Aoki is an active musician in the field of Asian American jazz and is the founder and artistic director of Asian Improv aRts Midwest (AIRMW), The Annual Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival and The JASC Tsukasa Taiko Legacy arts residency program.
Tatsu Aoki is a prolific artist, composer, musician, educator and a consummate bassist and Shamisen Lute player. Based in Chicago, Aoki works in a wide range of musical genres, ranging from traditional Japanese music, jazz, experimental and creative music.
Aoki was born in 1957 in Tokyo, Japan into an artisan family called TOYOAKI MOTO, traditionally categorized as OKIYA, meaning a booking and training agent for Geisha ladies in downtown Tokyo's designated area. While the economy and social environment forced many of those traditional artisan family business to close down in the 60s, Aoki was luckily able to receive some of the important essence of traditional Tokyo Geisha cultural training and studies at age 4, and became a part of the performing crew in early childhood. After his grandmother died, he had kept the Tokyo music training until early teen, and shifted his musical focus to American pop music and experimental music. Since his biological father was a movie producer at Shin Toho Studio, he had also began working in small gage films and started to produce experimental films. Aoki was active performer during the early 70's in the mist of Tokyo Underground Arts movement. Became a member of Japanese Experimental Music ensemble, GINTENKAI presenting mixture of traditional music and new western music.
After coming to U.S. in 1977, Aoki studied experimental filmmaking at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is currently an adjunct Associate Professor at the Film, Video and New Media Department, and teaches film production and history courses. During the late 80's, Aoki has become a leading advocate for Chicago's Asian American community and one of Chicago's most in-demand musicians on both contrabass, taiko (Japanese drums) and shamisen (Japanese lute). Working in film and music.
Under those environments of his childhood, Aoki has inherited historical and traditional essence of Tokyo Entertainment district's musical concepts, basics and value of flexible creations and applications. With the fall of these special districts in the late 60's and early 70's, the Tokyo's regional Entertainment musical concepts also disappears and as many other art form did, Tokyo Geisha music had institutionalized.
For Aoki, one of the most important goal is to preserve the original essence of fluidity and flexibility and perform rawness of REAL sound. He has adopted this idea to newer works as well.
To this date, Aoki has produced more than 60 recording projects and over 30 experimental films and working internationally. He is one of the most recorded artists in Chicago music scene. Among many of recordings, he has worked with musical masters and legends and produced remarkable duets works with bassist, Malachi Favors, multi instrumentalists such as Roscoe Mitchell, Don Moye and world renowned Pipa virtuoso, Wu Man and another Chicago legend, Fred Anderson.
Using Taiko drumming as a signature, Aoki's solo bass performances project BASSE LIVE and recordings are known for one of the most innovative approaches to the instrument internationally.
Aoki's most important ensemble work, ROOTED: Origins of Now, a 50 minute 4 movement suite, was performed at the Chicago Jazz Festival in September 2001. Because of this work, the Chicago Tribute recognized Tatsu Aoki as “Chicagoans of the Year.”, one of the group of Chicagoans who has contributed to the vitality and culture of Chicago by the Chicago Tribune or the City. The Chicago Tribune stated that Rooted had “come into its own as an eloquent, often dramatic merger of ancient Japanese music and experimental American jazz.” JAZZIZ, magazine, recognized Aoki one of one of many artists who has changed jazz since 1980." For his contribution to Chicago area arts, Asian American Institute has given Mile Stone Award in 2007.
As an Executive Director of AIRMW, Aoki has initiated and managed several programs to advance the understanding of Asian American culture and community through the arts, including the Annual Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival and the JASC Tsukasa Taiko Legacy arts residency project. His work as an artist and educator in the cultural arts and as a leader in the Asian American community address as well as define the issues facing the community, including the need for quality artistic programs that reflect the Asian American experience.
- "Centerstage: Tatsu Aoki". Retrieved 2008-07-31.