SNJO with Makoto Ozone


The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s guest tonight, the piano virtuoso Makoto Ozone, is a long-time friend and associate of the SNJO.


As well as orchestrating Mozart’s Jeunehomme piano concerto with great imagination and performing it with the SNJO on tour and on the subsequent album, Makoto has performed with the SNJO on Camille Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals. He was also part of a Japanese version of the orchestra’s Scots adaptation of Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and The Wolf, which toured Japan with Japanese screen actor Isao Hashizume, playing in 2000-seat concert halls, and he has been the featured soloist in SNJO artistic director Tommy Smith’s re-orchestration of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, which the orchestra will revisit this evening.


A former child prodigy who began playing the organ at the age of two, Kobe-born Makoto had already played a piano recital at Carnegie Hall, New York in his own right when, in 1983, he was invited to join vibes virtuoso Gary Burton’s world touring quintet, which recorded the Whiz Kids album for ECM Records.


He went on to become the first Japanese musician to sign exclusively to CBS Records and the first Japanese jazz pianist to join the New York Philharmonic Orchestra on tour. He has since recorded and toured with jazz luminaries including pianist Chick Corea, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and saxophonist Branford Marsalis and he leads The Trio, with bassist James Genus and drummer Clarence Penn, and the internationally acclaimed big band, No Name Horses.


“No Name Horses is a particularly great example of Makoto’s fantastic imagination and bandleading qualities but it’s only one strand of his brilliance,” says SNJO artistic director Tommy Smith, whose friendship with Makoto began when they worked together in Gary Burton’s Whiz Kids group. “He has performed concertos by Mozart, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev and Leonard Bernstein with major orchestras in Japan and around the world. All while maintaining a career as an outstanding jazz pianist.” 


To the Japanese public, Makoto has developed from the precocious seven-year-old organist who appeared with his father on national television into the respected figure who, in 2018, was presented with one of Japan’s greatest awards, the medal of honour known as Shiju-HouShyou.


“It’s been great to see Makoto’s career develop over the forty years that I’ve known him,” says Tommy Smith, “and I’m sure his fantastic musicianship and pianistic skills will excite everyone who comes to hear him. We’ll be playing a special orchestration of Rhapsody in Blue, to mark the centenary of Gershwin’s iconic jazz age composition, and the suite from West Side Story in a programme that also includes music by great jazz composers, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul and a piece by Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns.”


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