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My Summer in Italy

Toshiko Akiyoshi

As they say, all good things come to an end but in this case another good thing will replace it. Thirty years after forming her orchestra in Los Angeles-an organization that was reconstituted when Toshiko Akiyoshi and husband, Lew Tabackin, moved back to New York in 1982-came the disbanding of the 16-piece ensemble, a weekly Monday night fixture at Birdland since 1998. She announced, “I have decided to devote my full time to playing piano.” Given the difficulties in maintaining a big band, even on a mostly once-a-week basis, in what has been essentially a post-big-band era from the ’50s, Toshiko and Lew have been heroic.

The final performance, at Carnegie Hall on October 17, was a kind of retrospective, in the first half featuring a number of Akiyoshi’s signal compositions ranging from the ’60s to the ’90s; and in the second, her three-part “Hiroshima Rising From the Abyss,” from 2001. Not only did the evening underline her talents as a composer but also as an arranger. Her pieces encompass the serious and somber to calm, beauteous reflection and insouciant swing while utilizing voicings of unusual orchestral combinations.

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