Although her head is swaying and her eyes are closed, Hiromi Uehara’s fingers are a blur as she thunders out a one-woman symphony every time she sits down at the piano. As far as how she explains what’s happening, she says playing the piano is like digging for emotional treasure.
Since the age of 6, the Japanese-born composer, now 36, has been using the piano as her voice, the complex sound piece for her many emotions. At the age of 14 her unique talent earned her a spot performing with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and at 17, famed jazz pianist Chick Corea invited her to play with him after a chance meeting the previous day. She went on to study under Ahmad Jamal at the Berklee College of Music. Her original tunes can be heard promoting massive international brands such as Nissan and, more importantly, channeling each note directly from her heart.
For the last decade, the pianist has toured the world, enrapturing audiences with her sound, which has the quality of boisterous laughter, intense sadness, contentment, unrest and pure joy, all within the course of a single song.
Making her Vail debut as the Trio Project with bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Steve Smith, Hiromi took a few moments to answer some questions for Vail Jazz.
Vail Jazz: Many children are introduced to the piano at an early age, but few connect with it the way you did. What allured you to the piano as a small child and how does it continue to inspire you?
Hiromi: I was very lucky to have met a great teacher at age of 6 years old. She was a piano teacher in my hometown and she was a big jazz fan as well. She introduced me to the recordings of Errol Garner and Oscar Peterson. When she taught me the classical music, she always colored the score with colored pencils and said “Play Red” instead of playing with the dynamics of forte, “Play Blue” instead of playing with the dynamics pianissimo [soft touch].
Vail Jazz: What were the most important points your piano teacher taught you at that age?
Hiromi: She tried to always explain that music comes from heart to heart, not from fingers to the brain and she encouraged me to see the music visually.
Vail Jazz: Of all the individuals who have influenced your musical career, who has made the most resounding impact?
Hiromi: It is impossible to list one. If I have to name a few, Errol Garner and Oscar Peterson who I listened to when I was 8 years old, Chick Corea who I first met at 17 years old, Ahmad Jamal who has always been the big inspiration and support to my career, and Frank Zappa, my musical hero.
Vail Jazz: In watching your studio video clip of Alive, you look as if you’re lost in a different world, completely possessed by emotion as you play. Can you describe the energy coursing through you?
Hiromi: When I am playing the piano, I feel so alive, I feel so energized.
Vail Jazz: How does it help your performance to close your eyes as you play?
Hiromi: I never even thought about it, it is something very natural..
Vail Jazz: How do you measure the success of a performance? When do you know you’ve crossed the threshold of really becoming one with the music?
Hiromi: When I find something new when I play, that’s the most exciting moment. It is like treasure hunting. I am trying to look for
new landscape in music everyday.
Hiromi Uehara makes her Vail debut from 6 to 8 p.m. on Aug. 6 for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square in Lionshead. Jazz Tent tickets are $15 or $30 for VIP seats (including front of the tent seating and a drink ticket). Ticket prices go up an hour before showtime. For tickets or more information, visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.