New York City based Hammond Organist and pianist, Akiko Tsuruga, has established herself as an \'in demand\' player since arriving from her hometown of Osaka, Japan in 2001. Akiko began organ lessons at age three, and starting performing professionally throughout Japan after graduating from Osaka College of Music. While performing in Japan, she met and played with many noted American musicians, Roy Hargrove, Jeff “Tain” Watts and Grady Tate to name a few. She credits Grady Tate as being the biggest influence in her career. He played on her debut CD, “Harlem Dreams” and encouraged her to move to New York. After arriving in New York, Akiko established herself as one of the area’s top organist /pianists. Her trio featuring guitarist Eric Johnson and drummer Vincent Ector has been one of the area’s top groups, working at many jazz nightclubs including Dizzy’s (at Lincoln center) and The Blue Note. Her trio also plays private parties and summer outdoor concerts. Her long awaited debut CD, “Harlem Dreams” featuring Grady Tate and Frank Wess was released in Japan on the M&I Company label on May 19, 2004. Akiko’s CD is so popular in Japan she has returned twice to perform. Her CD release tour in August 2004 featured Grady Tate on drums and guitarist Satoshi Inoue. In September 2005, she returned to Japan with guitarist Eric Johnson and drummer Fukushi Tainaka. It was this trip that caught the eyes and ears of Hammond Suzuki officials. The group was invited to the factory and Mr. Suzuki personally awarded her a Hammond XK-3 organ and endorsement. Among her accomplishments is a jazz organ instructional book “Hammond Organ Complete” (Berklee Press) which was translated from English to Japanese and has been published in Japan. When she’s not leading her trio, she still enjoys working as a featured sideman in Grady Tate’s vocal group and with saxophonist Lou Donaldson among many others.Akiko’s new CD “Sweet and Funky” is now finished and will be released in both Japan (M&I Company) and in the United States and Canada on 18th & Vine. Akiko was also featured playing piano in the Japanese movie “Last Love”. 2007 was an especially fruitful year for Akiko. Highlights included performances with the Lou Donaldson Quartet at Birdland, the Village Vanguard, and Carnegie Hall. She also performed at various jazz festivals and on jazz cruises throughout the US. \"Sweet and Funky\", Akiko\'s first release in the US and Canada and her second in Japan, has been receiving rave reviews. It has reached #13 on the jazz radio charts and received a four-star review and one of the “Best CD’s of 2007” from Downbeat magazine. In October, Akiko released her third album in Japan, \"St. Louis Blues\", featuring Bernard Purdie on drums and Houston Person on saxophone. After the CD release, Akiko embarked on a highly-acclaimed tour of Japan with her regular working trio. This recording received Swing Journal magazine\'s New Star Award, a first for an organist, which is truly a remarkable achievement.
Review of Japanese Jazz Magazine Swing Journal
Standing Shoulder-to-Shoulder with the Best American Players
After releasing two previous albums under the M & I label, Tsuruga’s third release is her first with the MOJO label. A hard worker, she has grown and improved with each of her recordings, and this album places her as a jazz organist together with the elite American players. As her career has flourished in the States, it seems that she has perhaps gained a new confidence in her abilities. Her playing is deep, soulful, and reminiscent of the African-American legends of the jazz organ; while her record of performances in New York is remarkable, including engagements at many jazz clubs. She is now planning a U.S. tour with Lou Donaldson and Grady Tate, who have both been taken with her playing.
As a general rule, tenor sax and guitar fit nicely with jazz organ, and this is how this recording is set up. Here, she is joined by the soulful tenor of Houston Person, guitarist Eric Johnson and drummer Bernard Purdie. These are the best musicians she has recorded with yet.
Tsuruga’s lively organ is not outdone by Person’s veteran tenor sax, in fact she often sounds as if she is taking the lead in the group. Displaying her affinity for players like Jack McDuff, she plays a singing, earthy organ that sounds like it’s coming straight out of Harlem. Funky Mama, St. Louis Blues, Strike up…and The Thrill is… are especially tasty. Track #3 and #10 are wonderful originals.
(by Yozo Iwanami)