Master Classes |

Master Class from Sumi Tonooka on Vimeo.

Sumi is available for private lessons and the following master classes:

Composition and Creativity

The structure of this class allows students the opportunity to work closely with a composer, perform the material, and ask questions.

Students play and perform original Sumi Tonooka compositions arranged for big band and smaller ensembles.

Students have the opportunity to create a spontaneous composition of their own. They develop creative ways of exploring the composing of a piece, musical parameters are set around rhythm, feel, emotion or a storyline.

The class works together to address questions and issues that arise around improvisation, melody, harmony and rhythm. Topics of discussion include creativity, imagination, inspiration, motivation, and ways to support being and believing in ones own musical vision.

I typically set aside the last fifteen minutes of the class for an informal question and answer period allowing students the opportunity to learn more about my life as a jazz pianist composer.

The Music of Mary Lou Williams

In my late teens and early twenties, I had the honor and privilege of studying with the great pianist composer Mary Lou Williams.

In this class I demonstrate Mary Lou Williams’ compositions and discuss my personal experience working with Mary Lou and the ways that she influenced me as a young pianist and composer. I demonstrate blues and piano styles including Boogie-Woogie, stride piano, and Avant-garde, all features of Mary Lou’s work.

Typically, I perform and discuss Williams, Dirge Blues, Waltz Boogie, etc as well as original compositions directly influenced by Mary Lou Williams, such as Uganda Blues and One For Mary Lou. Students may volunteer to perform and work on some of this material for the benefit of the entire group.

Breaking Genres / Cross Culture in Music and Composition

This class is based upon two original works, Out From The Silence and Taiko Jazz Project. The class views and discusses these works via excerpts from the film Susumu and video of Taiko Jazz Project.

Susumu, directed and produced by Gei Zantzinger, documents the compositional process of Out From The Silence, written as a tribute to my mother Emi Tonooka, who was imprisoned along with 110,000 other Japanese-Americans at the Manzanar internment camp near Lone Pine, California after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The music tells the story of the Tonooka family before, during, and after the World War II. Out From The Silence combines the American esthetic with that of the Japanese by interweaving the zealous patriotism of the era with the big-band style, introducing instruments and rules that make music Japanese in character, and combining this with jazz sensibilities.

Taiko Jazz Project composed to feature master Taiko drummer Kenny Endo, in a collaborative musical adventure, along with Robin Eubanks on trombone, Stanton Davis on trumpet, Robert Kenmotsu on tenor sax, John Blake on violin, Kiyoshi Kitagawa on bass, Akira Tana on drums and Yukio Tsugi on japanese percussion. The piece explores jazz in combination with Japanese Taiko rhythms. The work is structured as a suite of eight pieces set to the eight trigrams of the I Ching. The National Endowment for the Arts commissioned and funded Taiko Jazz Project, which was filmed live in performance with Out From The Silence at The Tribeca Performing Arts Center on December 17th 1993.

The Art of the Trio

This class covers various aspects of the classic piano trio.Topics typically include-


creative ways to think about performing in a trio context

the role of each individual instrument

the function of the bass, piano and drums

How to listen well


performing various tempos

relaxation and breathing

use of space

the trio as rhythm section

experimentation with form, creativity and time

Women in Jazz: The Music of Sumi Tonooka and Erica Lindsay

This class is team-taught by Sumi Tonooka and Erica Lindsay. We are composers, jazz instrumentalists, band leaders and educators who have performed together extensively and collaborated on recording projects. We enjoy sharing our perspective as professional women in the music business and discussing various challenges and opportunities we have encountered living the jazz life.

The class includes performance and discussion of selected original compositions. Other topics of discussion typically include, the origins of our collaboratively led quartet, the making and production of our latest recording “Initiation,” and the business model and concept of our successful online subscription music label, Artists Recording Collective.