When a generous donor gave the music department the opportunity to bring a musician to campus for a residency, the department wanted someone who would have wide appeal. According to Associate Professor of Music Jim McCalla, the department found a perfect fit in jazz pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi.
"Akiyoshi was someone who we thought would be valuable to us and to a range of students," McCalla said.
At the culmination of her six days at Bowdoin this Saturday, Akiyoshi will give a concert with Bowdoin students.
During her residency, Akiyoshi has worked with campus jazz bands, met with students informally over lunch, and attended McCalla's class on jazz-legend Duke Ellington.
"The kids in my Ellington class were absolutely blown away by her," McCalla said. "She was really nice to talk to and open."
"She'd had a lot of interaction and she's earned her money," he said.
Akiyoshi, born in Manchuria to Japanese emigrants, moved with her family to Japan at the end of World War II. There, she was discovered by American pianist Oscar Peterson and moved to America.
During her career, she has played with jazz giants such as Charles Mingus and Miles Davis. Later she formed a big band with husband Lew Tabackin who plays the tenor saxophone and flute.
According to McCalla, Akiyoshi discussed this week how Ellington's use of music to express his African-American heritage was a philosophical influence for her.
"She composed music that brought in Japanese and Asian concepts of time, color, and melody," McCalla said.
Pianist Aisha Woodward '08, one of four Bowdoin students who plays in the Polar Jazz Band, said Akiyoshi attended two three-hour practices with the band. The big band, which consists mostly of local musicians, will play three of Akiyoshi's charts in Saturday's concert. Akiyoshi will join the band for one of them.
"It's pretty intimidating because we're playing her own music. It's kind of a humbling experience," Woodward said.
Saturday's concert will feature the Toshiko Akiyoshi Quartet, which includes Tabackin, drummer Mark Taylor, and bassist Paul Gill. The quartet will be joined by the Bowdoin's jazz ensembles, and the Edith Jones Project, a local jazz band.
Concerns that Bowdoin's Kresge Auditorium would be too small to accommodate the demand for the concert led the music department to change the venue to Mt. Ararat Middle School's Orion Performing Arts Center, which can accommodate an audience of up to 900. The department has arranged for a shuttle to take concert-goers to the venue in Topsham. Vans will depart from the Moulton Union circle between 6:45 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and will return to campus at the end of the concert.
Tickets to the concert are free and can be picked up today at the Smith Union information desk.