Daily News

Santa Clarita Edition

August 28, 1995


"Upbeat musician"
"CalArts graduate gets jazz honor"

By James J. Rodriguez/
Daily News Staff Writer

Photo by Shaun Dyer/
Special to the Daily News
Valencia - Ten years ago, at age 19, Hideaki Tokunaga packed his belongings and ventured to the United States with a dream - to gain fame playing jazz. The native of Osaka,Japan, realized that at home his opportunities would be limited. After all, the guitarist said, the Japanese often book U.S. musicians to play overseas and offer them generous salaries. "In Japan, there are great musicians, but not many people pay attention to them," said the California Institute of the Arts student who graduated in June. "The one thing about my country is they love jazz musicians. But they won't invest money toward the talent in Japan." Just as he had hoped, Tokunaga, now 29, hasn't gone unnoticed in the United States.

Recently he was named best college jazz soloist by Down Beat magazine, a Chicago-based jazz publication that boasts a worldwide, monthly circulation of 90,000. Tokunaga was selected among nearly 5,000 junior high, senior high and college musicians who entered their recorded tracks, according to Frank Alkyer, editorial director for the magazine, known as "the godfather of American music magazines" in the industry. More than 500 schools from across the nation entered the competition, and Tokunaga was one of 75 winners announced in the magazine's May 1995 edition.

"It's a huge deal," Alkyer said. "I can't begin to tell you how prestigious this is. A lot of these guys will go on to have solo careers. This is like a steppingstone. It's a feather in their cap." Many well-known music professors, such as Indiana University Professor David Baker, known as "the godfather of jazz education," judge the student tapes and determine the winners, Alkyer said. He said the winners are regarded very highly by many in the industry who read the magazine.

And Tokunaga said he is already feeling that benefit. "After I got this award," he said, "I started getting good gigs." Some of his gigs have included the famous 1950's-style steak house, Chadney's in Burbank; the Miramar Sheraton Hotel's Grille in Santa Monica and other highly frequented jazz clubs. "I'm very happy, Tokunaga said recently from his Santa Monica residence. "I would have never experienced such an award in Japan."

What he likes best about being a jazz guitarist are the jam sessions, those performances with other jazz musicians creating an atmosphere similar to the swing sessions popular in the 1930's and 1940's. He idolizes such jazz greats as Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington. Larry Koonse was Tokunaga's music instructor at the college. He described the former student as self-motivating and always wanting to learn from other musicians.

"This awards is well-deserved," Koonse said. "He has been dedicated to pursuing his study of jazz for a long time. I wasn't surprised. I was glad for him. It's nice to have a spot in a publication like that." Tokunaga attended CalArts from 1991 to 1995 through the Chales Mingus Scholarship and graduated with bachelor's degree in music. He hopes to attend the Santa Clarita college to earn his master's degree. "But I'm having some financial problems, so I might not be able to go back," a dejected Tokunaga said.

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