Sumi Tonooka's Long Ago Today

Pianist, composer and educator Sumi Tonooka (pronounced To-NO-ka) reignites her successes as an architect at the keyboard with her fifth and latest release, Long Ago Today (Artists Recording Collective), released nationwide on March 25, 2008. It's her first recording in a decade as a leader, and her remarkable musical growth is showcased on nine originals and one standard. Joining her are long-time musical partner Rufus Reid on bass (Reid has appeared on all of her releases) and the late drummer Bob Braye.

The resurgence of her creative grace and candor is felt in Cole Porter's “All of You," a familiar favorite “that keeps on evolving," says Tonooka. Her trio becomes a wild force of nature on “The Clinging," a tune inspired by the I Ching, considered an oracle of natural events and occurrences. The creation of the iridescent “Dreaming of Tibet" was guided by a vision Tonooka had of herself walking about the country called “the roof of the world." This tune is an invitation to see what she saw.

The contrasting faces of “Be The Dance," a sketchpad of the trio's playful prowess and the title tune, a musing over “longing and nostalgia," speak of the many-sided approaches Tonooka takes, as one journalist notes, to bridge “between the spirit of the world and her own soul." What propels her playing, as noted by writer Herb Boyd, is her “unique way to constantly renew the rhythm." Representative of that is “Moroccan Daze," packed with flurried mechanized and free-flowing passages. Though we hear a focus of rhythm on Long Ago Today, in no way does this enervate her compositions. They're identifiers for Tonooka and take their place between your ears, plugging you into her and not into her re-soling of standards.

The nationwide release of Long Ago Today is bittersweet for Tonooka because of drummer Braye's passing in February 2007. “I am grateful and honored that Bob's musicianship and mastery was documented on this recording."

Long Ago Today resounds with newly emerging energies and ideas. “It's my strongest work," declares Tonooka. Journalist Russ Musto restates his praise of Tonooka from thirty years ago in the liner notes to Long Ago Today: “. . . it has been a pleasure to hear her blossom into one of the most talented musicians of her generation."


Born October 3, 1956, in Philadelphia, Tonooka started piano and music instruction at the age of seven at the Settlement Music School. Her teachers there were Ester Cinberg and then Gary Goldschneider. Tonooka, who grew up in a multicultural household, was introduced to the extramundane concepts and executions of pianist Thelonious Monk at the age of 13. “My parents took me to see Thelonious Monk 'live' at the Aqua Lounge for my 13th birthday and it was then and there that I decided to be a jazz musician." He, along with pianist/composer Duke Ellington and close associate and admirer pianist Kenny Barron, have been her torches in the night as she's glanced through and past many ideologies and perceptions of performance and tunesmithing.

In connecting the dots in her journey over the years from Philly to Boston, Boston to Detroit, back to Philly and then onto New York, Tonooka weathered droughts and occasional cloudbursts of opportunity when she gigged with Kenny Burrell, Little Jimmy Scott, Sonny Fortune, Red Rodney, Benny Golson, and David “Fathead" Newman. She has enjoyed a simpatico relationship with jazz violinist John Blake and his quartet for some twenty years. Their recorded output includes A New Beginning: Live at The Village Gate, Kindred Spirits (as a duo) and most recently The Traveler featuring Boris Koslov on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums.

Her debut release as a leader, With An Open Heart (1986, Radiant Records) was the beginning of a long collaboration and friendship with bassist Rufus Reid. Taking Time (1991, Candid), Here Comes Kai (1992, Candid), and Secret Places (originally recorded in 1989 and released in 1998 on pianist Kenny Barron's Joken Records) are ripe with her agile melodies, darting and daring rhythmic maneuvers and fine interplay with her bandmates.


Bassist, composer, educator and author Rufus Reid was born in 1944 and raised in Sacramento, California where he played the trumpet through junior high and high school. Upon graduation from Sacramento High School, he entered the United States Air Force as a trumpet player. During that period he began to be seriously interested in the bass. After fulfilling his duties in the military, Rufus had decided he wanted to pursue a career as a professional bassist. Reid's major professional career began in Chicago and continues, since 1976, in New York City. A recipient of numerous awards and accolades, he is an in-demand clinician as well as session player. His extensive jazz background and discography reads like a Who's Who in jazz. He has traveled, performed and recorded with many of the great jazz masters. From 1990 to 2001, Rufus co-led TanaReid with percussionist Akira Tana and released five CDs during their tenure. In 2007, Reid signed with Motma Records. The label has released a CD and DVD package, The Rufus Reid Quintet: Live At The Kennedy Center, which features pianist Sumi Tonooka.

BOB BRAYE (November 8, 1940 - February 25, 2007)

Bob Braye was a renowned jazz drummer, arranger, bandleader, teacher and composer. Since 1955, he had worked with, among many other artists, John Coles, Eddie Harris, Blue Mitchell, Abbey Lincoln, Chet Baker, Thelonious Monk, Pharoah Sanders, Wayne Shorter, Shirley Scott, Harold Land, Lee Morgan, Charlie Rouse, Nancy Wilson, George Coleman, Bobby McFerrin, Woody Shaw and Joe Henderson.

Braye was central to organizing and establishing the Loft Jazz Scene in San Francisco in the 1970s. He traveled extensively, playing in more than forty-five countries. In the mid-1980s his jazz ensemble, Peace & Rhythm, was the house band at Jazz Plus nightclub in Honolulu for several years. In 1994, Braye contracted Guaillian-Barre Syndrome and was paralyzed from the neck down for almost a year. After he recovered, he continued to tour globally. In returning to Newark, NJ, he began teach and performing on other artists' releases.


The Artists Recording Collective is an American label brand that emphasizes promoting and facilitating the distribution and exploitation of works by a select group of artists. The ARC was co-founded by artists who were also among the very first pioneers employing viable uses of 21st Century technologies in the tangible areas of: product manufacturing, worldwide music distribution, digital global marketing and on-demand sales of recorded music.

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