Miles Okazaki

Miles Okazaki

Miles Okazaki grew up in Port Townsend, Washington, a small town near the Olympic Mountains and San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest, across the water from Canada. The son of a painter and photographer, he began his studies of the visual arts at a young age. He became interested in music and began learning the guitar at age 6. Eventually, music replaced visual arts as his main interest, and by the time he was a teenager, he had already attracted a large amount of local attention for his command of the guitar and the jazz repertoire, chosen as the single guitarist for All State and All Northwest Jazz Bands.

After graduating from Harvard University, the largely self-taught musician moved to New York in 1997 to study with guitarist Rodney Jones, who spent several years adjusting and refining his instrumental technique. Okazaki began to gain local attention, playing in New York and taking first place at the Fish-Middleton Jazz Competition in Washington, D.C. After graduating from Manhattan School of Music, he worked with Jones in producing recording sessions for Donald Harrison, Ernestine Anderson, Ruth Brown, Jimmy McGriff, and Lena Horne. He also began to pick up sideman work, with Regina Carter, Stanley Turrentine, Lenny Pickett, and vocalist Jane Monheit, who he toured the world with for four years, playing electric and classical guitar.

During this time, Okazaki began revisiting his roots in the visual arts, and making drawings as studies for musical forms. He undertook intensive studies in musical traditions from Brazil (fingerstyle guitar technique) and the South of India (rhythmic theory). He also earned another degree, from the Juilliard School, where he studied with Kenny Barron and completed extensive studies of Bach and Counterpoint in formal courses. He began gathering all of these studies into notes for a large body of musical compositions.

In 2005, Okazaki decided to turn his attention to Composition. His goal was to produce three albums of compositions, representing his ideas about rhythm, harmony, and melody. He entered the Thelonious Monk Guitar Competition, and with the prize money from his finish as a finalist, he recorded his debut album, Mirror, which was released in 2007 to great critical acclaim. The writing on this record won Okazaki a prestigious “New Works” grant from Chamber Music America, which funded his second extended work as a leader, Generations, released by Sunnyside Records in the Spring of 2009. Okazaki completed the third and final volume, Figurations, during an extended composer’s residency at the Jazz Gallery in New York. These three albums represent 10 years of work, and form a complete cycle of compositions for improvising small ensemble. In order to provide a visual component to the music, Okazaki made illustrations for all three albums.

Okazaki continues to perform with a variety of projects, with contemporaries such as Dan Weiss, Jen Shyu, Jonathan Finlayson, Ohad Talmor, Damion Reid, and toured the U.S., Europe, and Africa as a member of Steve Coleman and Five Elements. He teaches a large body of private students, has taught for the New School, the Juilliard School, and the Banff Institute. His awards and grants include Chamber Music America’s “New Works” (2007), Chamber Music America’s “French-American Jazz Exchange” (2009), the Jazz Gallery and Jerome Foundations Residency Commission (2010), the American Music Center’s Composer Assistance Program (2011), the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation’s US Artists International grant (2012), and the Rockefeller Brother’s Fund Artist Residency (2012). In addition to his work in contemporary improvised music, Okazaki continues to maintain his traditional roots, playing standards with guitar trio.