Sat Apr 23, 2022

Songs for J-Town

Emmy Award winning composer Mark Izu presents an evening of American jazz infused with traditional Japanese Gagaku music and poetry about San Francisco's Japantown.

“Mark Izu’s music is a great gift to the jazz tradition, to its ongoing transformation and revitalization into energetic and unpredictable new directions”  – Downbeat Magazine

Led by Emmy Award winning composer Mark Izu, Songs for J-Town is a Japanese American Jazz concert dedicated to our grandchildren’s children and the ancestors who carry them.



“This is my 45th year as a musician and composer–and my first concert in a very long time. As I emerge out of the chrysalis of COVID, I muse on what the world has become. Where is my place in it? What do I have to contribute?

My musings always take me back to J-Town. We the original, the first Japanese settlement in America, displaced three times: the Anti-Japanese laws during the Victorian era, the Incarceration, and Redevelopment!

And back to my father fighting in Europe with the 442nd. To my mother in-prisoned in Poston. Still our brave little community stands!

Warm memories of people and places come and gone: Issei grandmas in kimono riding Muni, Nisei aunties cooking community feasts, Sansei fighting for Redress. As I compose this music, the spirit of my sensei, Togi Suenobu, whispers in my ears, “The journey continues.”

– Mark Izu






For one performance only, Songs for J-Town will feature music from the history of San Francisco’s Japantown. The evening will begin with the story of the Sun Goddess by Brenda Wong Aoki and a blessing by Konko Priest Mas Kawahatsu, followed by an instrumental jazz performance infused with Gagaku, a 1500-year-old ceremonial Japanese music that Izu studied for 26 years under his mentor Togi Suenobu.

Mark and his ensemble will also perform 1940’s swing and big band tunes popular with Japanese American political prisoners in internment camps after they were forcibly removed from their homes in Japantown during the height of anti-Asian hysteriaduring World War II. As well as resistance songs that callback to Japantown of the 1970s, the birthplace of Asian American Jazz, a genre which Izu helped pioneer during the struggle by Black and Japanese residents to fight the forced evictions of tens of thousands of neighborhood residents during waves of demolition led by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency.

Caroline Cabading, a Fillmore Filipina herself, will sing lonesome ballads the manong, unmarried male Filipino elders, sang to themselves, survivors of cruel immigration and marriage laws that prevented Filipino women from settling in California while also preventing Filipino men from marrying non-Filipino women. And devorah major, San Francisco’s third Poet Laureate, will perform two spoken word pieces, “Rage” and “Rise,” that speak to the current culture of COVID, anti-Asian attacks, historic racism to all people of color and yet resilience and faith in the future.

Following the performance, because of the long isolation imposed by the pandemic, there will be a simple closing reception with tea and Japanese candy for audience members to greet and enjoy one another.

View Program


Creative Team

Compositions by Emmy Award Winning Mark Izu (Contrabass and Sho) with Mas Koga (Shakuhachi, Flute, Saxophones), Jimi Nakagawa (Taiko & Traps), Jim Norton (Woodwinds), Caroline Cabading (Vocals), devorah major (Spoken Word), Sara Sithi-Amnuai (Trumpet & Sheng), and Brenda Wong Aoki (Storyteller). Blessing by Rev. Mas Kawahatsu, Digital Collage by Andrea Wong, Film by Tonilyn Sideco.

See performer bios >



“Beyond time and place, the essence of a people transformed through music. Offerings to the Sun Goddess, praise songs to the ancestors: Issei courage, Nisei resilience, Sansei activism, Yonsei determination, with transmissions to our Gosei, Hapa children and the Shin-Issei. Celebrating kinship with the Harlem of the West and the Fillmore Filipinos, Songs for J-town is a Japanese American Jazz concert dedicated to our grandchildren’s children.”

– Brenda Wong Aoki



Support Provided By

This work was commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission with support from Grants for the Arts, the Hewlett Foundation, and the Office of Economic Workforce Development, City and County of San Francisco. In partnership with the JapanTown Task ForceCenter for Asian American Media, and co-presented by the Presidio Theatre. Produced by First Voice.



COVID-19 Safety

Guests 12 and older must provide proof of vaccination. Guests 11 and younger must provide proof of vaccination or a negative test. Masks are required at all times while indoors. Please arrive 20 minutes before the performance for vaccination/test check. For more information, please see the theatre’s COVID-19 Safety Guidelines.



Ticket prices are subject to change. The Presidio Theatre allows returns up to 48 hours in advance of a performance. Processing fees cannot be refunded. For more information, please see the theatre’s Return Policy.

If you need assistance with ticketing please contact us at or 415-960-3949.



Image by Andi Wong. Additional photo credits here.



Sat, Apr 23

Run Time

90 minutes

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