Tatsu Aokiis a leading advocate for the Asian American community, as well as a prolific composer and performer of traditional and experimental music forms, a filmmaker, and an educator. Born in Tokyo in 1957 into the Toyoakimoto artisan family, a traditional house for training and booking agents for geisha, Aoki was part of his family's performance crew from the age of four. In the late 1960s, he shifted his energies from the traditional to American pop and experimental music. By the early 1970s, Aoki was active in Tokyo’s underground arts movement as a member of Gintenkai, an experimental ensemble that combined traditional music and new Western forms.
In 1977, Aoki left Tokyo and is now one of the most in-demand performers of bass, shamisen, and taiko, contributing more than ninety recording projects and touring internationally during the last twenty-five years. Aoki is Founder and Artistic Director of the Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival which observes its twentieth year in 2015. Named President of San Francisco–based Asian Improv Records (AIR) in 1999, he has managed or produced more than forty AIR albums, notably the Max Roach and Jon Jang collaboration The Beijing Trio, and several projects in the hip-hop and Asian Pacific American arts arenas, from film screenings to concert series.
Aoki was named one of 2001’s "Chicagoans of the year" by the Chicago Tribune for his music for his cross-cultural music and has performed with masters such as Roscoe Mitchell, Don Moye, pipa virtuoso Wu Man, and the late Chicago legend Fred Anderson. Aoki's suite ROOTED: Origins of Now, a four-movement suite for big band, premiered in 2001 at Ping Tom Memorial Park and was performed at the Chicago Jazz Festival and at MCA Stage as part of Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival. Additional notable releases include Basser Live (1999) and Basser Live II (2005), recorded live at MCA Stage; The MIYUMI Project (2000), Symphony of Two Cities (2002), and Posture of Reality with Wu Man (2003). The Asian American Institute awarded Aoki the Milestone Award in 2007 for his contribution to Chicago-area arts. In 2010, he received the Japan America Society of Chicago’s Cultural Achievement Award as well as a 3Arts Artist Award. He received the “Living in our Culture” award by the Japanese American Service Committee in 2014 and Jazz Heros’ Award by National Jazz Journalist Association in 2015. His latest project features his Miyumi Project ensemble that has been chosen as the official musical presenters for Yoko Ono's "SKYLANDING" installation in Chicago's Jackson Park.