Ayako Shirasaki Remembered and Celebrated at Bryant Park

September 6, 2023

The late jazz pianist Ayako Shirasaki studied with Ted Rosenthal when she was a student at the Manhattan School of Music. At a celebration of Shirasaki’s life and music at New York’s Bryant Park on October 2, Rosenthal recalled “her talent and spirit. While she was a lover of all kinds of jazz,” he said, “her roots were in bebop, so we’re going to play something by the great Bud Powell, who was an influencer before they had influencers.” Then Rosenthal, bassist Noriko Ueda and drummer Jay Sawyer played Powell’s “So Sorry Please.”

Shirasaki passed away at the age of 52 in November 2021, after a 1 1/2-year struggle with cancer. She was a popular attraction at Bryant Park’s Piano in the Park series where she played for 10 years. This was the second tribute to her sponsored by Bryant Park; the first was in the spring of 2022. Among the musical selections on October 2 were her “Sunrise” and “Three Steps Forward”. The latter, Ueda said, was written in defiance of Japan’s tradition of having women walk three steps behind their husbands. The trio also performed Bill Evans’ “Waltz for Debby”, which Ueda said, “Ayako and I played so many times at Grasso’s on Long Island.”

Special guest, flutist Mayu Saeki played a Japanese folk song, “Who Found Little Autumn?”, followed by a beautiful rendition of Joseph Kosma’s “Autumn Leaves”. (Shirasaki’s 2010 album, Falling Leaves: Live in Hamburg, was released to great acclaim. Jersey Jazz’s Joe Lang wrote that it showed “an eclecticism and originality that is exciting and appealing”).

Shirasaki’s sister-in-law, vocalist Rosalind Beauchemin, and husband, guitarist Thomas Landman, also performed several songs at the celebration, including Harry Warren’s “September in the Rain” and Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg’s “Over the Rainbow”.-SANFORD JOSEPHSON

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