A new genre of jazz music was born upon Hiromi Uehara’s arrival to the music scene with her first album ‘Another Mind’ released in 2003 at the age of 24. The pianist/composer’s successfully dynamic combination of analogue and digital in the mediums of jazz, classical, electronica, rock and r’n’b is an instrumental zone that Hiromi excels in with flying colours. We met at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, London. The warmly dim lighting and dark interior beautifully contrasted with aged photographs of jazz legends having been and gone, leaving an echo of their music breathing in its walls.
SPIRATIVITY: How are you?
HIROMI: I am fine thank you! (Smiles and stretches slightly)
SPIRATIVITY: How was your journey to London and what are your impressions?
HIROMI: My journey was great! It’s my third time here. However, if I am here for a gig I never get time to see the city. Two years ago I did do some sightseeing – I was like wow the London Eye and Big Ben (big smile). They were really nice!
SPIRATIVITY: Could you describe your hometown Hamamatsu?
HIROMI: It is the most famous place for green tea farm, and there is also a Yamaha piano factory. It’s beautiful and peaceful. I hope you can visit there someday!
SPIRATIVITY: What are your earliest experiences with the piano?
HIROMI: The very first time was when I was six years old. My mum took me to the piano lesson. (Plays with her hair and smiles)
– Was you nervous? No, just very excited.
SPIRATIVITY: What do you feel has been your best performance? And Why?
HIROMI: I hope it is tonight (laughs)! Whenever I do a performance I always hope it is the best day of my life. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. (continues laughing)
SPIRATIVITY: Apart from touring the world, and the growth in fame – How has your personal life changed since the release of your first album, ‘Another Mind’?
HIROMI: Well, I am basically living on a plane! (She laughs).
– And what is that like? It’s fun, but not easy. But I love performing so much! The joy is to have the opportunity to be able to perform all around the world.
– Sounds like a busy schedule and you don’t get much time for yourself. Yes, not much really (smiling).
SPIRATIVITY: Your music is very unique and individual! To what extent has Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal and Noriko Hakita influenced your music?
HIROMI: Ah, so much! I am influenced from all different people, not only musicians. They made me realise that I have to be very original and have a strong musical voice. I didn’t want to be a copycat of anybody. The way to respect all the people I love is to eat the music (leans forward), have it in my blood and bones, and try to explore it in as much different ways as possible to create my own identity.
SPIRATIVITY: The ‘three piece jazz’ Spiral album shifts in tempo and evokes feelings and sets moods. What were your initial ideas and approaches when making the album?
HIROMI: I really wanted make my band into a three-piece orchestra! Because in jazz music a lot of the times the pieces are based on the main person accompanied with side performers. But I wanted every body to be the main dish. So sometimes we can change roles and the drummer can become the main dish – and I can become the drummer using the very percussive side of the piano. Always grooving and playing bass and play higher strings and be melodic. Each of us has both a rhythmic and lyrical side to our playing. So we are always taking turns in being lyrical or rhythmic.
SPIRATIVITY: What are your key messages behind your music?
HIROMI: Passion and love! I am playing the music I love and I really play it from my heart, and whatever the out form is – it doesn’t matter whether it’s art or music. The really strong key thing always comes direct to your heart. Even if it’s a visual thing it doesn’t come to your eyes! Even if it is a listening thing it doesn’t come to your ears, it goes directly to your spirit! And that is what I am aiming for! (Smiles).
– Spirativity. The combination of our spirit and creativity! Yes! (points at me enthusiastically)
SPIRATIVITY: How is the relationship between you and the band?
HIROMI: The relationship has been good. We have been together for three and half years now. We always get into stupid fights (laughs), but we always have respect for each other, and we love music – so there is always a bond!
SPIRATIVITY: They are artists in their own right, so how do you find the time to tour and work together?
HIROMI: They are very loyal and devoted to my music. I am very lucky to have two of them in my band, and I really respect them!
SPIRATIVITY: There is an evident conversational dialogue between you and the band when performing. Could you describe the spiritual dialogue between yourself and the piano when performing?
HIROMI: For the piano and me it is always a blind date (puts hands together)! I meet different pianos every single day (smiles and laughs). I can’t take my piano with me like a bassist can take his instrument. So whenever I arrive I am a bit nervous to see what kind of piano is waiting for me. Sometimes it is very easy to work with and sometimes very hard – I am always hoping to meet a good piano.
SPIRATIVITY: And how is the piano tonight?
HIROMI: It’s very hard! (Frown) It’s bit like a toy piano. But once I meet the piano I have no other choice, because I need to have a good date right! So I am trying to please the piano to have the best outcome (winks)!
SPIRATIVITY: Is there a place you travel to within yourself when performing?
HIROMI: No – For me I always need to have two sides to me when I play! I need to be a performer and at the same time the producer. So I need to be somewhere up in the air and producing my music. I can’t just be the performer; otherwise I can’t see the whole view. I need the big view!
SPIRATIVITY: You successfully combine the grand piano and the electric keyboard. Describe the relationship between both.
HIROMI: The first reason why I started to use the keyboard is because I really like the bending sound of the guitar and bass player. I can’t bend the piano sound. I really like the feel behind it. I feel it adds flavour and character to my music.
SPIRATIVITY: When you were younger you played to colours under Noriko Hakita. Do you have a favourite colour? And how does this colour represent Hiromi?
HIROMI: I love all kinds of colours! I totally love all kinds of colours! I don’t think I would be happy with one colour!
– What colour best symbolises your life at present? I have no idea! (laughs). I have always liked black and white! It is simple and the colour of the piano.
– Unless it’s an all white piano right? Oh yeah, but I don’t really like those pianos (continues to laugh and smile)
SPIRATIVITY: How has your music helped you develop as a person?
HIROMI: It taught me how to always be patient and focused, and to train the little concentration in myself.
SPIRATIVITY: And your hairstyle is always fantastically random! Is there a relationship to your music?
HIROMI: Well, I love playing with my hair (makes gestures). You know some artists just go and play, and I have no objections to that – but I don’t like to do that. People take their very precious time to come to my concert, and they give me the opportunity to share two hours of their lives. I want to do the best I can, for visuals, sound and everything!
– Do you do it yourself? Yeah! (smiles)
– Wow, that’s great!
SPIRATIVITY: What is your philosophy in life?
HIROMI: To be nice to people and make them happy (laughs)!
SPIRATIVITY: What are your future plans and dreams?
HIROMI: To keep playing music! (laughs)
– I recently read that you would like to make soundtracks to movies. Yeah (enthusiastically). Actually I am doing one now for a Japanese film! But I don’t think I can name the film! Sorry!
SPIRATIVITY: Totally understandable! And what advice would you give to aspiring artists?
HIROMI: No way (laughing), I can’t give any advice! I should receive some tips instead! I really have nothing that I can teach – I am still young (smiling). Give me some tips… (eyes open wide)
SPIRATIVITY: So what do you do that helps to improve your music?
HIROMI: Just work your… (laughing) work hard! Just keep working hard until you can do something you want to do! We all progress at different speeds and in different ways, so be patient and keep working hard!
SPIRATIVITY: Is there something you do everyday without fail?
HIROMI: Eat well! I love food! (laughing)
– What type of food do you like? Any kind! Good food! (smiles)
SPIRATIVITY: What is the difference between a good and great artist?
HIROMI: Oh my goodness (laughing)! That’s a hard question! There are only great artists I think! But Individuality and originality is was separates good and great artists! How much they can move people with what they do! If they can shake the heart with what they do, is the key! Art is not that much needed in life, we only need sleep and food. But why do people want art? Because they want to feel emotion! So emotionally moving things is great art to me!
SPIRATIVITY: Do you find anything in particular inspiring?
HIROMI: Anything. It could be fine art or a conversation I have with somebody! Everything is inspiring!
SPIRATIVITY: What do you usually do before taking to the stage?
HIROMI: Stretch! (laughs)
SPIRATIVITY: Thank you very much for your time!
HIROMI: Thank you very much! Thank you! (Smiles and nods head)
It was in 2006 that I conducted this interview and yet it remains timeless. The self-made hairstylist took to the stage in the early evening in October of that year and immediately the audience grew excited with a childlike prescience. An ethereal energy enveloped itself around every single person. Hiromi glided across the piano effortlessly like a newly resurrected and radiant butterfly. Her sudden shift in tempo and harmony was breathtaking and beyond anything I had previously heard or seen. In a change of a split-second you could be drifting in the clouds by her delicacy and in the next pounding through a rainforest with her ferociousness.
At every change in tempo the audience were completely awe-inspired and responded with applause in abundance. And if you dared to take your eyes off the performance, it was easy to find in every corner of Ronnie Scott’s someone moving their body to the heartbeat of Hiromi’s music. So why is Hiromi so liked? It is simply because Hiromi is true to her heart and she expresses her passion through interacting with the audience by smiling, laughing and winking constantly. Her energy ebbs and flows in multiple colours and sinks into everybody, moving them like a puppet on strings with her spiritual creativity (Spirativity) always in full bloom like a Cherry Blossom in Spring.
Interview by Barry Crisp (B. L. Crisp)
Photography by Frank Capri
Another Mind, 2003
Time Control, 2007
Beyond Standard, 2008
Chick & Hiromi (Duet), 2008
Place to Be, 2009
Plus: two albums with Stanley Clark