Miles Okazaki is an American guitarist and composer, originally from Port Townsend, Washington, a small town on the Salish Sea in the Pacific Northwest. He has appeared on Pi Recordings albums by Steve Coleman, Jonathan Finlayson, and Dan Weiss and leads his own group on the 2017 album Trickster. He began music on classical guitar at age 6, and was playing regular gigs on electric guitar by age 14. He received many awards as a guitarist throughout his early years, and eventually placed 2nd in the Thelonious Monk International Guitar Competition.
Okazaki moved to New York City in 1997 to pursue a career in music. His teacher on guitar at this time was Rodney Jones, who he worked with for several years assisting in production, copy work, and arrangements for artists including Lena Horne, Ruth Brown, and Fred Wesley. Jones got Okazakiâs career in motion by recommending him for early gigs with Stanley Turrentine, Lenny Pickett, Regina Carter, and studio session work. Okazaki spent four years on the road with vocalist Jane Monheit and became known as an expert vocal accompanist. Okazaki also had an experimental streak, and while holding down various sideman gigs he was also writing and rehearsing the music for his first album, Mirror, which was released independently. The album received a âCritics Pickâ in the New York Times, calling it âa work of sustained collectivity as well as deep intricacy.â He expanded to a septet for his second album, Generations, described by pianist Vijay Iyer âthe sonic equivalent of Escher or Borges, but with real emotional heft,â. His third album, Figurations, was recorded live with a quartet, and was selected as one of the New York Times top ten albums of 2012, described by Ben Ratliff as âslowly evolving puzzles of brilliant jazz logic.â
Simultaneously, as a sideman Okazaki worked in many areas, ranging from standard repertoire to experimental music. Since 2008, he has had wide exposure as the guitarist for Steve Coleman and Five Elements. In recent years, he has worked with a variety of artists including Kenny Barron, Jonathan Finlayson, Amir El Saffar, Adam Rudolph, Dan Weiss, Linda Oh, Darcy James Argue, Jane Monheit, Vijay Iyer, Francois Moutin, Doug Hammond, Carl Allen, Ohad Talmor, Mary Halvorson, John Zorn, Jen Shyu, Mark Giuliana, Patrick Cornelius, Rajna Swaminathan, Matt Mitchell, Craig Taborn, Tony Moreno, Ben Wendel, Donny McCaslin, and many others.
Okazakiâs first book, Fundamentals of Guitar, was released on Mel Bay Publications in 2015. He has taught guitar and rhythmic studies at the University of Michigan since 2013. He has also taught at the Banff Institute, The New School, the School for Improvisational Music, Queens College, The Juilliard School, Amsterdam Conservatory, and many other institutions. Outside of guitar, his past teachers include Anthony Davis (composition), Ganesh Kumar (Carnatic percussion), and Kendall Briggs (counterpoint). His awards and grants include Chamber Music Americaâs âNew Worksâ (2007), Chamber Music Americaâs âFrench-American Jazz Exchangeâ (2009), the Jazz Gallery and Jerome Foundations Residency Commission (2010), the American Music Centerâs Composer Assistance Program (2011), the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundationâs US Artists International grant (2012), the Rockefeller Brotherâs Fund Artist Residency (2012), and the Jazz Gallery Mentorship program (2015). He holds degrees from Harvard University (B.A.), Manhattan School of Music (M.M.), and The Juilliard School (A.D.). He lives in Brooklyn, NY, and has three children.