For over a decade, John Yao’s adept talent as a trombonist, composer and arranger has helped cement his place on the New York City jazz scene. Yao’s lyrical soloing and expressive, round tone combined with his creative hunger for exploring the boundaries of harmony and rhythm in his compositions/arrangements have established him as a unique musical talent. All About Jazzsays Yao is “an evolving artist who continues to grow at a rapid pace.”
As a trombonist, he has worked extensively as a sideman for Grammy-award winning ensembles, such as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, and has also performed with Paquito D’Rivera, Eddie Palmieri, Danilo Perez, Chris Potter and Kurt Elling, among others. Yao has four solo recordings all of which feature his adventurous, boundary-pushing compositions. Downbeat called his second Quintet release Presence (See Tao Recordings, 2017) “Yao’s most searching release to date, the album is marked by greater openness and ensemble elasticity.” Midwest Record says Flip-Flop (See Tao Recordings), the 2015 big band release by John Yao & His 17-piece Instrument (“JY-17”), is“a must set for big band fans that want to hear something that takes the form into the future, this blows the ears open in a mighty way.” Yao’s latest release by John Yao’s Triceratops dropped How We Do (See Tao Recordings, 2019) and Jazz Magazine in France described it as “refreshing at will until the coda, jubilant and irresistible.”
In 2015, Yao pioneered a crowdsourcing campaign and founded the “Big Band & Beyond Concert Series.” The goal of the series was two-fold: to challenge himself to produce new big band works and perform them with JY-17 at each concert, and to expose audiences to new ideas of what big band is and what it sounds like today. As Elliot Simon of the NYC Jazz Recordput it, “This ain’t your granddaddy’s big band.”
In addition to composing for his own big band, Yaohas also been commissioned to write works for other professional ensembles, such as the Grammy Award-winning Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia, Band of Bones, Luis Bonilla’s I Talking, Too! Jazz Orchestra, and HGM Big Band. His works have been performed nationally and internationally by college and high school ensembles, including Temple University, Indiana University, Iowa University, University of North Carolina, New Jersey City University, University of Illinois at Chicago, Binghamton University, HGM Orkestar in Zagreb, Croatia; and New Trier High School, Harvard Westlake School, and Townsend Harris High School. He was a member of the BMI Jazz Composers workshop from 2012 to 2014 under the guidance of Jim McNeely and Mike Holober.
Yao has also established himself as an in-demand educator in New York and beyond. Presently he serves as Assistant Professor of Trombone at Berklee College of Music and as Adjunct Professor of Music at Molloy College. He is an active guest artist and soloist at colleges and universities around the United States and abroad.
“Yao isn’t exactly a new man, but he’s most certainly an evolving artist who continues to grow at a rapid pace.” Dan Bilawsky, All About Jazz
“Yao is as smooth as silk on “Presence” and the gently bopping “Nightfall.” George Harris, Jazz Weekly
“John Yao makes it clear he’s not content to stand still. “ Jeff Potter, Downbeat
“Boldly diverse, Yao’s compositions cut across the swath of contemporary jazz’s field, utilizing the big-band format to amalgamate a surprising range of styles and periods—sometimes within a single composition.” Franz Matzner, All About Jazz
“Yao’s blend of the inside and the outside ultimately yields considerable rewards.” Alex Henderson, Jazz Inside NY Magazine
“Yao’s trombone is nice and warm but it can also be cutting, as on the contemplative “Reflection”, morphing into slightly off-kilter decisiveness.” Elliot Simon, New York City Jazz Record