Commissioned Works |

Full Circle

In August of 2012, I was one of 38 Jazz composers chosen from a National pool of applicants to attend the Jazz Composers Orchestra Intensive (JCOI) The selected composers were in various stages of their composing careers, working in jazz, improvised music, and creative music and their work had to demonstrate, excellent musicianship, originality, and potential for future growth.

The week after attending the JCOI Intensive, I had a dream about trying to orchestrate the curve in the yin and yang sign. I laughed it off at first but then I started to wonder what that would actually sound like and thinking about this led me to exploring the ideas in Full Circle.

In this work I wanted to deal musically with the idea of opposing life dynamics, life and death, love and hate, joy and suffering, the sweet and the sour, the yin and the yang.

I wanted to create the feeling of spirals out of circles, experiment with contrasting textures, smooth, linear, and legato with jagged rough and staccato. I imagined the rhythm to have a feeling of unpredictability and surprise, with a sense of flow and various tempo’s accelerating and slowing down. I heard the harmony as floating, with a restless quality. Many of the musical idea’s in the piece were built on improvisations.

The program was in two phases, the first phase, a study intensive and included many topics such as the culture of working with a symphony, dealing with a conductor as a collaborator, and techniques for structuring improvisation within the orchestral context.

Upon completion of the Intensive, each participant was eligible to apply for inclusion in the Institute’s second phase, the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute New Music Readings, which was held in April to September 2013. Up to 18 composers were selected for participation in this second phase and composed an original work for orchestra during the intervening months between the two phases. I count myself fortunate and I am honored to have received a reading of my first orchestral work, Full Circle, by the American Composers Orchestra in NYC in June of 2013.

Taiko Jazz Project

This piece was conceived after I attended a performance by Kenny Endo, a master taiko drummer. Kenny studied many forms of taiko in Japan for a decade. He is the first foreigner to receive a stage name in the Hogaku Hayashi school, a form of Japanese classical drumming. I was impressed by the amount of tradition, but also the openness and experimentation in his work. After hearing him, I felt inspired to compose and collaborate on a project that would feature him, and provide a setting to experiment with the taiko drum in more of a jazz context. I wasn’t surprised to learn that he had been a professional jazz drummer before his interest in taiko, and that he could swing. This was an unusual and fertile combination.I wanted this piece to be celebratory in nature and decided to use the I Ching as a springboard for ideas. I have always been fascinated by this ancient book of Chinese philosophy that uses nature to describe and explain life and advises on life’s predicaments. The piece is a suite of eight pieces based on the eight trigrams of the I Ching. The work features a combination of textures, players and instruments.

Click on the links below to view video clips from the premiere of the Taiko Jazz Project at the Tribeca Perfomance Center, December 1993:

The Creative

The Receptive

The Arousing


The Creative (drums, taiko percussion, flute)
The Receptive (piano, taiko)
The Arousing (full ensemble featuring drums, bass, piano, taiko, japanese percussion, alto, violin, trombone, trumpet)
The Abysmal (full ensemble)
Keeping Still (alto, bass, drums, taiko)
The Clinging (full ensemble, no taiko)
The Gentle (violin, piano, drums, bass, percussion)
Interlude (solo taiko)
The Joyous (full ensemble)

Out from the Silence

I composed Out From The Silence in an attempt to express and try to come to terms with the experience of my mother and 110,000 others, who because of their Japanese ancestry were put behind barbed wire and imprisoned in concentration camps during World War II.

The piece premiered December 17th, 1993 at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center in New York City. It featured Fusako Yoshida on koto, Ronnie “Nyogetsu” Seldin on Shakuhachi, Stanton Davis on trumpet, Robin Eubanks on trombone, Bob Kenmotsu on tenor sax, John Blake on violin, Kyoshi Kitagawa on bass, Akira Tana on drums, and Yukio Tsugi on percussion.

It consists of three movements plus an interlude.

I. The Arrest

by Sojin Takei

for shakuhachi, koto, voice

The time has come

For my arrest,

This dark rainy night

I calm myself and listen

To the sound of the shoes

II. Out From The Silence

Prose taken from an autobiographical work by my mother, Emiko Tonooka.

for koto, shakuhachi, trumpet, tenor sax, trombone,violin, drums, bass, piano, percussion

I looked around me; the army had not forgotten any of us Japanese. An unexpected audience gathered to witness the involuntary exodus.My head pounded, my stomach churned, my sense of reality slipped and shifted like a kaleidoscope. I thought about the rumours of the Jews in Hitler’s Germany. In desperation I told myself to pray. If I were a Christian, a God might listen, if I were a Buddhist like my parents this upheaval could be faced with calm. The only belief that might possibly sustain me was the dream of a mystical democracy, nurtured by the patriotic fervor of World War II, and a life long yearning for reconciliation of my two worlds. But moment to moment, unbeknownst to me than, the actual events of my life were stripping away the illusions I cherished. When mother said we were going to a concentration camp, I argued with her until that day when I saw Seattle for the last time.

Interlude: Ancient Feathers

for shakuhachi, koto, bass drums and percussion

III: Susumu by Russell Endo

for koto, shakuhachi, trumpet, tenor sax, trombone,violin, drums, bass, piano, percussion

You are entitled to overhear—

Susumu, my name means prosperity in Japanese,

The progress of prosperity and good fortune.

The dust that seeped through makeshift barracks in Arizona

Wet my parents’ taste for the American Dream.

But my luck will have to be different

I want my wheels to skim like the blades of the wind

Across all ruts.

I want my wheels to spin so fast

That we stand still.

Are you with me?

Then we can say in the summer breeze,


Download a PDF of the content for Out From the Silence here.