Masahiko Kono was born December 7, 1951, in Kawasaki, Kanagawa prefecture, Japan. He started playing flute in 1966, when he was in high school. In 1971, as a student at Wako University in Tokyo, his friend the late pianist Yoshito Osawa introduced Kono to trumpeter Toshinori Kondo. Soon thereafter Kono gave up the flute for the trumpet in order to study trumpet with Kondo. Preferring the sound of the trombone to that of the trumpet, however, Kono took up trombone in 1976. Among the trombonists he listened to a great deal at that time were Paul Rutherford, George Lewis and Roswell Rudd. Kono formed a free jazz/free improvisation group called Tree which, besides himself, consisted of two sax players and a guitarist. The group toured around Japan for about a year and then disbanded. Subsequently, Kono sometimes participated in the group EEU (Evolution Ensemble Unit), which was formed by Kondo, drummer Toshiyuki Tsuchitori, sax player Mototeru Takagi and bassist Motoharu Yoshizawa, and played with numerous other musicians, including violinist Takehisa Kosugi.
Kono made his first trip to New York City in the fall of 1980 and stayed there for three months. During this time he met and played at jazz clubs with American musicians such as percussionist Milford Graves, guitarist Elliot Sharp and bassist William Parker. After returning to Japan, he played/toured with Japanese musicians like Kondo, drummer Shoji Hano and pianist Katsuo Itabashi (with whom he made a duo album in 1983), and non-Japanese musicians like violinist Billy Bang, drummer Paul Lovens and guitarist Derek Bailey.
In the summer of '83, Kono returned to New York City, planning to go on to Mexico. At the time he had no intention of living in New York. While there, however, he frequented a club called Saint, where alto sax player John Zorn had a weekly gig. When Zorn and guitarist Fred Frith invited Kono to join them in a concert, he postponed his visit to Mexico, and eventually decided to settle in New York with his family. In 1984 he played at the Kool Jazz Festival as a member of bassist William Parker's big band. From 1985 to the early '90s, he often played with alto sax player Jemeel Moondoc's Jus Grew Orchestra. He appeared on FM station WKCR in 1987, performing with alto sax player Ken McIntyre and percussionist Warren Smith. In the fall of that year he gave a duo performance with George Lewis at the club The Kitchen, in a festival showcasing Japanese musicians that was produced by Zorn and guitarist Arto Lindsay. In 1989 Kono participated in a studio recording by drummer William Hooker, which was later released with the title The Firmament Fury. In the same year, Kono received his U.S. residency. He spent a month in Japan in December '91-January '92, during which he played with such musicians as Kosugi, Yoshizawa, Hano and guitarist Haruhiko Gotsu.
In fall of 1992, Kono spent two weeks in Oaxaca, Mexico, a place he had long wanted to visit. In addition to joining in various local bands, including a salsa and a folk dance band, he played alone on downtown streets and near the ruins of Monte Alban. Although his visit was brief, he feels he gained a great deal from his experiences in Mexico. (While there he made a solo recording using a portable cassette tape recorder, and this was later released as a tape entitled Mexico.)
In the '90s, Kono has played and recorded as a member of William Hooker's band and of the Ellen Christie and Fiorenzo Sordini Quintet. The former band's live recordings from November '92 and April '94 were later released as a CD called Radiation; and the latter band's 1991 studio recording was released the following year as the CD A Piece of the Rock. In '93 the Christie and Sordini Quintet, with Kono, toured in Italy, Austria and North America. Kono played often over a one-year period with cellist Boris Rayskin, and participated in William Parker and the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, whose live recording of 1994 was released as th CD Flowers Grow In My Room. For the past several years he has played with José Halac, and he participated in the 1994 Halac recording which became the CD Illegal Edge. Since 1995, Kono has played many times with pianist Cecil Taylor's big band. Currently, he also plays regularly with Japanese bassist Hideki Kato, another New York resident. Kono led a group consisting of himself, Zusaan Kali Fasteau, Halac and Kato in a performance at the Vision for the 21st Century Arts Festival in New York in June of 1996.