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Derek Nakamoto: A Life in Music

Veteran producer and composer Derek Nakamoto is looking at an illustrious career of recording, arranging, and producing for some of the most influential music artists, working and recording with some of the world's most prestigious ensembles spanning five decades.

His extensive and diverse musical background has allowed him to work on a variety of eclectic projects forging textures and harmonies from different cultures and eras into a unique musical work.



Born in 1955 in Honolulu, Hawai’i, Derek began his musical career at age 9 as the principal organist of Saint Patrick’s Church. He was distinguished as the youngest organist in the State. Attending St. Louis Schools, he was the pianist for the “Hui O Na Opio” under the direction of the late Kumu Hula, John Kealoha Lake.

In 1981, Derek moved to Los Angeles, entering the music scene recording and performing with Epic Associated Label recording artist, “Hiroshima.” With band member June Kuramoto, he co-wrote one of the band's popular endearing compositions, “Thousand Cranes.”. This was followed by a tour with Canadian Artist Paul Anka under the direction of French Composer Michel Colombier. He and Michel forged a deep friendship lasting until Michel’s untimely passing in 2004. He considers Michel one of his most influential mentors, crediting him with validation for his ability to bring diverse musical genres together in his arrangements.


He produced Teddy Pendergrass's comeback album “Truly Blessed” for EMI Records (the song "How Can You Mend A Broken Heart" was nominated for a Grammy) and the O’Jays’ “For the Love” for MCA Records. He also produced critically acclaimed debut albums for Epic Associated Nicky Holland (Tears for Fears fame) and Fernando Saunders (Lou Reed) for A&M records. As an arranger/keyboardist, Derek has worked with musical legends such as Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Michael Bolton, Kenny Loggins, Lowen and Navarro, Will Smith, Paul Buckmaster, and New Order, to name a few.

One of Derek’s long-time collaborators is Contemporary Jazz pianist Keiko Matsui. He arranged and produced 23 of her albums. Most notable are Doll (1993), Sapphire (1995), and Dream Walk (1996), solidified Keiko as a Contemporary Jazz force, leading to multiple Top Ten Hits on the Billboard charts.


In 1999, he took on the monumental live recording of The World Festival of Sacred Music ~ The America’s, resulting in a two-CD collection of 22 artists performing in different venues across Los Angeles over a 10-day period.” It was an unprecedented project taken on without corporate or major label sponsorship. 


Derek is particularly proud of his relationship with the late Angolan Icon Waldemar Bastos, producing his last studio album Classics of My Soul, featuring the London Symphony Orchestra in 2010. Derek performed with Waldemar in Lisbon with the Gulbenkian Orchestra as well as in his homeland, Luanda, Angola.


He recently scored music for the films “Norman Mineta and His Legacy – An American Story” on PBS as well as “100 Years from Mississippi”, also feature on PBS. 


He has arranged Orchestral and Choir music for Japanese New Age Artist and Author, Marth, working with the Czech National Symphonic Orchestra & Choral under the baton of Adam Klemens, recording and filming at the Rudolphinum’s world-renowned Dvorak Hall. 



Derek produced Asian American Icon, Nobuko Miyamoto’s newest CD 120,000 Stories along with Quetzal Flores (Quetzal) for Smithsonian Folkways Label. Their relationship spans over 40 years, with Nobuko entrusting him in 1984 with producing The Best of Both Worlds, his first album production. This was followed by her 1997 CD, To All Relations. Their work together over the decades includes stage productions such as Talk Story, Environmental videos B.Y.O. Chopstixs, and Obon Compositions Mottainai and Kangie, now featured in Festivals across the country. Derek proudly serves as her Musical Director.


In 2023, Derek is focusing on his own music, releasing his most personal work with an album entitled “Is Today the Day?” He plans to tour as a Performing Keynote Speaker in 2024, sharing his life journey of exploration with the wish of inspiring others to find their own unique voices and self-expression.  

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