Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Onishi, Junko

Onishi, Junko, pianist; b. Kyoto, Japan, 16 April 1967. 

Onishi is a pianist, a fact that is easy to forget when one observes the gratuitously pin-up-girl way she has been marketed.  To put this in perspective: in 1994 the traditionally conservative yet well-informed readers of Swing Journal selected Onishi as the most popular female jazz artist of all time, beating Helen Merrill, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Sarah Vaughan.  So-called "Junko Fever" has enabled the pianist to appear in sports tabloid gossip columns and the popular TV talk show "Tetsuko's Room."  After graduating at the top of her class at Berklee College of Music, Onishi played in the bands of Jesse Davis and Greg Osby before returning triumphantly to Japan.  Her week-long gig at the Village Vanguard (the first for a Japanese artist), with Reginald Veal and Herlin Riley, was big news in her home country and resulted in two well-regarded albums.  Onishi is less conservative in her tastes than most of her peers: she takes on Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus with creative rigor while her contemporaries continue to recycle hard bop standards.  She has also co-led a recording date with Jackie McLean.

Cruisin' (1994); Live at the Village Vanguard, Vols. I & II (1995, 1997); Piano Quintet Suite (1996).


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