GARDENA — Jazz and soul duo Yu Ooka and Yvette Nii will perform on Saturday, Jan. 27, at 7:30 p.m. (doors open at 7 p.m.) at Can-Zo, 18212 W. Western Ave. (at 182nd Street) in Gardena.
Born in Osaka, Ooka studied at Koyo Conservatory in Kobe and decided to move to Los Angeles to pursue his career and experience a different culture. He started playing at many L.A. clubs, where he was introduced to legendary jazz pianist Billy Mitchell, and has been playing with the Billy Mitchell Group over 10 years. In 2007, Ooka became a lead guitarist of A.P.B. and has won the Best Performance Prize at Hori Production Audition in the U.S.
Ooka is a leader of Minyo Station, which performs Japanese traditional songs with different contemporary arrangements, such as rock, R&B, jazz and Latin. This unique fusion group became popular in Southern California area and started performing at many renowned venues, such as Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Ford Amphitheatre, the Music Center, Sedona Jazz on the Rocks in Arizona, and The Blue Note in Osaka.
Also known as a shamisen player, Ooka has been studying traditional Japanese music and culture. His teacher, Sato Matsutoyo, has been called the best folk singer and shamisen player in Japan. Her credits include “The Karate Kid Part 2” and many other movies.
Ooka has worked on songs for ABC, Yama Moto Yama commercials, and the French movie “Madame Butterfly.” Musicians he has worked with include Barbara Morrison, Patrice Rushen, Michael Paulo, Janice Johnson (A Taste of Honey), Freda Payne, Munyungo Jackson, Dr. Bobby Rodriguez, Eric Marienthal, and Brenda Lee Eager.
Hailing from Hawaii, Nii grew up singing and always knew that performing was her calling. From early talent shows to a Fox reality competition, she has an energy that is far beyond her years.
In 2002, she broke into music by becoming the youngest performer ever to sing at the prestigious Sheraton Waikiki. Immediately following that event, she toured Japan as part of a Fourth of July USO tour for 2,000 U.S. troops headed to Afghanistan. The next year, she had the honor of singing the national anthem for the Los Angeles Lakers, which turned into an open invitation for her return to L.A. to sing anytime for the team.
In 2005, Nii joined the original cast production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” in Honolulu as well as “Little Shop of Horrors.” She was nominated for a Hawaii Music Award in 2006 for her original composition “Through Someone Else’s Eyes.”
By invitation in early 2007, Nii hosted the West Coast tour for “Highlights Hawaii,” a syndicated talk show that showcases Hawaii-born talent such as ESPN’s Larry Biel and IGT’s Joe Kaminkow (inventor of the first Las Vegas video slot machine). Later that year, she starred in Fox’s “The Search for the Next Elvira,” where she placed in the top 10.
Immediately following that was “Hawaii Stars,” the state’s version of “American Idol.” After 13 seasons, the show crowned Nii as grand champion and provided an all-expenses-paid trip to Philadelphia for the official “American Idol” auditions.
Upon returning home, Nii was crowned Miss Oahu and also took the Photogenic Award and Talent Award. Awarded over $13,000 in cash, grants and scholarships, she was then slotted to run for Miss Hawaii and placed in the top 10. This event is the precursor that ultimately leads to the Ms. USA pageant.
With her passion for songwriting, her musical talents were recognized by the Grammy-nominated, internationally renowned band Hiroshima, who asked her to tour and record with the group. While completing her West Coast dates, she recorded two of the band’s classics, “Roomful of Mirrors” and “Dada,” for their album “Legacy.”
In late 2008, Nii auditioned for “Tony N Tina’s Wedding,” which opened in Maui. With no prior history with the show, she pushed through and nailed the audition. Two weeks later she was offered the lead role of Tina and soon thereafter was offered the opportunity to join the cast in a full-scale Las Vegas production.
With theater, pageantry, and nationally televised talent show competitions under her belt, she further solidified her music aspirations by walking the red carpet as a Best Pop Instrumental Jazz nominee for the 2010 Grammy Awards. She’s an unstoppable force who released her first EP, “Simplicity,” in early 2016, and continues to tour and perform with Hiroshima.
Admission: $15. Two-drink minimum. Seating is limited. Make reservations at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3225804. For more information, call (310) 719-2028.