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July 2, 2004
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Young Jazz Musician Surprises Crowd with Piano Skills

by Sasha Vasilyuk
July 29, 2003

Nobody seemed to mind the blazing afternoon sun when the new jazz musician Hiromi Uehara and her band played in Bryant Park. Though some intentionally came to see the free concert, even passersby stopped to listen to the amazing sounds created by Hiromi’s slender hands.

At only 24 years old Hiromi is a strikingly original composer, not to mention one of the fastest pianists of our time. However, when she appeared on stage, it was hard to expect such skill and imagination from a slim young Asian woman, seemingly shy and naive with her big brown eyes. Her strong accent also surprised the audience, when at one point she exclaimed, “It’s a beautiful day. I am so happy to be here!”

Hiromi was born and raised in Japan, where she took piano lessons starting at five years old. Although she studied classical piano what she values the most is the nontraditional approach of her first teacher, Noriko Hikida. “She taught me how to play music from the heart, not just to play technically,” Hiromi said. Hiromi then explained, “She realized how great my interest was in jazz music. I started reharmonizing and played easy improvisation.”

Less than a year later Hiromi entered the Yamaha Music School, which gave her an opportunity to tour the world. “When I was 14, I went to Czechoslovakia and played with the Czech Philharmonic,” she said. “That was a great experience, to play with such a professional orchestra.”

At the age of 17 Hiromi was introduced to the pianist Chick Corea in Tokyo. After hearing Hiromi improvise, the renowned musician invited her to his concert. At the end of the concert Mr. Corea called her onto the stage to play some improvisations with him.

Mr. Corea was not the only one to notice the young musician’s talents. “Yamaha also hooked me up with my hero, Oscar Peterson,” Hiromi said. When she entered the Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1999, she also became friends with jazz veterans Richard Evans and Ahmad Jamal. They helped Hiromi release her first album “Another Mind,” which marked her graduation and entrance into the professional world of jazz. It also put her into a musical class of her own.

“Another Mind” is a conceptual reevaluation of classical and jazz trends that Hiromi encountered. In the album, the pianist does not simply sum up all she learned, but she also gives the musical currents a chance to reappear in a whole new light. From the first song “XYZ” until the last bonus track “The Tom and Jerry Show” Hiromi takes the listener on a journey with a wave of incredible energy. The diversity of speeds, pauses, syncopations and crescendos make her music rich, intense and even a little addictive.

“I want my piano trio music to sound different, bigger,” Hiromi said in her CD booklet. “I am constantly seeking new ways of using the piano.”

In the composition entitled “010101,” which she performed at the concert in Bryant Park, Hiromi did just that. She started off on the electronic keyboard, moved to the piano, and then, leaving her left hand on the piano keys, played the melody on the keyboard with her right hand. While the funky metallic melody seemed very modern and even danceable, the piano accompaniment reminded one of traditional jazz. This battle of natural and artificial, modern and traditional is as original as Hiromi’s physical trick to play on two instruments.

Hiromi remained the center of attention, but her band members Dave DiCenso on drums and Mitch Cohn on bass guitar accentuated the power of her music. “Dave and Mitch — they are fantastic,” Hiromi said proudly.

No one in Bryant Park was willing to move from under the burning sun once Hiromi started playing. Covering their heads with anything from T-shirts to newspapers, they were under the spell of her music.

For more information about the artist you can visit Hiromi's website.

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