Tatsu Aoki
Musician, Composer, and Educator
Chicago, IL
2020 USA Fellow

This award was generously supported by the Walder Foundation.

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. He was born in 1958 into the Toyoakimoto artisan family and was performing by age four. In 1977, Aoki left Tokyo and is now one of the most in-demand performers of bass, shamisen, and taiko in Chicago, contributing more than ninety recording projects and touring internationally. He is noted for being the longest associated bassist for the late Chicago legend Fred Anderson. He is a founder and director of the Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival, which recently celebrated its 24th anniversary. His sustained and intensified cross-cultural collaborations have resulted in awards from multiple cultural and musical organizations.

He has been awarded and celebrated for his artistic endeavors, including the 2001 Chicagoans of the Year and Yoko Ono’s SKYLANDING project and music album in 2016. In 2017, Aoki’s music contributed a unique vibe to the soundtrack of the Japanese American Incarceration film documentary And Then They Came for Us, and in 2018, he received a Commendation for the Promotion of Japanese Culture from the Foreign Ministry in Japan. He was honored as the first recipient of the George Award for his years of support, recording, and performance with renowned American Jazz and soul guitarist George Freeman. Recently, he has been touring internationally and directing two film projects. Aoki was also awarded the 2019 Community Service award from the Asian American Coalition of Chicago for his continued leadership and contribution to the community.

Portrait photo by Rika Lin.