distinctive sound and musical vision, and all of them a far cry from the saccharine-sweet cuteness of AKB48, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and the rest of the Cool Japan-approved pop world.