Erika Matsuo was born and raised in Fukuoka, Japan. She had extensive classical piano lessons from a young age and grew up listening to Japanese pop music. “I started singing a little in junior high and then in high school I won an award in a karaoke competition. That inspired me to focus on singing.” As a member of the Tear Drops, an all-female rock group, she won first prize in the Yamaha Teen Music Festival in 1994. After she met jazz pianist Yusuke Hirado, her musical direction began to change. “With him I improvised over pop structures and I found myself wanting to learn much more about jazz.” Erika had a recording session with Hirado during her first visit to New York in 1997.
Back in Japan after the initial four-month U.S. visit, Erika found that she missed New York and the jazz scene. Three years later she returned, studying for a BFA in jazz voice at the City College Of New York. “I learned jazz repertoire, theory, and studied with the great Sheila Jordan. She taught me a lot about jazz history. It was not just the singing but how to communicate with instrumentalists, how to present myself on stage, and a lot of lessons about life, She was very inspiring.”
Erika started singing in local clubs and restaurants while attending college and that increased greatly after she graduated. She has since performed at such major NY venues as the Blue Note, Jazz At Kitano (regularly for over ten years), the Rockwood Music Hall, Sweet Rhythm, B.B. King’s, and S.O.B.’s in addition to regularly touring Japan and appearing at jazz festivals. Among the awards that she has won have been the prestigious Pro Musica (given to graduating music majors at City College for distinguished service in the cause of music) and first prize in Japan’s Asakusa Jazz Contest. In 2017 she was named Lifetime Ambassador of Tourism for the city of Fukuoka. Recently, the City Council chose her to compose and write lyrics for the anthem for the new elementary school in her hometown of Miyama City which will be opening in the spring of 2023.
Back in 2007, Erika Matsuo made her recording debut on the single “Close My Eyes.” In 2010 she recorded her first album, Obsession, and it was followed by True Colors (2013). True Colors was picked as “Finest Vocal Album of 2013” by the prestigious Japanese jazz website jazzpage.net and it was awarded first place in the Jazz Page Readers Poll. Since then she has recorded Nostalgia (2015) which features the legendary organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, Reflections (2017), the single “The Christmas Song,” and Here And Now. In addition, Erika was invited to be a guest singer on albums by trumpeter James Zollar (All Good People), Stacey Kent (I Know I Dream), and bassist Leo Traversa.
Each of Erika’s recordings serves as a snapshot for how she sounded at that point in time. “Here And Now is about living my life now because we never know about the future. I’ve been in New York for 20 years and touring for 15 so this is a celebration of that period while also looking towards what is to come.” Due to the pandemic Erika had more time than usual to work on the album and she put a lot of extra care into the performances. Her two originals are particularly special. “By My Side” was written for her best friend Rui who died in a tragic car accident. Rui inspired and organized the girls’ rock group in which Erika had played in high school. “She was an amazing pianist who also played guitar for our band. She is the one she encouraged me to be a musician.” Erika also wrote the music and the lyrics for “Home” (which is dedicated to her parents) in addition to co-composing the lyrics to the funky “Piece Of A Dream” and the grooving “Beyond The Breeze,” and contributing the music for “Here And Now,” an optimistic piece that has words by Monday Michiru. “Monday Michiru was my muse when I was a teenager,” remembers Erika. “I later met her in New York, we became friends, and she contributed “If You Believe” to this album and “Always” to my previous Reflections.
With its all-star cast (which includes pianist-keyboardist-arranger Art Hirahara, guitarists Juancho Herrera, David Gilmore and Romero Lubambo, pianist Helio Alves, altoist Steve Wilson, Yosvany Terry on soprano, keyboardist Gil Goldstein, vibraphonist Tyler Blanton, and bassist Essiet Essiet among others), Erika Matsuo is heard at her best, whether it is on her originals, a scat-filled “The Song Is You,” Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Brigas Nunca Mais,” or straightforward versions of “Both Sides Now” and “In My Life.” Her warm voice, relaxed phrasing, and versatility make this a particularly memorable recording.
When asked about her musical evolution and goals for the future, Erika Matsuo says “As time passes, I am better at expressing myself, am more comfortable with who I am, and am more open to singing about deep feelings. For the future, I want to be freer in my singing, always be improving as an artist and a human being, and be inspiring to others. As for now, it feels so good to get to perform in front of audiences again!”
"Her singing is heartfelt and honest. She sings with depth and passion. What a joy to hear her" - Sheila Jordan
"Erika's voice is filled with sentiment and warmth. She integrates both passion and gentle emotion into her lyrics" - Dr. Lonnie Smith
"Obsession is a promising debut...beautifully produced, finely performed" - All About Jazz