Noted New York-based guitarist Miles Okazaki has toured all over the U.S., Europe, Africa, South America and Asia, but Washington state is where his interest in music began.

“I grew up around a lot of creative people,” noted Okazaki, who was born in Pullman and a resident of Port Townsend from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Okazaki got into music and started learning the guitar when he was about 6 years old. At the age of 13, he started playing his own solo guitar gigs. His interest in the arts stemmed from Okazaki’s mother, an artist, and his father, a photographer. He was also inspired by his stepfather, a house painter, and others in Port Townsend, from gardeners to boat builders, who worked in various trades.

“I grew up with some respect for craftsmanship and an interdisciplinary approach,” he said. “I still think about that a lot when I’m making music.”

Another major influence on Okazaki while growing up was Jazz Port Townsend, an annual weeklong event of workshops and performances.

“It was the first music I got to see live at a really high level,” said Okazaki. “Improvisation was what really turned me on.”

Okazaki studied from a number of guitarists, including Emily Remler (1957-1990), who had a big impact on him.

“She emphasized, above all, that the music had to feel good and make people want to move,” said Okazaki, adding that Remler taught by example and inspired his strong interest in rhythm.

Okazaki left Port Townsend at 18 to study at Harvard University. He tried his hand at science, visual arts and academics, but found that his true interest was in music.
After graduating from Harvard, he subsequently moved to New York in 1997 to attend the Manhattan School of Music and study with guitarist Rodney Jones, who taught Okazaki both music business and the guitar.

“He showed me what I was missing,” said Okazaki.

He later worked with Jones in producing recording sessions for Seattle-based jazz artist Ernestine Anderson, as well as Ruth Brown, Donald Harrison, Jimmy McGriff and Lena Horne. He also worked as a sideman with Regina Carter, Stanley Turrentine, Lenny Pickett, and Jane Monheit. Okazaki went on to earn a degree from The Juilliard School in New York. In 2005, Okazaki began producing his first of three albums of compositions representing his ideas about rhythm, harmony and melody. With the money he received as a finalist in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Guitar Competition that year, he recorded his debut album, “Mirror,” which was released in 2007. His second album, “Generations,” funded by money he received from a “New Works” grant of Chamber Music America, was released in 2009. His last album, “Figurations,” was recorded live in the Jazz Gallery in New York. “Figurations” was listed as one of the “Top 10 albums of 2012” in the New York Times.

“I always wanted to do a live record, because that’s the kind of album I like to listen to,” he said.

Music has helped Okazaki to find his voice and make it uniquely his own.
“Music is a tool for self-discovery,” he said. “You can’t ever stop discovering things about yourself and other people.”

Last summer, Okazaki taught music in Japan, as a member of Juilliard’s touring faculty.

“It was very interesting,” said Okazaki. “The [Japanese] culture has a deep respect for learning, culture and for music.”

Okazaki’s paternal grandparents were originally from Japan and migrated to Hawaii as children. They lived in Honolulu, Hawai’i during World War II and were incarcerated during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

This September, Okazaki is touring Europe with his own quartet. Upon his return, he will be performing with jazz pianist Kenny Barron, and then in October, he will be performing at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in New York. Okazaki will return again to Europe in November. He hopes to tour the West Coast in the near future.

For more information about Miles Okazaki, visit www.milesokazaki.com.

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