Composer Profile: Ryo Fukui

April is Jazz Appreciation Month, and we’re highlighting the work of Japanese Jazz pianist Ryo Fukui. CYSO Symphony Orchestra cellist and Social Media Team member Abigail AuYeung explores the life of this self-taught musician who’s work has seen huge growth of popularity over the past decade.

Ryo Fukui has released several albums, mostly featuring jazz piano, but he blends the instrumentation perfectly together in the most satisfying of ways. Fukui’s music is experimental in the sense that he was an entirely self-taught musician, but he sticks to a largely traditional instrumentation and idea of sound.

A young Ryo Fukui sitting at the piano.

Ryo Fukui was born on June 1, 1948 in Biratori, in the Hokkaido province of Japan. He started his musical journey at the age of 18, first on the accordion before switching over to the piano at age 22, shortly after he moved to Tokyo. In 1976, Fukui released his first album, Scenery, followed by the popular Mellow Dream. Later, he formed a trio with his brother, Yoshinori Fukui, and Satoshi Denpo. They often performed in jazz clubs around Japan, like the infamous Shinjuku Pit Inn, Kichijoji’s Sometime, and Nagoya’s Jazz Inn Lovely.

In 1992, Fukui took a trip to the United States where he met Barry Harris, who would later become his bebop mentor. Fukui subsequently released two more albums, My Favorite Tune and In New York, before opening his own  jazz club, which he named Slowboat, in 1995. In 2015, Fukui released his final album, A Letter from Slowboat. Since his death in 2016, Fukui’s wife Yasuko has managed the club, which still attracts many famous jazz musicians.

Ryo Fukui performing at the piano while two other musicians look on.

A renewed interest in Fukui’s work occurred during the popularization of Japanese jazz in the 2010s and he has since remained a favorite, particularly among the younger generation of jazz musicians and enthusiasts. It’s important to point out that Fukui didn’t  exclusively record his original compositions, for he was frequently in collaboration with other contemporaries as seen by the appearance of Leroy Williams and Lisle Arthur Atkinson on his album In New York.

While his tunes may seem long-winded to some, they’re well worth the wait as Fukui incorporates seamless blending of instruments and beautiful textures that make it feel like you’re sitting with a good book and enjoying a cozy drink in a coffee shop. Some of my favorites include Mellow Dream, the namesake of Mellow Dream, and Just One of Those Things from In New York.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Abigail AuYeung is currently a cellist in CYSO’s Symphony Orchestra and a sophomore at Hinsdale Central. In her free time, she enjoys falling down classical music rabbit holes, reading, obsessing over her friend’s cats, and baking.

 

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