Happy Birthday Sadao Watanabe

February 01, 1933

A birthday tribute to the Japanese saxophonist

Alto-saxophonist Sadao Watanabe was born on February 1, 1933 in Utsunomiya, Japan.

Watanabe started on the clarinet while in high school, switching to alto sax at 18 and becoming a professional musician two years later.

He worked for a time with pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi with whom he made his recording debut in 1954.

Watanabe, whose original influence was Charlie Parker, began doubling on flute, worked with other top Japanese players, and attended Berklee during 1962-65.

He worked and recorded in the U.S. with Gary McFarland, Chico Hamilton and Gabor Szabo (all in 1965) before returning to Tokyo where he began a strong solo career that found him helping to introduce bossa nova to Japan.

Watanabe, who recorded with Hank Jones and the Great Jazz Trio on several occasions starting in 1976, re-emerged in the U.S. in the late 1970s and 80’s with a series of popular crossover albums that found him playing more pop-oriented material.

He has since alternated between poppish dates (including with Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin) and more bop-oriented sessions.

Sadao Watanabe is featured playing a spirited version of the bossa nova classic “Samba De Orfeu.”

-Scott Yanow


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