The people at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant, 1010 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, are not strangers to jazz pianist and composer, Hiromi Uehara, nor is she a stranger to them; she has played there four times in the last few years. Her engagement at the club on June 17th to June 19th turned out to be something special. The Japan America Society of Minnesota (JASM) sponsored Monday, June 18 and Tuesday, June 19 of her appearance as its 2007 and fourth Harukaze (Festival of the Arts).
Consul General of Japan at Chicago, Kenji Shinoda and his wife Yuko made a special trip to Minneapolis to see Hiromi and her band, Hiromi’s Sonicbloom perform and attended a special dinner at the Dakota in his and Mrs. Shindo’s honor.
Of course, the Consul General came to see a raising Japanese musician and composer who was not only building bridges of understanding between America and Japan, but bridges worldwide. Since her appearance at the Dakota last month she has had dates in the U.K., Canada, Spain and Italy. On July 29 she will start a Japan tour of four cities.
People will tell you Hiromi is different, energetic, progressive … She moves when she plays throwing her head back, standing and sitting. She will turn and play her keyboard jetting from the side of the piano and stretching past her piano stool, sometimes playing the keyboard with her right hand and the piano with her left.
Amazon.com says, “…Hiromi practices an art of surprises, touching on video game tempos and Bill Evans harmonics as she arranges tradition and novelty in fresh configurations.”
“I’m very focused in the music that I play … it’s more about energy than notes — what kind of atmosphere I want to create and what kind of energy I want to express,” Hiromi says
When Hiromi was six, her first piano teacher, helped her with that focus. “When she wanted me to play with a certain kind of dynamics, she wouldn’t say it in technical terms. If the piece was something passionate, she would say, ‘play red.’ Or if it was something mellow she would say, ‘play blue.’ I could really play with my heart that way, and not just my ears.”
Young Hiromi soon moved to the Yamaha School of Music, playing and composing with her heart and ears. She was performing in public at 12. At 14 she went to Czechoslovakia and played with the Czech Philharmonic.
By the time she was 17 and still taking lessons at Yamaha, she met famed American jazz pianist Chick Corea, who was visiting Yamaha. He asked her if she could improvise, she said yes and they sat at two pianos and improvised together. Corea was impressed and invited Hiromi to a concert he was playing the following night. Just before the concert ended, he called Hiromi to the stage and to the delight of the audience they improvised on two pianos.
In 1999 she came to America and enrolled in Boston’s Berklee College of Music. She found the culture was different from Japan but found people aiming for the same goal in music. “It’s such a great thing and there were so many people and so many people to be important in my life.”
One of those important people was famed jazz pianist and composer, Ahmad Jamal. In 2003 he co-produced with bassist Richard Evans, Hiromi’s first album from Talarc — Another Mind.
“Hiromi continues to change the musical landscape everywhere she performs,” says Jamal. “Her music, together with her overwhelming charm and spirit, causes her to soar to unimaginable musical heights. She is nothing short of amazing.”
Her latest and fourth album for Talarc is Time Control. “I find myself at airports with more time to think about time, and I often wonder, am I controlling time or is time controlling me?”
She and the musicians in her band: bassist Tony Grey, drummer Martin Valihara and fretted and fretless guitarist David “Fuze” Fiucynski control Hiromi’s compositions dedicated to time quite well. It has been said that Time Control is the sound of progressive jazz for the next generation.
Numbers from the album were played during Hiromi’s June Dakota date and thrilled not only her fans from the next generation but fans of all jazz generations.
At one time during the program her musicians left the bandstand leaving Hiromi alone sitting at the Yamaha grand where she played to the delight of all who saw and heard, the music of another composer, George Gershwin. And she played his “I Got Rhythm” with the same gusto she played her own music enchanting her audience, and you can be sure if Gershwin had been there in spirit, he too would have been enchanted.