Ayako Shirasaki and Noriko Ueda

There are a multitude of catalysts for choosing a career in music but falling in love with the soundtrack from an animated cartoon has got to be an usual reason to dedicate your life to it.

No career in the arts is easy.  They all require hard work, dedication, perseverance and talent, topped off with at least a modicum of good fortune.  Even within the world of arts, Jazz is a difficult world to navigate, with only 1.1% of the US music industry accounting for the genre, opportunities are rare.  It has also been a heavily male dominated world particularly for the musicians with only a few notable exceptions. There were however always plenty of female vocalists to easily fill a top 100 list.  Female double bass players on the other hand are still reasonably usual.  Noriko Ueda is one of these rare Jazz musicians. 

Ueda is from Japan, a country considered by some to still have the largest population of Jazz fans in the world. She even grew up in a city near Osaka, considered one of the largest hubs of Jazz in Japan.   However, her introduction to the genre, was the soundtrack to the animated film of gentleman thief, Lupin the Third.  She had played the piano since she was 4 years old and had also taken up the electric bass guitar as a youngster, but it was the movie theme tune that piqued her interest in the double bass and jazz during her high school years. 

She went on to study at the Osaka College of Music.  She played in their big band and also started gigging in the city.  Persuaded that she had to move to the US to further her studies, she told her mother to forget that she had a daughter because she may never return, and she moved to the US where she went to study Jazz composition at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.  There she was a B.E.S.T. scholarship recipient and graduated in 1997. 

Since then she has lived and worked in New York, carving out an impressive resume of notable Jazz venues including Carnegie Hall, Blue Note NY, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, Birdland and Small’s.  She has toured and recorded with the Frank Wess Quintet, Ted Rosenthal Trio, Grady Tate Band, Sherrie Maricle and DIVA Jazz Orchestra, Five Play and the Harry Whitaker Band. She has also travelled the world, including touring in Japan and going back to see her mother regularly.  She currently also leads her own Noriko Ueda Jazz Orchestra as well as performing as a member of the international all-female contemporary Jazz supergroup Artemis.  

Ueda is a well-respected artist and performs over 200 events a year, often at venues that she has played at for over 20 years with the same artists.  She treasures her relationships with her fellow artists and these venues, understanding the business of performing and pleasing the audience.  This was clearly in evidence on a busy winter’s night at Grasso’s, a popular restaurant out on Long Island, known for its music.   Ueda with Japanese pianist Ayako Shirasaki entertained an appreciative audience with familiar standards and less well-known tunes.  They asked for requests from the guests and they were able to oblige them all including a lyrical interpretation of “Spring can really hang you up the most.”

Next on her agenda is to create an arrangement for a symphony orchestra, recording with Artemis on the Blue Note record label in between her regular gigs that she performs around New York.  It’s a busy life but one that Noriko Ueda loves, much to the enjoyment of her audiences.

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