One Sentence Description

Meg Okura’s Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble ““successfully blends the musical cultures of East and West for a new and exciting direction in modern jazz expression." (Inside New York Magazine)

Biography
All About Jazz called her “the queen of chamber jazz," composer and erhu player, and a Grammy nominated violinist, Meg Okura leads the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble, a group of virtuosi, featuring some of the best young musicians in jazz. Hailed by the New York Times as “vibrant" and “sophisticated," the ensemble “successfully blends the musical cultures of East and West for a new and exciting direction in modern jazz expression." (Inside New York Magazine)

Formerly a concert violinist, Okura started pursuing jazz upon her graduation from The Juilliard School where she was the concertmaster of the Juilliard Opera Orchestra. After dedicated herself to mastering jazz improvisation and soon, with her switch of genres and evolution into what she explains as “a more complete musician," Okura began to advance her career as a jazz violinist, touring internationally with the late Michael Brecker, Steve Swallow, Tom Harrell, as well as her own group. Okura has been heard at venues from the Knitting Factory to Carnegie Hall to Madison Square Garden, from Barbican Centre in London to Hollywood Bowl in California, from Village Vanguard to Blue Note Tokyo, and festivals and concert halls around the world.

As her reputation grew, Meg Okura quickly became one of the most sought-after violinists on the New York’s music scene, appearing on several dozens of recordings with wide range of artists including David Bowie, Lee Konitz, Diane Reeves, Heidi Grand-Murphy, Sam Newsome, Jesse Harris, Jeremy Pelt, Ziggy Marley and others. She has also appeared on many movie soundtracks as a violinist, erhu player and composer/arranger. She has been featured in three Cirque du Soleil productions (Varekai, Wintuk and Corteo), and has collaborated and performed with Oscar nominee actor and Columbia recording artist Terrence Howard. For the past ten years, Okura has also been a member of a Jewish/Middle Eastern band “Pharaoh’s Daughter." As a composer, she has received numerous grants and awards to write music for various genres and styles, including C. Eule Dance, the New York Symphonic Ensemble, Sirius String Quartet, the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble and others.

Born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, Meg Okura started violin and piano lessons at four. By age six, she was playing the piano and organ for the local church, while receiving intensive musical training at Asia’s top conservatory, Toho School, where, barely in her teens, she became one of the top students and was the youngest winner of the Tokyo Bunkakaikan Emerging Musicians' Debut Audition in 1990. At seventeen, she was invited to take the concertmaster chair in the Asian Youth Orchestra, leading one hundred of the finest young musicians from nine countries and touring all of Asia. The following year, Ms. Okura was invited back as a soloist to tour with the orchestra, under the baton of the great American composer Lukas Foss.

During the same year, she made her U.S. solo debut at the Kennedy Center with the late Alexander Schneider’s New York String Orchestra. She then moved to New York City and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in classical violin from The Julliard School. While in school, she released three albums, and toured throughout Japan as a recitalist. In 1998, she received full scholarship to attend Henry Mancini Institute in Los Angeles, CA, where she was the soloist and the concertmaster for the orchestra backing up Herbie Hancock, Shirley Horn, Diana Krall, and Terence Blanchard, under the batons of Quincy Jones, Jerry Goldsmith, and Jack Elliot.

In 2006, Okura founded the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble, and released its self-titled debut album, which became the finalist in 2006 Independent Music Awards. Since then, the ensemble has appeared in over fifty concerts, including the NYC Winter JazzFest, the Lincoln Center, Knitting Factory, Rubin Museum, Levitt Pavilion in California, and sold-out concerts in Japan in 2008.

In 2010, Meg Okura and the PACJE released their second album, “Naima", highlighting Okura’s “breathtaking version" (Raul D’Gama Rose, All About Jazz) of Coltrane’s classic. Featuring rare instruments such as the shinobue (Japanese bamboo flute) and the erhu (a two-stringed Chinese violin), the album is a collection of Meg’s original works, which “…elegantly intertwine(s) elements of classical, jazz and world folk into a new sound." (Elliot Simon, All About Jazz)

This year, PACJE will present a new program, “Music of Ryuichi Sakamoto"-- re-imagining his classics from the Yellow Magic Orchestra to Academy award winning soundtrack, The Last Emperor and beyond. The program will feature flutist Anne Drummond, pianist Helen Sung, bassist Dezron Douglas, and drummer E.J. Strickland. Together, the group will take the Oscar winner’s already electrifying compositions to create a new musical journey that maintains equilibrium between the ensemble’s immeasurable creativity and authenticity of the original works.

Press Quotes


New York Times
“Ms. Okura’s vibrant, Eastern-influenced, jazzy score and the playing of her musicians were the most sophisticated parts of the work" (Roslyn Sulcas)

All About Jazz
“… (some of) the best jazz New York has to offer." (Elliot Simon)

Down Beat Magazine
"... mixes a classically trained mastery of strings, piano and drums with quick-witted compositional twist performed with high energy." (Jennifer Odell)

New York Sun
“The group delivers exactly what its name promises… the group found a common ground in '60s-style modality, occasionally reminiscent of John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner's Eastern explorations." (Will Friedwald)

All About Jazz
“…elegantly intertwine(s) elements of classical, jazz and world folk into a new sound…by presenting precisely played ethnically inspired original compositions in an exciting modern jazz context." (Elliot Simon)

Boudica’s Music Reviews
“…very original and fresh. …It is relaxing, it is invigorating. It never disappoints; rather it draws your attention throughout the entire production. The compositions are complex, the skill of the musicians is without question."