Russel Hisashi Baba

Russel is a gifted musician and creative artist who has focused on refining an intuitive natural style.

His distinctive sound on the saxophone and flutes, plus the innovative approach in his writing, have opened opportunities to perform and tour with esteemed artists in the creative as well as traditional fields notably, jazz musicians drummer Eddie Moore, violinist Michael White, and pianist Andrew Hill; taiko artists Seiichi Tanaka, Kenny Endo, San Jose Taiko, and Jeanne Mercer; gagaku (Japanese Court music) Suenobu Togi; African drummers Malonga Casquelourd and Babatunde; and Japanese butoh dancer Min Tanaka.

Russel may be one of the first Asian American artists to produce his own work with the critically acclaimed recording “Hisashi” in 1978. In 1992 he produced “ Earth Prayer” which features Andrew Hill and in 1999 “Spirit Drum- Taiko Stories From America" with Jeanne Mercer. His latest recordings "Tadaima" and "KorewaKorewa" features original work with Jeanne Mercer and Masato Baba.

Russel started taiko training in 1972 with the San Francisco Taiko Dojo under Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka, who introduced and fostered the taiko tradition in North America. Russel Baba and Jeanne Mercer founded Shasta Taiko in 1985, offering the art of taiko to hundreds of Mt. Shasta area youth and adults.

With sponsorship from Shasta Mountain Playhouse, Russel and Jeanne established a successful annual taiko/music presentation, "Shasta Taiko In Concert" in 1996. In 2005, the annual show successfully expanded to a festival outdoors at Mt. Shasta's Shastice Park and renamed "ShastaYama."

Shasta Taiko's program has developed some individuals who are emerging as exceptional artists, teachers, and leaders themselves. Russel Baba has influenced and inspired his peers as well as the next generation artists and is a recognized pioneer in Asian American jazz and American taiko.

ShastaYama 2005 Photo: Jim Gilmore

Review Quotes

"...Russel Baba has managed to endow his alto saxophone with the timbre and flexibility of a violin. His new sound is extra-ordinarily beautiful."

"...a strong musician who in playing his own compositions is playing himself ... (and) projects a fierce, uncompromising integrity."
- DownBeat

"The reference to 'the Zen of the saxophone' applies to Russel's music because of its experiential qualities. There are powerful emotions present and there are strong conceptual elements. These are contained through a sense of embodiment. It is a direct music, not theoretical. It is this unity of force that makes the music very open and spiritual."
- Option

"...not only plays conventional items such as the alto saxophone, but a variety of ethnic instruments from all over the world. Even when Baba plays the alto, he gives it an eerie other-worldly quality that puts the music right into the twilight zone...a daring approach to the music, a worthwhile deviation from the norm."
- San Francisco Chronicle

"...precise sense of shading and detail that characterizes his work throughout. (This was) a significant debut."
- Musician Magazine

"...demonstrates agility and speed of both technique and imagination ... very rewarding and demanding music."
- Cadence

"...(Russel Baba is a) unique woodwind stylist ... (with a) bright, vibrant sound..."
- Jazz Times