Yōsuke Yamashita

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Yōsuke Yamashita
Yosuke Yamashita.jpg
Yōsuke Yamashita in 2006.
Background information
Born (1942-02-26) 26 February 1942 (age 77)
Tokyo, Japan
Occupation(s)Musician, composer, arranger, writer
LabelsEnja Records, West 54 Records, Verve Records

Yōsuke Yamashita (山下 洋輔, Yamashita Yōsuke, born 26 February 1942) is a Japanese jazz pianist, composer and writer. He is praised by critics for his unique piano style, which is influenced by free jazz, modal jazz and soul jazz.[1][2]

Since the late 1980s Yamashita's main group has consisted of Cecil McBee (bass), Pheeroan akLaff (drums), and often Joe Lovano (saxophone).

Early life[edit]

Yamashita was born in Tokyo on 26 February 1942.[3] He had violin lessons between the ages of 9 and 15, and switched to piano in his teens.[4]

Later life and career[edit]

Yamashita first played piano professionally in 1959, at the age of 17, and attended the Kunitachi College of Music from 1962 to 1967. In the early 1960s he "was part of a group, with Terumasa Hino and Masabumi Kikuchi, that met at a jazz club called Gin-Paris [...] to play and discuss jazz every night".[3] Yamashita's first released recording was in 1963, and he became a pioneer of avant-garde and free jazz. In 1969, he formed the Yosuke Yamashita Trio.[3] In 1974, the trio of Yamashita, Akira Sakata (alto sax) and Takeo Moriyama (drums) went on the first of a series of successful European tours, which helped spread beyond Japan Yamashita's and the trio's reputation as driving, fully committed free jazz musicians.[4] The trio broke up in 1983.[3]

In the 1980s, Yamashita formed the "New York Trio" with bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Pheeroan akLaff. In 1994 he was invited to perform at the 50th anniversary concert of jazz label Verve, held at Carnegie Hall. He provided the music for films such as Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands and Dr. Akagi. He has also led a big band "that combined swing music with free jazz".[3] He has been a visiting professor of music at Senzoku Gakuen College of Music, Nagoya University of Arts, and his alma mater, Kunitachi College of Music, in addition to publishing work on improvisation and music.

Yamashita performed on a burning piano in 1973 when asked by Japanese graphic designer Kiyoshi Awazu to be the subject in his short film, burning piano. Thirty-five years later, clothed in a protective firefighter's uniform, Yamashita repeated the performance on a beach in western Japan, playing jazz improvisations on a piano which had been set alight.[5]

Playing style and influence[edit]

Critic Marc Moses, writing for The Japan Times in 1990, commented that "It is not an exaggeration to say that Yamashita is probably more responsible than any other individual for broadening the horizon of the creative Japanese jazz scene."[6]


  • In 1990, he was awarded the Fumio Nanri award.
  • In 1999, at the Mainichi Film Concours he was awarded "Best Film Score" for Dr. Akagi.[7]
  • In 2003, he was awarded the Imperial Medal of Honor by the Japanese government for his contributions to the arts and academia.


  • 1969: Mina's Second Theme studio trio with Seiichi Nakamura and Takeo Moriyama
  • 1970: Mokujiki studio trio with Seiichi Nakamura and Takeo Moriyama
  • 1971: April Fool/Coming Muhammad Ali studio trio with Seiichi Nakamura and Takeo Moriyama
  • 1974: Clay (Enja) studio trio with Akira Sakata, Takeo Moriyama
  • 1975: Breathtake (West 54 Records) solo
  • 1976: Banslikana (Enja) solo
  • 1976: Chiasma (MPS) with Sakata, Moriyama
  • 1977: Inner Space (Enja) with Adelhard Roidinger
  • 1984: It Don't Mean A Thing (DIW) solo
  • 1990: Sakura (Verve) with McBee, akLaff
  • 1993: Kurdish Dance (Verve) with Lovano, McBee, akLaff
  • 1993: Dazzling Days (Verve) with Lovano, McBee, akLaff
  • 1995: Ways of Time (Verve) with Tim Berne, Lovano, McBee, akLaff
  • 1996: Spider (Verve) with McBee, akLaff
  • 1999: Fragments 1999 (Verve) with McBee akLaff
  • 2000: Resonant Memories (Verve) solo
  • 2011: Delightful Contrast (Universal) with McBee, akLaff
  • 2013: Grandioso (Universal) with McBee, akLaff


  1. ^ http://www.universal-music.co.jp/yosuke-yamashita/biography/ Archived June 6, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 10 March 2009. Retrieved 22 July 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ a b c d e Carr, Ian; Fairweather, Digby; Priestly, Brian (1995) Jazz – The Rough Guide. The Rough Guides. p. 711.
  4. ^ a b Chiasma liner notes by Horst Weber
  5. ^ Reuters (19 March 2008). "Japanese Pianist Plays the Burning Piano at a Sunset Beach." ITNSource. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  6. ^ Moses, Marc (11 May 1990) "Sax Player Makes Mitochondria a Powerhouse". The Japan Times. p. 17.
  7. ^ IMDB awards

External links[edit]