Recognized in her native Japan as a jazz prodigy (in the 5th grade she was already transcribing Bud Powell solos), Ayako Shirasaki while yet a pre-teen won many prizes including the Grand Prize at the Asakusa Jazz Competition. Her professional career began at the tender age of twelve when she began regular appearances at the “J” jazz club in Tokyo. Her extraordinary talent was soon recognized, and she was featured in Swing Journal.
Extremely versatile, Ayako majored in classical music at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music and performed as a classical pianist for several years after graduation. But the love of the jazz idiom instilled by her father from the age of five won out, and Ayako soon returned to her first love, winning in 1995 second prize in the prestigious First Annual Heineken Jazz Competition.
In 1997 Ayako moved to New York City where she currently resides. Her talent won her a scholarship in the masters program at the Manhattan School of Music where she studied performance with such noted teachers as Kenny Barron and Ted Rosenthal and composition with Mike Abene.
Ayako is fast making a name for herself as one of the most exciting and inventive pianists on the New York jazz scene. She has been heard at the Blue Note, The Kitano, Birdland, Cobi’s Place, Dizzy’s Club, Puppets Jazz Bar, Sugar Hill Bistro, Swing 46, Copeland’s, Cleopatra’s Needle, and Kavehaz. Her unique style and strong rhythmic sense have made her much in demand. She has played with Lewis Nash, Marco Panascia, Boris Kozlov, Kalil Madi, John Benitez, Steve Kirby, Kengo Nakamura, Kenny Garrett, Clarence Penn, Kit McClure, Harold Ousley, Yoshi Waki etc.
Ayako released two self-produced CDs in 2002, “Live in New York” with her trio and “The Duo Live” with vibraphonist Tim Collins. In August 2003, her major debut CD “Existence” (Lewis Nash on drums, Marco Panascia on bass) was released in Japan. Her second major CD “Musically Yours” was released in June, 2005. In April 2006, Ayako’s long-waited solo piano album “Home Alone” was released. Additionally she has been featured on Marian McPartlands “An NPR Jazz Christmas with Marian McPartland and Friends, Vol. 3″ and recently on “Best of 1st International Jazz Solo Piano Festival 2009″.
After giving birth to her second child, she is now resuming her career by having played at the International Jazz Solo Piano Festival in March 2009, an autumn tour in Northern Germany 2009, a spring tour in Japan 2010 and having released her new CD,"Falling Leaves - Live in Hamburg" on September 2010, which was voted into the "Best of 2010" list by members of the Jazz Journalists Association.
Her latest release "Falling Leaves - Live in Hamburg", a live solo piano recording, was again welcomed by her fans and the jazz press:
"...a highly enjoyable album by a new jazz star in the making.”
--- AllAboutJazz-New York - September 2010 | No. 101 on page 28.
Ayako co-founded Sakura Music School in 2010 in NYC, and she is enjoying teaching all ages of prospective students.