When Chie Imaizumi steps in front of her orchestra, the normally reserved young composer from Saitama, Japan, turns into a kind of whirling dervish. Transformed by the music, she doesn’t so much conduct as, in her words, “provide the players, through my movement and expression, with a model for the mood I want to capture with my compositions.”
A guest artist in residence at the Denver School of the Arts, Imaizumi has performed regularly with her big band at Dazzle. But writing music, much less conducting, wasn’t the original plan. At Boston’s Berklee College of Music in 2001, a serious case of tendonitis ended her career as a jazz pianist, so she began arranging, taking cues from towering contemporary jazz figure Maria Schneider. Schneider, in turn, has become a fan of Imaizumi’s joyful style, which she calls intelligent, consistent, and brimming with personality. Like origami, her pieces fold complex notes into deceptively simple yet elegant patterns for a sound that’s both original and comfortably familiar.
Imaizumi first wowed Denver audiences with a peformance in 2006, and recorded Unfailing Kindness, her first CD on a jazz label, for Colorado-based Capri Records. She relocated here in 2007, and to date has written music for drummer Jeff Hamilton (who frequently tours with singer Diana Krall), the U.S. Air Force Academy big band the Falconaires, and the Consulate General of Japan at Denver. In April, her composition “Adversity” took second place for jazz at the International Songwriting Competition. “When I look back at the time before I came to Denver, I wasn’t doing nearly as much as I wanted,” Imaizumi says. “Now, I feel as if I’m going somewhere.”