Miles Okazaki's Trickster
Miles Okazaki’s compositions sound like he’s creating an elaborate portrait from mosaic, octagon-shaped tiles. His style of play is captivating and dense.
Miles Okazaki is an American musician based in New York City. His main focus is on rhythmic concepts for improvisation, composition, and music theory. His approach to the guitar is described by the New York Times as “utterly contemporary, free from the expectations of what it means to play a guitar in a group setting — not just in jazz, but any kind.”
Okazaki grew up in Port Townsend, Washington, a small town near the Olympic Mountains in the Pacific Northwest. He began music on classical guitar at age 6, and was playing regular gigs on electric guitar by age 14, after studying for several years at the Centrum Jazz Workshop. He received many awards as a guitarist throughout his early years, and eventually placed 2nd in the Thelonious Monk International Guitar Competition.
Okazaki moved to New York City in 1997 to pursue a career in music and begin writing his own material. His teacher on guitar at this time was Rodney Jones, who recommended him for his first gig, with Stanley Turrentine. Okazaki spent four years on the road with vocalist Jane Monheit, while also writing and rehearsing the music for his first album Mirror which was released independently. The album received a “Critics Pick” in the New York Times, calling it “a work of sustained collectivity as well as deep intricacy.” He expanded to a septet for his second album Generations described by pianist Vijay Iyer “the sonic equivalent of Escher or Borges, but with real emotional heft” in Artforum’s “Best Music of 2009.” His third album Figurations was recorded live with a quartet, and was selected as one of the New York Times top ten albums of 2012, described by Ben Ratliff as “slowly evolving puzzles of brilliant jazz logic.” After finishing the MIRROR trilogy, Okazaki turned to a new band and label, releasing Trickster in 2017 on Pi Recordings to wide acclaim, including editor’s picks in Downbeat and Jazztimes and Best of 2017 lists in the Los Angeles Times and Pop Matters. Trickster was described as “a true concept album” by the Wall Street Journal and “a mature work for the ages” by Pop Matters. The sequel to Trickster, The Sky Below, was released in October of 2019. Okazaki wrote, produced and illustrated these five albums.
In 2018, Okazaki released Work, his first album of standard repertoire, a five hour performance of the complete compositions of Thelonious Monk for solo guitar, praised by critic Nate Chinen as “an act of immersive scholarship and exhaustive scope. . . a singular achievement,” and selected by the New York Times as one of the best albums of 2018, a “monumental statement of devotion.” In 2019, he was voted #1 Rising Star on guitar in the Downbeat Critic’s Poll.
As a sideman, Okazaki works in many areas, ranging from Standard repertoire to experimental music. In recent years, he has worked with a variety of artists including Kenny Barron, Steve Coleman, John Zorn, Jonathan Finlayson, Amir El Saffar, Adam Rudolph, Dan Weiss, Nasheet Waits, Aka Moon, Linda Oh, Darcy James Argue, Jane Monheit, Vijay Iyer, Francois Moutin, Carl Allen, Ohad Talmor, Mary Halvorson, Jen Shyu, Mark Giuliana, Patrick Cornelius, Rajna Swaminathan, Matt Mitchell, Craig Taborn, Tony Moreno, Ben Wendel, Donny McCaslin, and many others.
Okazaki’s first book, Fundamentals of Guitar, was released on Mel Bay Publications in 2015. He has taught guitar and rhythmic studies at the University of Michigan since 2013. He has also taught at the Banff Institute, The New School, the School for Improvisational Music, Queens College, The Juilliard School, Amsterdam Conservatory, and many other institutions. Outside of guitar, his past teachers include Anthony Davis (composition), Ganesh Kumar (Carnatic percussion), and Kendall Briggs (counterpoint). His awards and grants include Chamber Music America’s “New Works” (2007), Chamber Music America’s “French-American Jazz Exchange” (2009), the Jazz Gallery and Jerome Foundations Residency Commission (2010), the American Music Center’s Composer Assistance Program (2011), the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation’s US Artists International grant (2012), the Rockefeller Brother’s Fund Artist Residency (2012), the Jazz Gallery Mentorship program (2015), and the Shifting Foundation (2019). He holds degrees from Harvard University (B.A.), Manhattan School of Music (M.M.), and The Juilliard School (A.D.), and lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife and three children.