Ito was born in Tokyo, Japan into a theatrical family. His father, Yuji Itō, was a composer and costume designer, and his mother, Teiko Ono, was a dancer who worked in both traditional and classical genres. Ito moved with his family to New York at the age of six. In 1952, at the age of seventeen, he began composing music for the films of Maya Deren. He traveled with her to Haiti in 1955, learning ceremonial and secular drumming techniques from the Haitian musician Coyote.
Ito had a long and productive career, composing music for Broadway and Hollywood, drama, and dance. His works feature an innovative combination of sounds and often utilize musical instruments from many world cultures, which he played himself. His music is not as well known as that of many of his contemporaries because few recordings of his music were available until the late 20th century.
In 1961, he composed a score for a New York production of Alfred Jarry's King Ubu by The Living Theatre, which was released on CD by Tzadik Records in 1998. He won an Obie Award for his theater music in the 1960-61 season. Ito composed music for dancer Jean Erdman's musical play The Coach With the Six Insides (1962). He composed the score for the original Broadway production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1963) by Dale Wasserman.
Ito was married four times. He married Maya Deren in the late 1950s. With his second wife Gail Ryan, he had a daughter, Tavia. His third wife was a photographer named Ilene who also played instruments on a number of his recordings, and his fourth marriage was to Cherel Winett (1947–1999). Ito and Winett edited Deren's Haiti footage (1947–1954) into the documentary film Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti (1985).
He died from a heart attack while visiting Haiti. The Teiji Ito Collection, consisting of audio tapes, is held by the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts in Manhattan.
- Meshes: Music For Films and Theater (O.O. Discs)
- Music For Maya: Early Film Music Of Teiji Ito (Tzadik Records, 2-CD set)
- King Ubu (Tzadik)
- The Shamanic Principles (Tzadik)
- Tenno (Tzadik)
- Watermill (Tzadik)
- "Teiji Ito, 47, Composer For Theater and Dance". NY Times obituary, (August 21, 1982). Retrieved on August 14, 2008.
- "Teiji Ito Collection, 1963-1982"
- Teiji Ito Myspace
- Teiji Ito Tzadik discs
- Teiji Ito page from O.O. Discs
- Teiji Ito page from New York City Ballet site
- Teiji Ito Collection from The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
- Teiji Ito Collection of noncommercial recordings from The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
- Teiji Itō page (Japanese)