On Saturday, June 3, jazz pianist Glenn Horiuchi passed away in Los Angeles after a long battle with cancer. Though Horiuchi was never a giant in the field, his career as artist, activist and educator was quintessentially Angeleno, his work always in dialogue with the flows of cultural and political history that weave through the Southland.
Born in Chicago in 1955 and raised in Torrance and Glendora, Horiuchi turned to jazz early in his childhood as a way to cope with the alienation of being Japanese-American in overwhelmingly white communities. Throughout his career, Horiuchi merged his musical and political worlds, becoming an integral player in the Asian-American jazz movement of the 1980s and ’90s. His albums spoke directly to Los Angeles’ social history, whether Japanese-American relocation during WWII (Manzanar Voices, 1989), the attack on Japanese fisherman off Terminal Island (“Terminal Island Sweep,” 1995) or the cross-cultural solidarity between Japanese and Mexican field laborers in Oxnard during the 1920s (Oxnard Beet, 1992).
Apart from the piano, Horiuchi was also adept at the one-stringed Japanese shamisen, an instrument he incorporated frequently in an attempt to bridge the cultural gap between first-generation Japanese immigrants and their American-born peers. For much of his life, Horiuchi sought to find the musical essence of Japanese America, only to realize that such a singular entity was impossible. Instead, toward the end of his life, he focused on music as spiritual catharsis, a lesson he tried to impart to his students. In his own words, “I think there’s a need for beauty in this world, a sense of the beauty in ourselves and in this world. And you can find that in music.” Horiuchi is survived by his wife, Edna, and son, Kenzo.
For more information on the life and music of Glenn Horiuchi, please visit www.asianimprov.com.