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.

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 movementencourages the audience to perceivethe intangible, the beauty of being as it is,whichaffirms and nurtures theephemeral nature and dignity of life. In 2016, she received a 3Arts Award in Dance. She performed her works recently atvenues/festivals such as3Klang 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 Summer2016, Ayako participated inthe Regional Dance Development Initiative (RDDI) of its National Dance Project (NDP) funded bythe New England Foundation for the Arts with the Chicago Dancemakers Forum (CDF), andalso performedblue fish -reveal-in Tabito Arts Meeting Festivalin Fukushima, Japan.Her recent group workThe Incidentswas selected for the Best of Dance 2014 in Chicago Tribune.Since 2010, Ayako has been an artist in residence at the Hamlin ParkFieldhouse Theater under Chicago Moving Company’s Dance Shelter

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.