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March 2004

Teenage Jazz Prodigies Go Professional

Yano Saori
Yano Saori with her alto sax (Columbia Music Entertainment)

Two of Japan's youngest professional jazz musicians, both teenagers, are quickly making their way up the ladder of fame.

Yano Saori (site is Japanese only), a 17-year-old living in Tokyo, joined the school brass band when she was in the fourth grade because she wanted to be able to play an instrument. "What I really wanted to play was the flute, but I lost at janken (rock, paper, scissors)," and she started learning the saxophone instead. That's how she made her very first step toward becoming a professional alto saxophone player.

Saori awakened to jazz when she was in the sixth grade. She started studying under a professional saxophone player, and at 14 she began performing at live music venues. Her live sessions with various musicians brought her into the limelight as an exceptional improviser. And in September 2003 she marked her professional debut with her first album, named after herself, which includes two tracks that she composed herself. Saori continues to perform actively both in Japan and overseas.

The other Jazz prodigy is Matsunaga Takashi of Ashiya, Hyogo Prefecture. Now 18, Takashi started playing around with the organ and piano as toys when he was 5. By the age of 9 he had refined his skills to the point of winning the grand prize at a nationwide electric organ competition. Takashi became strongly drawn to jazz around that time and started receiving formal training under a professional jazz pianist. He made his professional debut at the age of 15 and has so far brought out two albums.

In February 2004 Takashi's second album was released internationally - in the United States and part of Europe - by Blue Note. Blue Note is a major jazz label with a history of 65 years, and Takashi was the youngest to sign with the label. The album is sold under the international title of Storm Zone, and Takashi sure looks set to take the world by storm.

What are their aspirations for the future? Saori confesses, "Someday I want to establish my own style, just like Miles Davis' jazz was known as cool jazz." Meanwhile Takashi says, "I hope to combine my favorite American-style jazz with Japanese goodness and create Japanese jazz."

NOTICE: Since October 9, 2003, Japanese names in Kids Web Japan have been written in their original order: surname first.

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