“Rio Sakairi has singlehandedly influenced New York’s current jazz scene more than anyone I know,” proclaims jazz pianist and 2013 MacArthur “genius” grant winner Vijay Iyer. As the Artistic Director at The Jazz Gallery since 2000, Rio Sakairi has helped to identify and nurture some of today’s most important jazz artists. By seeking out the next generation of creative jazz players and composers and by guiding and nourishing their artistic visions over the span of well over a decade, Rio has had a significant impact on the jazz scene in New York and beyond. Her focus and vision have been decisive in putting The Jazz Gallery on New York’s cultural map and gaining the worldwide recognition that the venue enjoys. In Iyer’s words, “Rio has helped launch the career of virtually every notable jazz artist under 40 that I can think of. Her tireless efforts have rejuvenated the music and galvanized the musical community.” Rio’s contributions were recognized in 2016, 2014, and 2010, when The Jazz Gallery received the CMA/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming. She also received 2016 Jazz Hero Award from the Jazz Journalist Association.
Noted author, photographer, and record executive Hank O’Neal has praised Rio as “easily the finest Artistic Director associated with any jazz organization in New York City or possibly anywhere in the country.” Veteran critic Ted Panken has observed, “Jazz would not sound the way it does today had not The Jazz Gallery served as a locus for New York’s polyglot musical community to exchange ideas and work on moving to the next step.”
Rio’s production credits also include George Wein’s CareFusion Jazz Festival at Symphony Space, Herbie Hancock’s 70th Birthday Tribute Jam Session at City Winery, “Off the Wall: A Tribute to Michael Jackson” at HarlemStage Gatehouse, and various events sponsored by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, among others.
Rio has drawn connections between musicians of widely varying sensibilities, linking established traditions and newly emerging sounds. The breadth of her curatorial accomplishments has been impressive. Even as Rio has made the Gallery a community hub for younger, up-and-coming artists, she has also hosted repeat performances by such legends as Henry Threadgill, Oliver Lake, Chucho Valdés, Lee Konitz, John Hendrick, among others. Rio has also demonstrated a keen ear for the pan-stylistic and global reach of the music by recruiting artists who draw on influences from hip-hop to singer-songwriters; from Africa and the Middle East to South Asia and Latin America.
In a short time Rio was setting the Gallery’s agenda and on her way to becoming one of jazz’s most respected curators. When asked about her criteria and vision for the space, she responded, “What I’m looking for is soulfulness, and that’s not a stylistic reference. I want to see the artist’s personality realized honestly and creatively. Music is a way to communicate something, just like literature or any other art. I want to feel something when I hear you play. I want to know who you are.”
Articles by Rio Sakairi:
Roy Hargrove (1969-2018) was always only in the moment, hard and sincerely. In that moment, he meant everything he did; he meant every word he said; he felt everything he...