Picture by Russ Mehl, 2014

Picture by Russ Mehl, 2014

"a spectacularly creative young pianist...a very poetic player" – Orange County Register

Kai Ono is a composer-pianist, raised in the bustling suburbs of Irvine, California and currently transitioning to downtown Manhattan. He likes the color grey, the sound of laughter, and things that fly.

Kai is able and mostly willing to play any genre of music on the piano he is familiar with, but his primary specializations are classical, jazz, pop, and some others that stem from those. In the past, he’s won some awards in festivals and competitions such as the West Virginia Intersection of Jazz and Classical Festival, the Rosalyn Tureck Fourth International Bach Competition, and the Celia Mendez Young Artists’ Beethoven Competition. Although he really enjoys playing in smaller house venues as well, he’s also been on bigger stages like the Weill Recital Hall in Carnegie Hall, the Jazz at the Lincoln Center, and the Lied Center of Kansas.

As a composer, Kai was a recipient of Downbeat Magazine’s Undergraduate College Outstanding Composition for Big Band and the ASCAP Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers Award for his piece Everybody is with Everybody Else, which was performed at the Jazz at the Lincoln Center in New York City. His piece, Two Novellas for Clarinet and Piano was a winner of both the National Federation of Music Clubs Student Composition Awards and the NFMC Emil and Ruth Beyer Composition Awards. He’s also had multiple opportunities to perform his own compositions around the country, most notably at the Society of Composers, Inc. Student National Conference at Ball State University, Indiana, the North American Saxophone Alliance regional conference in South Dakota State University, the National Trumpet Competition in Denver Colorado, and the Lied Center of Kansas.

Kai also really likes people, so collaboration in the music world is something he’s always excited about. He’s is currently a member of the Additive Color Ensemble, along with flutist Brian Allred and saxophonist David Berrios, where the three musicians engage in commissioning, educational outreach, and improvisation exploration projects. Through this group, Kai has found enjoyment lately experimenting with the structure of concerts and venues, understanding how the untrained ear perceives music, and designing concerts to best contextualize the music they perform.

Recently, Kai had the opportunity to be a pianist for the Classical Beat festival in Eutin, Germany, where he collaborated with numerous musicians in stylistically diverse programs. He also got to perform his Two Novellas there, so he’s thrilled to have just done his first European premiere. He was also recently selected to attend the Carnegie Hall Ensemble Connect Audience Engagement Institute, where he, with the Additive Color Ensemble, had the chance to work with mentors and other fellow chamber groups to explore engagement programs and concert design.

Kai just recently graduated from the University of Kansas with a BM in Piano Performance and Composition with distinction. He is eternally grateful for his amazing mentors he’s studied under so far - piano with Dr. Scott McBride Smith and Chizuko Asada, composition with James Barnes, Dr. Forrest Pierce, Dr. Kip Haaheim, and Dan Gailey, and jazz with TJ Martley.