“A musical impressionist and supreme colorist” (Hot House Magazine) aptly characterizes the Japanese-born composer Asuka Kakitani. At the forefront of Brooklyn’s burgeoning big band scene, Kakitani has attracted some of New York’s finest jazz artists with her adventurous, melodically charged charts. Asuka was selected as a 2013 DownBeat Critic Poll Rising Star Arranger six months after her 18-piece Asuka Kakitani Jazz Orchestra (AKJO) made a stunning debut with Bloom on Nineteen-Eight Records. The album was featured on the international radio program PRI’s The World, depicting Bloom as “full of complicated harmony . . . but it also makes room for simplicity.” Bloom was also selected as one of the best debut albums on the 2013 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll, All About Jazz, and Lucid Culture. Other accolades include Jazz Wax’s Marc Myers saying “Kakitani and her ideas and pen are the real deal;” while DownBeat Magazine described Bloom as having “sumptuous positivity and organic flow (★★★★);” and All About Jazz called it “absolutely superb.”
The images of nature that are often the inspiration for Kakitani’s works are clearly felt by many of her listeners, including The International Review of Music who illustrates how “beams of light shimmer and shine while notes take flight.” WEMU’s Linda Yohn continues the imagery with: “Colors, texture and sensations weave in and out of [Kakitani’s] pieces with endless variety – reflective of our natural world.” In addition to her own original works on Bloom, Kakitani’s re-composition of two Japanese children’s songs are heard as portraying “original ideas and clarity of style” (Jazz Tokyo) and are “luminous, lush and symphonic” (Lucid Culture).
Kakitani founded her orchestra in 2009, featuring some of the most creative musicians in New York City, including Mark Ferber, Jason Rigby, John O’Gallagher, Pete McCann, John Bailey, Sara Serpa, and more. AKJO has been performing her music in venues in the New York City area such as Drom, ShapeShifter Lab, Bowery Poetry Club, St. Peter’s Church, and regularly at Tea Lounge as a part of the “Size Matters” Large Ensemble Series. Her awards include the BMI Charlie Parker Jazz Composition Prize in 2006, the Manny Albam Commission in 2007, Composer Assistance Grants from the American Music Center in 2009 and 2010, Brooklyn Arts Funding in 2016, and the Jerome Fund for New Music from the American Composers Forum in 2017, the McKnight Composer Fellowship in 2019, Minnesota State Arts Board Grant in 2020, and most recently she was one of the finalists of the Jerome Hill Artist Fellowship in 2021. Kakitani was a member of the BMI Jazz Composers’ Workshop, led by Jim McNeely, from 2004 to 2007. Soon after relocating to Minnesota in 2016, she co-founded the Twin Cities Jazz Composers’ Workshop, which fosters creative jazz composition in the Twin Cities area. Also Kakitani and her husband, composer/trombonist JC Sanford, founded the new jazz orchestra Inatnas Orchestra.