PORT TOWNSEND — For his first live performance in his hometown in two decades, guitarist Miles Okazaki will offer a night of the music he finds forever new.
It’s “very accessible, but at the same time experimental,” he said of the work of Thelonious Monk (1917-82), the jazz composer — famed for “Round Midnight,” “Well You Needn’t,” “Straight No Chaser” and many others — who’s inspired him since he was a teenager at Port Townsend High School.
Okazaki, a longtime resident of New York City, will give a single solo show at the Friends Meetinghouse, 1841 Sheridan St., at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
Tickets will be sold at the door for a suggested $20 donation, and proceeds from this single Pacific Northwest appearance will benefit Centrum’s Jazz Port Townsend youth scholarship program.
No one will be turned away for lack of funds.
“For me, [Monk] is the greatest composer, not only in jazz, but in any kind of music,” Okazaki said, adding that J.S. Bach is the one other guy on that high plane.
“Their compositions don’t get old. You can come back and play them over and over again; you can bend them and have your way with them,” and the music holds up strong, he said.
To round out Thursday evening’s solo show, Okazaki will add some jazz standards; “I’ll do my best,” he said, “to really represent that cornerstone of American music.”
Okazaki has received much attention for “Work,” his six-CD celebration of the Monk songbook. Released last summer, it joined his discography that includes 2017’s “Trickster” on the Pi record label.
On a promotional video for that album, the guitarist is seen creating an origami coyote and raven — with the action sped up to make his hands appear lightning-fast.
His second “Trickster” record is slated for release this Halloween.
Far from home
Okazaki graduated from Port Townsend High in 1993; he then earned degrees from Harvard, the Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard School in New York City.
As a sideman he’s performed with Stanley Turrentine, Jane Monheit, Kenny Barron — just a few among the galaxy of jazzmen and women in his life.
A teacher of guitar and rhythmic studies at the University of Michigan, the Banff Institute and other schools, his first book is “Fundamentals of Guitar.”
Music producer George Rezendes of Port Townsend’s Toolshed SoundLab is a longtime admirer of Okazaki, and is helping present Thursday’s performance.
“I think of Miles as a musician not constrained by the label ‘jazz,’ His approach to his original music incorporates so many textures, rhythms and emotions,” Rezendes said.
“It’s actually very cool when you can’t easily put an artist’s style in an old box.” And when Okazaki steps up to perform, his guitar playing is supremely natural; “It feels like he’s breathing through it.”
The son of noted painter and teacher Linda Okazaki, the guitarist said growing up in Port Townsend in the 1980s and early ’90s gave him his passion for art — among other things.
“When I was young, there was no internet, obviously. There was not a lot of distraction. My friends and I had to figure out ways to occupy our minds,” he said.
For Okazaki, those were science, math, golf and music.
Now that he has children — two daughters and a son, age 6 to 17 — he believes in encouraging wide-ranging interests. Scholars are finding “something we knew all along: people with general knowledge do better.”
The Port Townsend of his youth was much like it is today: filled with energy, and “all those things like Centrum and the Wooden Boat Festival. These highly creative people just passing through town: We didn’t think that was unusual.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.