Miles Okazaki is an American jazz guitarist, composer, and teacher based in New York City. Known for a versatile, rhythmic approach to improvisation and composition, he has been a go-to collaborator in the city for dozens of musicians including Kenny Barron, Amir El Saffar, Donny McCaslin, John Zorn, and Linda Oh, to list only a few. As a leader, he has been recording since 2005. Okazaki has taught guitar and rhythmic studies at the University of Michigan since 2013. He's also taught at the Banff Institute, The New School, The School for Improvisational Music, Queens College, The Juilliard School, Amsterdam Conservatory, and other institutions.
Okazaki grew up in Port Townsend, Washington. He began a relationship with the guitar at age six, studying classical guitar. He later furthered his musical education at The Centrum Jazz Institute and was playing regular gigs on electric guitar at 14. Often awarded throughout his early years, he eventually placed second in the Thelonious Monk International Guitar Competition.
Okazaki moved to New York City in 1997 to pursue a musical career. He studied with Rodney Jones, who recommended him for his first gig, with Stanley Turrentine. Okazaki spent four years on the road with vocalist Jane Monheit, and recorded with her on three albums between 2004-2007. He also played on Jesse Malin's 2004 album The Heat. During his time with Monheit, he was also writing and rehearsing the music for his first album, Mirror, which was released independently in 2005 to critical acclaim. The same year, he also played on Dan Weiss' otherwise unaccompanied Tintal Drumset Solo, beginning an extended recording and working relationship with the drummer.
As a sideman, Okazaki works in many areas, ranging from standard repertoire to experimental music. Since 2008, he has been the guitarist with Steve Coleman & the Five Elements. His second album, Generations, was issued in 2009 on Sunnyside. A septet offering, its core band -- drummer Weiss, alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon, and bassist Jon Flaugher -- was appended by tenor saxophonists David Binney and Christof Knoche, as well as vocalist Jen Shyu. Pianist Vijay Iyer called it "the sonic equivalent of Escher or Borges, but with real emotional heft...." He followed it with the acclaimed quartet session Figurations in 2012, a quartet date that included Weiss, Zenon, and bassist Thomas Morgan.
Over the next several years, Okazaki played extensively with other artists. He contributed to multiple recordings by Jonathan Finlayson, Coleman, Weiss and others. In 2016, he contributed to no less than five albums while writing, recording, and producing his own effort, Trickster. Issued in the spring of 2017 by Pi, the album included his Five Elements bandmates bassist Anthony Tidd and drummer Sean Rickman, as well as pianist Craig Taborn. Originally inspired by Lewis Hyde's book Trickster Makes This World, and in particular its chapters on the stories of Krishna, Eshu, Raven, Krishna, Heyoka, Thoth, and Hermes. Their themes of mischief, disguise, paradox, chaos, illusion, and balance became the basis of musical structures and improvisations over nine original compositions. ~ Thom Jurek