Japanese Jazz Prodigy Hiromi: 'Spiral'

At just 26 years old, Hiromi is considered one of Japan's best jazz pianists and composers. Musician and Day to Day contributor David Was says her music is "part classical, part jazz and part simply unclassifiable." He reviews her third album, Spiral.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

Mr. DAVID WAS (Musician, Journalist): Jazz was born and raised in America, but has taken root in far corners of the globe, and has been embraced with fervor unknown on these ungrateful shores.

CHADWICK: It's musician and regular DAY TO DAY contributor, David Was.

Mr. WAS: This is especially true in Japan, where artists like Ryuichi Sakamoto and Sadao Watanabe have garnered worldwide acclaim. Add to their ranks a twenty-six-year-old keyboard phenom named Hiromi Uehara, or just Hiromi for short. Her new album, Spiral, is her third on the esteemed Telarc label, and follows on the heels of her wildly successful debut in 2003, which sold 100,000 units in Japan alone.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WAS: Bonus DVD of a song entitled, Return of Kung-Fu World Champion, shows Hiromi to be a wild-haired waif, whose energy and intensity belie her petite frame.

Poised over an electronic keyboard, and a Yamaha grand piano, she rat-a-tats funky baselines on the former, and then elaborates harmonically and melodically on the latter as her two western bandmates try to keep pace with the impossibly brisk tempo.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WAS: Her technique is formidable, and must have always been. At the age of 14, she performed with the Czech Philharmonic, then sat in with pianist Chick Corea three years later in Tokyo. She made a small pile of yen doing jingles for Nissan and others in Japan, then made her way to that renowned jazz hatchery, the Berklee School of Music in Boston, where she found a mentor in legendary jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal, whose biggest fan was always Miles Davis.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WAS: Part of Hiromi's appeal is her catholic taste as a listener. With a professed love for Bach and Liszt and Oscar Peterson, one comes to understand her penchant for conventional pianism, and her sure sense of swing. But half of her heart belongs to musical adventures, like King Crimson and Sly Stone, leading Hiromi to resist being labeled as a mere jazz artist.

Other people can put a name on what I do, she says, it has elements of classical and rock and jazz, but I don't want to give it a name. If she won't, I will. Hiromi is a 21st century improviser, and defies easy pigeonholing. Like Duke Ellington said, there are only two kinds of music, good and bad; and she ain't bad at all.

CHADWICK: Musician and DAY TO DAY contributing writer David Was. The album by Hiromi Uehara is called Spiral.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Related NPR Stories

Purchase Featured Music

Spiral

Purchase Music

close

Purchase Featured Music

  • Album: Spiral
  • Artist: Hiromi Uehara
  • Label: Telarc
  • Released: 2006
 

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.