Beyond the Box Artists

Tatsu Aoki is a leading advocate for the Asian American community, as well as a prolific composer and performer of traditional and experimental music forms, a filmmaker, and an educator. Born in Tokyo, 1957 into the Toyoakimoto artisan family, a traditional house for training and booking agents for geisha. Aoki was part of his family’s performance crew from the age of four. In the late 1960s, he shifted his energies from the traditional to American pop and experimental music. By the early 1970s, Aoki was active in Tokyo’s underground arts movement as a member of Gintenkai, an experimental ensemble that combined traditional music and new Western forms.

In 1977, Aoki left Tokyo and is now one of the most in-demand performers of bass, shamisen, and taiko, contributing more than ninety recording projects and touring internationally during the last twenty-five years. Aoki is Founder and Artistic Director of Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival, which observes its twentieth year in 2015. Named President of San Francisco–based Asian Improv Records (AIR) in 1999, he has managed or produced more than forty AIR albums, notably the Max Roach and Jon Jang collaboration The Beijing Trio, and several projects in the hip-hop and Asian Pacific American arts arenas, from film screenings to concert series.

Aoki was named one of 2001’s “Chicagoans of the year” by Chicago Tribune for his music for his cross cultural music and has performed with masters such as Roscoe Mitchell, Don Moye, pipa virtuoso Wu Man, and the late Chicago legend Fred Anderson. Aoki’s suite ROOTED: Origins of Now, a four-movement suite for big band, premiered in 2001 at Ping Tom Memorial Park, and was performed at the Chicago Jazz Festival and at MCA Stage as part of Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival. Additional notable releases include Basser Live (1999) and Basser Live II (2005), recorded live at MCA Stage; The MIYUMI Project (2000), Symphony of Two Cities (2002), and Posture of Reality with Wu Man (2003). The Asian American Institute awarded Aoki the Milestone Award in 2007 for his contribution to Chicago-area arts. In 2010, he received the Japan America Society of Chicago’s Cultural Achievement Award as well as a 3Arts Artist Award. He received the “Living in our Culture” award by the Japanese American Service Committee in 2014 and Jazz Heros’ Award by National Jazz Journalist Association in 2015.In the summer of 2016, his Miyumi Project ensemble was chosen as the official musical presenters for the unveiling of Yoko Ono’s first permanent installation in North America, “SKYLANDING”, in Chicago’s own Jackson Park; which also resulted in the group recording the album “SKYLANDING”, produced by Yoko Ono.

Chicago-area native, Yoshinojo Fujima (a.k.a Rika Lin) is an interdiscplinary performing artist, based as a Japanese classical dancer/choreographer. She received her professional name in 2006 as a member of the Fujima Ryu Japanese Classical Dance School in Japan, and attained her grandmastership last year, which certifies her with a shihan (teaching license). She has performed in collaborations with Asian Improv aRts MidWest, Tsukasa Taiko, Tatsu Aoki’s the Miyumi Project and was featured in the 2016 Chicago Jazz Festival at the J. Pritzker Pavillion, and has just finished her show “Quantum Monk” at Links Hall. An active performing member of Toyoaki Shamisen, this year she has also been awarded the Links Hall Artistic Associate Curatorial Residency for the 2017 season, for her “Beyond the Box” presentation/series.

Shunojo Fujima received his natori (professional performance name) at a young age, which is a major milestone for a practitioner of the Japanese cultural arts. He went on to open his own studio of classical dance in Tokyo and frequently traveled to the United States on tour with his dance troupe. He now permanently resides in Chicago, and in addition to the annual recitals, Fujima and his dancers perform for various civic and cultural groups, colleges, universities, and various festivals in and around Chicago and the Midwest. In 2013, he received the Japanese Foreign Minister’s Commendation Award for his ongoing work promoting Japanese culture in the US through teaching and performing Japanese classical dance. The group has now celebrated its 40th Anniversary, and has commemorated it by transforming the groups name back to Shubukai, its original name when it first started in Chicago.

Kioto Aoki is a taiko artist and core member of Tsukasa Taiko, a program of Asian Improv aRts. She has been playing taiko since the age of 7 and often shares the stage with AACM members Avreeayl Ra, Mwata Bowden and Ed Wilkerson Jr. At professional venues in Chicago; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Harris Theater, and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, as well as Elastic Arts and Constellation. Kioto is a recipient of the Ethnic and Folk Arts Master Apprentice Program from the Illinois Arts Council and recent projects include Yoko Ono’s Skylanding Project in Jackson Park.

Kioto is also a photographer and filmmaker and an MFA candidate at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago. Her work focuses on notions of attention and perception, currently investigating the space between the still and the moving image in relation to the analogue image-making process.

Ayako Kato is an award-winning Japanese native and Chicago-based dancer, choreographer, improviser, teacher, and curator. Influenced by a Japanese view of nature and the philosophy of Tao, Ayako’s dance movement encourages to perceive the intangible, the beauty of being as it is, which affirms and nurtures the ephemeral nature and dignity of life. In 2016, she received a 3Arts Award in Dance. She performed her works recently at venues/festivals such as 3Klang Tage, Switzerland; DOEK, Amsterdam, Holland; the International Festival of Arts and Ideas, New Haven, CT; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; SpinOff Festival, Chicago Cultural Center. In Summer 2016, Ayako participated in the Regional Dance Development Initiative (RDDI) of its National Dance Project (NDP) funded by the New England Foundation for the Arts with the Chicago Dancemakers Forum (CDF), and also performed blue fish -reveal- in Tabito Arts Meeting Festival in Fukushima, Japan. Her recent group work The Incidents was selected for the Best of Dance 2014 in Chicago Tribune. Since 2010, Ayako has been an artist in residence at the Hamlin Park Fieldhouse Theater under Chicago Moving Company’s Dance Shelter Program.
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Lenora Lee (artistic director) has been a dancer, choreographer, and artistic director in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. She has been an Artist Fellow at the de Young Museum, a Djerassi Resident Artist, and a Visiting Scholar at New York University through the Asian/Pacific/American Institute. She is currently an Artist in Residence at Dance Mission Theater. The mission of Lenora Lee Dance (LLD) is to create and present large-scale multimedia performance works integrating dance, music, video projection, and text that connect various styles of movement and music to culture, history, and human rights issues. LLD is weaving together multiple artistic disciplines and socially conscious work, pushing the relevance of arts in various communities throughout the country.

Lori Ashikawa is a violinist with the Joffrey Ballet orchestra, Chicago Philharmonic, and Chicago Opera Theater and has performed with Music of the Baroque, Chicago Symphony, Fulcrum Point New Music Project, and Goodman and Steppenwolf Theaters. Lori specializes in early music performance on the baroque violin, and was a member of the Los Angeles Baroque Orchestra and the Chicago period ensemble Baroque Band for 9 years. She currently plays baroque violin with the Haymarket Opera Company. Lori is a shamisen student of Tatsu Aoki and lives in Chicago with husband, two cats, and a garden full of scorpion peppers.

Jamie Kempkers studied cello with Dr. Robert Ritsema and recording with John Erskine at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. He has been living in Chicago, playing improvised and/or experimental music since 2001. Past and current collaborators include Tatsu Aoki, Jonathan Chen, Grandmaster Rika Lin, and Dawei Wang.

Eric Leonardson, a Chicago-based audio artist, serves as the Executive Director of the World Listening Project, founder and co-chair of the Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology, and President of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology. He is Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Sound at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). As a performer, composer, and sound designer, Leonardson created sound with the Chicago-based physical theater company Plasticene (1995-2012). Leonardson performs internationally with the Springboard, a self-built instrument made in 1994 and often presents on acoustic ecology to new audiences.

Edward Wilkerson Jr. is an internationally recognized jazz musician, composer, arranger, and educator based in Chicago. As founder and director of the octet 8 Bold Souls and the twenty-five-member ensemble Shadow Vignettes, Wilkerson has toured festivals and concert halls throughout the US, Europe, Japan, and the Middle East. In addition to his work with his own groups, he performs with the AACM Great Black Music Ensemble, Roscoe Mitchell, Douglas Ewart, the Temptations, Chico Freeman, Geri Allen, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Muhal Richard Abrams, Aretha Franklin, and George Lewis. He is a frequent collaborator in Chicago’s Asian American music scene, playing with Tatsu Aoki’s MIYUMI Project and Jeff Chan’s Chicago Clarinet Conglomerate. A major presence in Chicago’s AACM, Wilkerson teaches composition at the organization’s music school and served for a time as AACM President.

Jason Roebke has been a integral part of the Chicago jazz scene since locating to the city in 1999. He composes music for two ensembles, Jason Roebke Combination and the Jason Roebke Octet. Solo performance and a duo with dancer Ayako Kato are also at the forefront of his creative activities. His improvisations are intensely physical, audacious, and sparse. The Chicago Reader described his work as “a carefully orchestrated rummage through a hardware store.”