As a jazz bassist, composer, and arranger, Ken Okada has spent his life finding the groove. Unlike in other genres of music, in jazz, bass is the glue responsible for holding the group together. When composing music, Ken is less concerned with being credited with a beautiful melody and more so leaving room for other musicians to join and create.
Born in New York to Japanese parents, Ken also spent time in Brazil and New York in his youth as his family followed his father in business. His ear for music came from his creatively inclined older sisters, who played piano and influenced his taste in music. Video game soundtracks also inspired Ken. He began learning to produce music electronically and playing in multiple bands throughout middle and high school.
After attempting law school at university, Ken began sitting in with the historic Keio University Big Band, where a friend went. That was a huge turning point for Ken, who would soon dedicate his life to music while beginning a tech career, starting his businesses to support his family, and moving to the United States.
Over the years, Ken has composed music as part of the Ken Okada Group and performed in jazz combos and big bands featuring artists such as John Worley, Leon Joyce, Yankee Taylor, Destiny Muhammad, Eric Colvin, and Rick Vandivier and numerous jazz clubs and festivals around the world.
Most recently, Ken has recorded and performed with a percussion phenom, Yoyoka Soma, a 13-year-old Japanese musician living in America who went viral in 2018 for renditions of Led Zeppelin. Together, the group has released the album “Square One,” now available on Spotify and Apple Music.
In our conversation, we discuss Ken’s approach to jazz, his upbringing as a Japanese musician, the influences of jazz in San Jose, and his most recent project featuring Yoyoka.
Join Ken this Friday, 11/10, at 8 pm at the San Jose Jazz Break Room as the Ken Okada Group Featuring YOYOKA engages audiences with stunning rhythm, high-flying melodies, and original arrangements by Ken Okada.
Follow Ken at @jazzr777
Listen to the Ken Okada Group on Spotify: