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Although Asian Americans had been performing jazz music almost since that music's inception in the early 1900s, it was not until the late 20th century when a distinctly Asian-American brand of jazz began to develop, sometimes drawing on traditional Asian music and/or using Asian instruments.
American musician Yusef Lateef (1920-2013) is best known as a saxophonist, but he was also one of the first to use Asian instruments and scales jazz. For example, he played the Chinese xun on the album Eastern Sounds (1961).
Though best known as a bassist, Ahmed Abdul-Malik (1927-1993) also played the Middle Eastern oud in jazz from the 1950s. His albums as a bandleaders sometimes featured Asian influences (see The Eastern Moods of Ahmed Abdul-Malik, which includes a performer on the Daegeum, a traditional Korean flute). He also played the Indian instrument tanpura on three versions of the song "India" on The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings by saxophonist John Coltrane, though the instrument was misidenfied as an oud in the original album liner notes.
Joe Harriott (1928-1973), Anglo-Jamaican saxophonist, and Indian composer John Mayer (1930-2004) collaborated in the 1960s on what they described as "Indo-Jazz Fusion", incorporating elements of both jazz and Indian music with a 10-person ensemble. They recorded three albums: Indo Jazz Suite (Atlantic, 1966) Indo Jazz Fusions Volume 1 and 2 (Columbia (UK). 1967 and 1968).
Pianist Dave Brubeck toured Asia in the 1950s, and wrote some songs inspired by Asian music (see, e.g., "Calcutta Blues" on Jazz Impressions of Eurasia, Columbia (1958))
Gabe Baltazar (born of Japanese and Filipino ancestry) and Paul Togawa were early jazz musicians established in the 1950s Los Angeles jazz scene. In the 1970s and early 1980s, West Coast musicians such as Gerald Oshita, Glenn Horiuchi, Anthony Brown, Jon Jang, Mark Izu, and Russel Baba, as well as New Yorkers like Fred Ho and Jason Kao Hwang, began to create a hybrid music that was reflective of their ancestral heritages and experiences as Asian Americans, but which was at the same time also rooted in jazz, a music of African American origin. Most of the first musicians associated with the movement were of Japanese or Chinese ancestry, though more recently musicians of Filipino, Vietnamese, and Indian descent have also become active.
Often, Asian-American jazz combines standard jazz instruments with Asian instruments (such as taiko, shamisen, erhu, suona, or kulintang), which are often performed by musicians from Asia. Also, they may play jazz instruments in a manner imitative of Asian instruments. Many Asian-American jazz ensembles also include musicians who are not of Asian descent.
Of particular significance to the development and promotion of the movement are the San Francisco Asian-American Jazz Festival (1981-2006) and the Asian Improv record label, as well as the Chicago Asian-American Jazz Festival begun by Chicago musician Tatsu Aoki.
One of the first and most prominent Asian-American jazz bands is the Japanese American fusion jazz band Hiroshima, which was formed in 1974. In 2000, Anthony Brown's Asian American Orchestra received a Grammy nomination for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Performance for their recording of Ellington-Strayhorn's Far East Suite.