Life Is Good
YOSHIAKI MASUO Guitarist Yoshiaki Masuo was born in 1946 in Tokyo, Japan. Without formal instruction, and listening to his father's record collections, Masuo taught himself to play the guitar, influenced heavily by the sounds of Wes Montgomery and Barney Kessel who were his favorites. His father was a jazz pioneer in Japan on piano, organ and as a big band leader. Some of Masuo's first memories of live jazz were from his trips to his father's gigs at the American military bases. Experiencing the changing world of jazz over the last five decades, he has become equally at ease with straight ahead jazz, Brazilian, blues, rock and fusion and weaves it all throughout his unique style of music. Attending college at Waseda University in 1965, he joined the university jazz club where he was quickly discovered by Japan's top saxophonist and most popular jazz musician, Sadao Watanabe, who took Masuo under his wing and into his group. The group hurtled Masuo to popularity and in it, he toured Japan many times over, recording albums with the group and playing on Sadao's weekly radio show. In 1969, Masuo won the honor of 'best jazz guitarist' in the annual Swing Journal musician's poll, a position he held for many years. His first solo album, 'Winds of Barcelona' was released that same year on the CBS-SONY label, and by 1970, he was touring Europe and the United States with the Watanabe group, leaving Japan for the first time and playing at the Montreux and Newport jazz festivals. When Watanabe's group disbanded at the end of 1970, Masuo took what he thought would be a six month trip to New York City. He soon found himself in the middle of the jazz scene there, playing with musicians Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes, Lenny White, and Mike Brecker. Masuo recorded on Jones' 'Merry Go Round' album, and went on to play with Lee Konitz. In the spring of '73, he became a regular member of the Sonny Rollins band and in his six year association with Rollins (three years at this time), he toured extensively in the U.S., Europe and Japan and recorded on three of Rollins' albums; 'Horn Culture', 'Cutting Edge', and 'Sonny Rollins Live in Japan'. Reviews of the Rollins concerts often singled out Masuo's guitar work. A review in a London newspaper referred to 'Yoshiaki Masuo, whose jazz guitar would make an evening memorable even without the redoubtable Rollins' and a High Fidelity review of the recording of the Montreux Festival concert ('The Cutting Edge') spoke of 'Guitarist Masuo's charging, churning solos that are highlights of Rollins' club performances.' Masuo recorded '111 Sullivan Street' in 1975, with the (at the time) Sonny Rollins rhythm section of Bob Cranshaw (bass) and David Lee (drums). This was his first lead album since his arrival in the U.S.. In '78, he formed his own electric fusion group (Animal House Band) recording six highly successful albums on the Electric Bird label, three of which won awards. He toured extensively with this group inviting Jan Hammer as special guest in 1980. In 1982 Masuo rejoined Rollins' band for another three years, playing the memorable Town Hall/Beacon Theater concert and playing on Sonny's 'Reel Life' album. After acquiring 'The Studio' in New York City's Soho area and having made a mark in the international jazz world, Masuo began to help record some of New York City's young and most promising jazz musicians. He formed the JazzCity (1987) and JazzCity Spirit (1993) labels, producing nearly 300 CDs over the next 20 years, contributing much to the U.S. and Japanese jazz scenes. During this time, although Masuo was not performing on the club scene, he continued to record his own albums ('Masuo'- 1989, "Acoustic Duo" - 1990 and 'A Subtle One - 1991) with musicians Kenny Kirkland, Ron Carter, and Al Foster among others, and 'Just Like Old Times', a reunion album with Sadao Watanabe (1993). In the spring of 1997, Masuo had the honor of performing at the Kennedy Center (Washington DC) for a Three Generations of Japanese Jazz All Stars concert, along with groups such as Toshiko Akiyoshi and Lew Tabackin. His career continues as a producer, writer and recently as a performer again in clubs such as New York City's Blue Note and Japan's Pit Inn, delighting his many fans who have missed hearing his music live. His album, 'Are You Happy Now' with Larry Goldings (organ) and Lenny White (drums) was released on the Sunnyside label in America and Europe and the Omagatoki label in Japan in 1998. A recent reviewer wrote of the release, 'Masuo has emerged with this enjoyable date to re-establish himself as a premier jazz guitarist in the modern mainstream'. (Michael G. Nastos, All Music Guide) Recently, Masuo finished producing a 10 CD set of Beatles songs played by a variety of top jazz musicians, including Phil Woods, David Sanborn, Kenny Barron, Steve Gadd, Randy Brecker, Bill Mays, Steve Kuhn, Bud Shank, and Mike Manieri, among many others. He's enjoying being a full-time musician once again and looks forward to touring, and recording his next album. Masuo's new Sunshine Ave. Label opened on-line in August of 2008, presenting his new album 'Life is Good' and building a catalog of CDs and downloads of musicians whose music he'd like the world to hear.