Talent Scout: Akiko Tsuruga

December 9, 2015

Dubbed “Queen of the Organ” by legendary jazz saxophonist Lou Donaldson, Akiko Tsuruga has made a name for herself with a fierce Hammond command that belies her age. Find out more at akikojazz.com.

HOMETOWN: Osaka, Japan

MUSICAL TRAINING: I started taking Yamaha Electone [organ] lessons when I was three years old. I took lessons with Electone player Shigeo Sekito from age 16 to18, and then I studied classic piano at Osaka Music Collage in Japan. After graduating college, I took jazz piano lessons with Zensho Otsuka. Then I started playing as a jazz pianist around the Osaka area. I also started playing Hammond B-3 organ at that time, but I didn’t take lessons; I just transcribed organist Jimmy Smith playing the blues. After I moved to New York, I learned so many things on the bandstand, playing and practicing with great musicians.

FIRST GIGS: I started playing gigs at a jazz club/after hours place in Osaka called Don Shop, located across the street from the Blue Note. I had an opportunity to play tunes with great American musicians like Grady Tate and Dr. Lonnie Smith.

MUSICAL INFLUENCES: Jimmy Smith, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Lou Donaldson, Grady Tate, Brother Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, Larry Young, Charles Earland, Wynton Kelly, Red Garland. And Japanese pop music.

WHAT I’M LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW: The album If by Larry Young

INSTRUMENTS PLAYED: Hammond B-3 organ, piano.

MY BIG BREAK: The most life-changing event for me was joining the Lou Donaldson Quartet. We played at Carnegie Hall, various jazz festivals and famous jazz clubs in Europe, Japan, and the United states.

LATEST ALBUM: Commencement on AT Records.

FAVORITE KEYBOARD GEAR: Hammond B-3 organ, Hammond Suzuki SK-1 and SK-2 .

WHAT’S NEXT: I’m touring with [drummer] Jeff Hamilton in California next spring and then touring in Japan with my own Quartet. I also started working with Technics on their “High Resolution Audio Systems and Live Jazz Performance” project. I’ll go back into the studio to record a new album at some point next year.

ADVICE TO OTHER MUSICIANS: Believe in yourself and keep playing. Music will bring you a lot of happiness.

• Video: Akiko Tsuruga plays "Alligator Boogaloo." 

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