By Dan Grunebaum
A recent spot on the Oscar Peterson tour capped the jazz
Asia has the ability to produce technically perfect musicians
in droves, but only a small number are viewed as gifted interpreters
or composers. So when much-ballyhooed jazz pianist Hiromi
Uehara launched into a technically astounding display at a
recent tribute for Oscar Peterson at the Canadian Embassy,
the tendency was to say, Oh, another clinical technician
with little emotional expressiveness.
But when the diminutive Uehara, who makes up for her size
with larger-than-life energy, played her second number, that
first impression was reversed. A solo composition from her
sophomore album Brain (Telarc), Green Tea Farm
was a moody, evocative piece that recalled the densely textured
harmonic innovations of influential 60s jazzman Bill
The song, it turns out, was inspired by Ueharas grandparents
tea plantation, near where she grew up in rural Shizuoka Prefecture.
Born in 1979, Uehara followed the typical trajectory of a
child prodigy, beginning piano lessons at 6 and performing
with the Czech Philharmonic at age 14.
But a chance encounter with jazz pianist Chick Corea at age
17 led to a loss for the classical world that was to be the
jazz worlds gain. Uehara, at that time a student at
the Yamaha School of Music, had the chance to meet Corea and
improvise with him. The next day, he invited her onstage at
his Tokyo concert, and the pairs impromptu performance
went so well that Ueharas career was set on a path toward
She enrolled, and last year graduated from, Bostons
formidable Berklee College of Music, also releasing her debut,
Another Mind, the same year. Brimming with energy and dissonant
harmonies, the album went gold in Japan and also made the
jazz world at large take note. Uehara was soon hitting the
festival circuit, performing at such marquee events as the
JVC Jazz Festival in New York.
Wasting no time, she followed up Another Mind with Brain,
a more Spartan trio effort released this May. A collage of
different styles and emotions, the album, recorded with fellow
Berklee musicians Tony Grey (bass) and Martin Valihora (drums)
as well as special guest Anthony Jackson (bass), showcases
the many influences that Uehara has absorbed in her brief
25 years. Her inspirations, she says, range from the aforementioned
jazz lion Oscar Peterson to Bach, and on to popular figures
such as Sly and the Family Stone and King Crimson.
I dont want to put a name on my music, Uehara
says. Other people can put a name on what I do. Its
just the union of what Ive been listening to and what
Ive been learning. It has some elements of classical
music, it has some rock, it has some jazz, but I dont
want to give it a name.
At a time when many emerging Japanese jazz artistsand
Western ones as wellare making careers out of covering
standards, Uehara has recorded only her own compositions.
Her fiercely determined originality makes her a standout,
and a figure to watch in coming years.
Shibuya O-East, November 24-25.
See concert listings for details.
credit: Yamaha Music Foundation
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