Sadao Watanabe is a revered cultural figure in Japan, the first jazz musician to win his government's Grand Prix Award (1976), the first of many national and regional Japanese honors he's received. He's also had a jazz radio program in Japan for decades, not just spinning records but presenting live performances, many of his own compositions, which run the gamut from bop and swing to bossa nova, jazz-rock and pop. Through the years he's also toured and recorded with a number of Americans, from Chick Corea and Hank Jones to Mike Stern and the Galaxy All-Stars.
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Born on February 1, 1933, in Utsunomiya, Japan, Watanabe was one of five children (four sons and one daughter). In the small town about 90 miles north of Tokyo, Watanabe’s father worked as an electrician but also played and taught the Japanese equivalent of the lute, called the biwa. It would be his father’s acquiescence to his desires that would allow Watanabe to move from this small town to the world.