A couple of weeks ago, one of the bright stars in jazz piano was brutally attacked in New York City by a group of racist teens outside a downtown Manhattan subway station. Tadataka Unno, called Tada by his friends, was leaving the station at St. Nicholas Park around 7:30 p.m. on September 27. He tried to avoid the group of young people when one of the girls in the group pushed him, claiming he had bumped into her.
The girl’s boyfriend screamed, “My girl is pregnant!” and began punching Unno in the head. Others in the group joined in the beating. One of the assailants called Japanese-born Unno, “Chinese”.
“He got up, tried to run, fell again, got back up, tried to run, fell again,” a bandmate of Unno’s said.
The 40-year-old Tada is a well-respected and admired member of the Jazz community. Jazz friends of mine in New York City told me that Unno is “such a gentle and non-violent person.” Pianist Benny Green said, “I just can’t imagine him having done anything to incite an altercation. Sometimes bad things happen to really good and kind, innocent people who mind their own business and never bother others.”
Unno suffered a broken collarbone in the attack. He can no longer play the piano and cannot even hold his 4-month-old baby. He underwent surgery to repair the broken bone and damaged shoulder Friday, October 9. He is now in recovery.
No arrests have been made.
“I was shocked last night to hear of this attack & terrible tragedy,” Jazz vocalist and Broadway star Tony Middleton wrote on Facebook. “Hoping you heal quickly & your arms & hands are back to playing & sharing your extraordinary gift on the piano real soon."
Unno was born in Tokyo and began playing piano at the age of 4. Five years later, he started playing Jazz. His career took off after graduating from the Tokyo University for Music and Fine Art. He joined Yoshio Suzuki’s trio as a pianist. Suzuki is considered one of Japan’s top bassists. He would move to the United States in 2008 and settle in New York City. He has performed with Jazz greats Jimmy Cobb, Roy Hargrove, John Pizzarelli and more.
Jimmy Cobb said, “Tada is a young genius, it also combines great energy and delicacy with his music, and also swings so hard! When I was with Miles [Davis], we helped each other to improve music. Miles needed me and I needed him. I was a backbone for Miles when I was with Miles, but now Tada is a backbone for me.”
Drummer Jerome Jennings called Unno, “one of the brightest lights in Jazz piano.” “He really took hold of Jazz culture and embodied it,” said Jennings, an instructor at the Julliard School.
“I have known Tada to be one of the kindest and gentlest souls,” said Jennings. “He suffers from trauma from this attack. Due to his broken collar bone he cannot play and does not know when he will be able to.”
“Tada can’t play, and this is his sole income,” Jennings continued. “He’s going to need some type of cushion to not worry about it, the medical bills, and he’s going to need therapy.”
To that end, Jennings started a GoFundMe page to help Tada.[https://www.gofundme.com/f/support-for-tadataka-and-family]
In less than a week, the GoFundMe has raised almost $130,000 as of Monday at noon. Jennings says the support is a testament to his friend’s character.
“Not only does he mean a lot for the community, but also to the Jazz community in the states all over the world. The love is pouring in,” Jennings said. Unno has released five albums as a bandleader and solo artist.
Unno says he is extremely grateful for all the love and support.
In a country wracked by racism and stupidity, the generosity of good people still makes me optimistic.
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