Hiromi’s love affair with the piano
by Seth Rogovoy
(LENOX, Mass., August 28, 2003) – When she was six years old, Hiromi gave her first public performance as part of a student recital. When she was done playing her piece, she refused to leave the piano. While eventually she was coaxed away to make room for the next player, in a sense she hasn’t left the keyboard ever since.
“I just love it so much,” said Hiromi about playing her instrument. “It’s the ultimate place to communicate my energy with people.”
Energy is a word that crops up a lot in descriptions of Hiromi’s playing, as well as in her own conversation, as it did in a recent phone interview from her apartment in Boston. On her new debut album, “Another Mind” (Telarc Jazz), the 24-year-old pianist’s inordinately energetic playing on nine of her original compositions leaps out at a listener.
It has also garnered the attention of managers and promoters; hence Hiromi’s coveted opening slot with her trio on Sunday night in the Koussevitzky Shed warming up the audience for the final concert of the Tanglewood Jazz Festival, featuring pop-jazz singer Natalie Cole and the Wynton Marsalis Septet, starting at 8.
Born in Shizuoka, Japan, in 1979, Hiromi Uehara enrolled in the Yamaha School of Music at age seven. By 12 she was performing with with orchestras, and at 14 she traveled to Czechoslovokia to perform with the Czech Philharmonic.
After a few years of writing advertising jingles for Nissan and a few other Japanese companies, Hiromi came to the U.S. in 1999 to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston, from which she graduated last May.
“Jazz is not the most popular music in Japan,” said Hiromi, explaining why she came here, “but Japanese jazz musicians work hard to capture the general public for jazz music. These days it’s getting more attention than before. But jazz vocal music is more popular than instrumental music.”
At first, she said, living in Boston “was a big challenge because the culture is so different and I didn’t speak English before I came here, so it was hard. I don’t know how long it took to adjust. I didn’t realize when I got used to it. It was just so natural.
“I still miss home. My favorite food is still Japanese food. I love Japanese culture and the way they think. But musically living in the States is the biggest treasure I can get.”
At Berklee, Hiromi caught the attention of veteran jazz bassist Richard Evans, who introduced the young pianist to his friend and longtime collaborator Ahmad Jamal. When it came time to record her debut album, Jamal and Evans agreed to act as co-producers, lending the unknown’s effort instant credibility.
Also working in her favor was Hiromi’s wide-ranging musical palette, which incorporates funk, rock, minimalism, jam-rock, fusion and classical, sometimes all in one song.
“I didn’t think I wanted to be a jazz piano player, just a piano player,” said Hiromi. “I love my instrument. There is great respect between me and my instrument.”
Hiromi credits her first piano teacher, Noriko Hikida, for exposing her to jazz from an early age.
“I studied classical, but she was also into jazz music and started showing me Erroll Garner when I was eight, so I grew up listening to jazz and classical,” said Hiromi. “Then when I went to high school I started listening more to rock and roll.”
But when it comes to questions of genre, Hiromi just thinks in terms of her instrument, communication, and energy.
“I always wanted to be a pianist and love to improvise so much. You never know what’s going to come. I always play differently. I don’t really think about the category of the music. I just wanted to be a pianist.
“I’m a very happy and positive-thinking person and I love living life. Talking to people gives me so much energy and ideas. I love being in nature and sports games, which have lot of energy, too. When Michael Jordan jumps, at that moment the whole stadium is one and they love it so much, and everyone loves and respects each other. I love that so much. I think I’m good at finding happiness in life. Small things can make me so happy.
“I’m just playing the music I love. I love energy so much. My music has one really strong energy, and I think that -- the big energy – makes the album coherent.”
[This article originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on August 30, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]
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