Sadao Watanabe Biography

1 December 1933, Utsunomiya, Tochigi, Japan. His father was a professional music teacher and Watanabe took up the clarinet to play in the school band before moving on to the alto saxophone. He moved to Tokyo in 1951 and took flute lessons with a member of the Tokyo Philharmonic. Watanabe joined the quartet of Toshiko Akiyoshi and became its leader when she left in 1956. He went to study at the Berklee College Of Music in the early 60s and worked with musicians including Gabor Szabo, Chico Hamilton and Gary McFarland. Returning to Tokyo in 1965, he became director of the Yamaha Institute for Popular Music which was modelled on the Berklee College. He has led his own band since and has toured widely. He revealed that two trips to Africa in 1971 and 1974 were particularly influential on his music. In the 70s his music moved towards pop, or at least to a fusion sound which brought him enormous popularity, of which 1983’s Fill Up The Night, a number 1 jazz album in the USA and Japan, is a good example. In 1977 he became the first jazz musician to receive a National Award in Japan.

Watanabe plays with a round, polished tone incorporating vocal effects to heighten the emotional intensity. He has recorded more than 60 albums both with his own bands and with other musicians including, McFarland, Hamilton and Chick Corea. More recently he has worked with Cyrus Chestnut, Nicholas Payton and Christian McBride.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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