Sumi Tonooka (pronounced To-NO-ka) has been called a “fierce and fascinating composer and pianist” (Jazz Times), “provocative and compelling” (New York Times), and “continually inventive, original, surprising, and a total delight,” (Cuadranos de Jazz, Madrid).
Noted jazz critic Francis Davis, one of the first to recognize her as an extraordinary talent, place Sumi Tonooka “among the best of today’s young pianists.” During a career now spanning more than 20 years that has taken her from Philadelphia to Boston and then to New York City, Sumi Tonooka has been surprising and delighting audiences — and quietly piling up accolades from jazz writers and her fellow musicians. Working in trio or quartet with such noted jazz stalwarts as bassist Rufus Reid and drummers Akira Tana and Lewis Nash, Tonooka’s recordings characteristically blend her own compositions with highly personal readings of jazz standards. Her most recent recording, Initiation (2009 ARC Records, with tenor saxophonist Erica Lindsay), garnered an “Honorable Mention” in the 2010 Village Voice Jazz Critic’s Poll.
In addition to her jazz recording and performing, she has composed for award-winning films. She is also featured in an upcoming full-length documentary from Citygate Films on the youngest victims of HIV/AIDS in Africa. She tours West Africa as part of a sextet featuring her musical compadre of two decades, jazz violinist John Blake, Jr. A Note of Hope is set for wide release in 2011.
Tonooka’s career has been chronicled on several highly regarded jazz books, including Living the Jazz Life by Royal Stokes, ln The Moment by Francis Davis, and Madame Jazz by Leslie Gourse (all on Oxford University Press). As a professional response to an inherent void within the music industry, Tonooka, along with alto saxophonist Chris Burnett and tenor saxophonist Erica Lindsay, co-founded the Artists Recording Collective (ARC), an internationally recognized brand and professional recording label. She now divides her time between her responsibilities as the Chief, Public Relations Officer for ARC, and composing, teaching, and performing for an increasingly widespread audience of jazz aficionados who have discovered her wide-ranging talents.