NYC Pianist Tadataka Unno Returns to Stage After Being Told He Wouldn’t Play Again Following Subway Attack

Tadataka Unno had been playing piano since he was 4 years old, but after getting attacked by a group of teens in a subway station, doctors said he'd never perform again.

Almost a year after Tadataka Unno was attacked and beaten coming out of a New York City subway, the jazz pianist returned to play like he never left.

Tada says at one time, this was hard to picture. “Even doctor told me, ‘You may not be able to play piano again.’”

On September 27, 2020, Tada was headed to his Harlem home when a group of mask-less teens blocked the turnstile exit at the 135th street subway station.

As he tried passing by, one of the teens claimed Tada pushed one of the girls. “And they clearly lied,” he states. “Nonsense reason to attack me.”

“At first, I was convinced that there was an Asian hate crime because when somebody was beating me up, calling me Chinese, this I'm sorry, we cannot really broadcast, but it's ‘Chinese mother—r,’ just beat him up.”

He tried to get away, but Tada says the teens followed him.

“There are people, many people just watching me. So I was screaming, ‘Help me.’ But most of the people just ignore me.”

He said that eventually a Spanish lady came to his aid and then called the police.

Tada’s injuries included a broken collarbone and bruises to his head, body and hands. He was rushed to a local hospital and underwent emergency surgery.

A metal plate was placed into his broken collarbone, affecting his mobility and ability to play the piano.

At the time, the NYPD did not classify the incident as a hate crime because they said no anti-Asian remarks were noted in the police report. They add that there are still no arrests, and since the incident happened in the subway, the MTA’s transit robbery squad is investigating. 

Police still have not specified whether they will classify the attack a as a hate crime.

While in the hospital, his doctor told Tata he might not be able to play again. Which was heartbreaking considering it's his livelihood and has been a passion since he was young.

“I start playing piano since I was four,” he reveals. “When I was nine, I switched to play jazz. So my kind of panic and also so sad. I didn't know what to do if I cannot play the piano anymore. I should find another job or know how to make living. And also, I just got a newborn baby last year, June.”

Tada’s career led him to NYC from his native Japan in 2008. And he says he got into jazz music when he was 9 with the help of his father. From then on, it was a dream to play with the best.

“I dreamed to play with like Jimmy Cobb legend. And then, especially when I joined Roy Hargrove band, I was the only Asian people as the other people was African American. So everybody treated me like their brother that, which was so happy because I am not grew up this country as a jazz musician.”

After his incident, Tada’s New York family showed up for him. Friend and fellow jazz musician,Jerome Jennings even started a GoFundMe for him.  

Originally, he’d asked for $25,000 to take care of medical expenses and rent since Tada is his family’s sole breadwinner. But the response was so warm, and they wound up crowdfunding over $300,000.

Tada returned to Tokyo, where he rehabbed for five months. He then returned to New York City in May but admitted he was nervous.

“I was so afraid still to this day. I cannot go to the subway. I can not get on subway. It's still hard for me, but little by little, get to use to walk around by myself, but it's still hard.”

Tada and his family have moved out of Harlem and are beginning the next chapter. And he recently had a triumphant moment when he played alongside the John Pizzarelli Trio at one of the city’s most historic jazz clubs.

And he says the moment was incredible.

“It was so amazing feeling because grew up where I have so many memories with a late belated Roy Hargrove. I was his pianist for last two years until his passing. So I have performed at the Blue Note stage many time, bunch of times, for two years. So I have so many memories there and feel like finally came back home.”

Later on this fall, Tada will undergo more surgery to remove the metal plate in his shoulder. He has limited motion, but as he notes, the melody does not end there.

“As a musician, I play music because of that I'm believing music is a universal language. The people can relate each other, feel each other, so never give up to this fight.”

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