Miles Okazaki
Miles Okazaki

Miles Okazaki

About Miles Okazaki

Miles Okazaki is an American jazz guitarist, composer, and teacher based in New York City. Known for a versatile, rhythmic approach to improvisation and composition, he has been a go-to collaborator in the city for dozens of musicians including Kenny Barron, Amir El Saffar, Donny McCaslin, John Zorn, and Linda Oh, to list only a few. As a leader, he has been recording since 2005. With the release of his second album, Generations in 2009, his unique phrasing, sound, and compositional style attracted notice not only from critics, but musicians as well. Writing for Artforum, pianist Vijay Iyer described his playing as "...the sonic equivalent of Escher or Borges, but with real emotional heft." The guitarist worked with Patrick Cornelius while gigging in the city. After the release of 2013's acclaimed live offering Figurations with a quartet that included Miguel Zenón, Thomas Morgan, and Dan Weiss, he became ubiquitous for his membership in trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson's Sicilian Defense and Steve Coleman's Five Elements, recording and touring with both ensembles. In addition to Weiss' appearance on Okazaki's own recordings, he returned the favor by playing on the drummer's Fourteen and Sixteen: Drummers Suite. By 2017, he had also joined Mary Halvorson's quartet for Paimon: Book of Angels, Vol. 32, her contribution to John Zorn's epic compositional series. He also recorded Trickster, his Pi Recordings leader debut, and his most acclaimed effort to date.
Okazaki has taught guitar and rhythmic studies at the University of Michigan since 2013. He's also taught at the Banff Institute, The New School, The School for Improvisational Music, Queens College, The Juilliard School, Amsterdam Conservatory, and other institutions.
Okazaki grew up in Port Townsend, Washington. He began studying classical guitar at age six. He later furthered his musical education at The Centrum Jazz Institute and was playing regular gigs on electric guitar at 14. He was often awarded throughout his early years, and eventually placed second in the Thelonious Monk International Guitar Competition.
Okazaki moved to New York City in 1997 to pursue a musical career. He studied with Rodney Jones, who recommended him for his first gig with Stanley Turrentine. Okazaki spent four years on the road with vocalist Jane Monheit, and recorded with her on three albums between 2004-2007. He also played on Jesse Malin's 2004 album The Heat. During his time with Monheit, he was also writing and rehearsing the music for his first album, Mirror, which was released independently in 2005 to critical acclaim. The same year, he played on Dan Weiss' otherwise unaccompanied Tintal Drumset Solo, beginning an extended recording and working relationship with the drummer.
As a sideman, Okazaki works in many areas, ranging from standard repertoire to experimental music. Since 2008, he has been the guitarist with Steve Coleman & the Five Elements. His second album, Generations, was issued in 2009 on Sunnyside. A septet offering, its core band -- drummer Weiss, alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon, and bassist Jon Flaugher -- was appended by tenor saxophonists David Binney and Christof Knoche, as well as vocalist Jen Shyu. He followed it with the acclaimed quartet session Figurations in 2012, a quartet date that included Weiss, Zenon, and bassist Thomas Morgan.
Over the next several years, Okazaki played extensively with other artists. He contributed to multiple recordings by Jonathan Finlayson, Coleman, Weiss, and others. In 2016, he contributed to no less than five albums while writing, recording, and producing his own effort, Trickster. Issued in the spring of 2017 by Pi, the album included his Five Elements bandmates bassist Anthony Tidd and drummer Sean Rickman, as well as pianist Craig Taborn. It was inspired by Lewis Hyde's book Trickster Makes This World, and in particular, its chapters on the stories of Krishna, Eshu, Raven, Krishna, Heyoka, Thoth, and Hermes. Their themes of mischief, disguise, paradox, chaos, illusion, and balance became the basis of musical structures and improvisations over nine original compositions. The following year, Okazaki self-released his Work Vols. 1-6 (The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Monk) as a set, and was part of Coleman's Five Elements for Live at the Village Vanguard, Vol. 1: The Embedded Sets. That band included the guitarist's own rhythm section and Finlayson on trumpet. In the late summer of 2019, Okazaki released The Sky Below, his sophomore date for Pi Recordings, and a proper sequel to Trickster with Tidd, Rickman, and Matt Mitchell on pianos and synths. ~ Thom Jurek

  • HOMETOWN
    Port Townsend, Washington
  • BORN
    December 18, 1974

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