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Hiromi

Hiromi Uehara, who goes by Hiromi professionally, is a virtuosic piano performer and composer. She has roots in jazz, but refuses to box herself into any one genre. Her self-published Spotify profile describes her as having “creative energy that encompasses and eclipses the boundaries of jazz, classical and pop, taking improvisation and composition to new heights of complexity and sophistication.”

Hiromi Uehara (上原 ひろみ). "Hiromi Uehara" by pollobarca2 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0.

Born in Shizuoka in 1979, Hiromi began taking piano lessons at age 6 with teacher Noriko Hikida. At the same time, Hiromi enrolled in the Yamaha School of Music and started to write her own pieces. Hikida’s lessons took a somewhat unconventional approach: in addition to teaching the technical aspects of piano, Hikida instructed Hiromi to think about music in terms of colors rather than traditional musical words. Hikida used colored pencils to color musical symbols and words in Hiromi’s sheet music, so that even as a child she could interpret them emotionally.


Hiromi studied with Hikida until age 18, and from a young age it was clear that she loved performing. By age 17, she had already played alongside the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and jazz legend Chick Corea.


After the boss of a jingle company heard one of her shows in Tokyo and learned she also composed, he invited her to work as a jingle writer herself. Hiromi was interested in scoring for visual media, so she accepted and had fun writing jingles for companies such as Nissan. The job was her first time regularly composing for instruments besides piano; this increased her interest in other instruments, and so she decided to apply to the Berklee College of Music in Boston.


In 1999, at age 20, Hiromi moved to the United States and started at Berklee College. It was there that one of her mentors, jazz bassist and arranger Richard Evans, showed Hiromi's demo tape to his friend, famous jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal. Evans and Jamal co-produced Hiromi’s debut album, Another Mind, which was released to critical success in North America and Japan in 2003, the same year she graduated from Berklee.

Jamal is quoted in the biography page on Hiromi’s website saying, “She is nothing short of amazing. Her music, together with her overwhelming charm and spirit, causes her to soar to unimaginable musical heights.”


Hiromi has indeed soared: she has performed all over the world, and even on the world stage in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony. She has appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival multiple times, most recently in 2022 as part of a tribute to the passing of festival founder George Wein. She has won many awards throughout her career, the most distinguished being a Grammy Award that she shares with the The Stanley Clarke Band. Hiromi performed on the band's self-titled album, which won Best Contemporary Jazz Album at the Grammys in 2011.

Hiromi’s passion, dedication, musical versatility, and flair has captured a hugely diverse audience. Spotify displays the top 5 cities where each artist is most played, and Hiromi's list as of January 2023 is impressively global: Tokyo, London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Istanbul. The pianist herself has noted the variety in her listeners, telling Jazzed magazine,

“When I see my own audience, it’s really mixed from young to the old. Then there are teenagers. At one concert in Europe, I saw a 7 year-old kid who definitely looked like he’s studying piano. Next to him there was a lady who was wearing a really nice dress with a pearl necklace. And then next to her there was a guy who was in an Iron Maiden t-shirt. That’s how my audiences are, and it’s amazing to see all these different characters that come to my show. I really appreciate that.”

Hiromi's 2019 album "Spectrum"

The colors of Hiromi’s childhood playing still resonate with her in adulthood, evident especially in her most recent solo album, Spectrum. Hiromi’s solo albums are a personal project: her goal is to create one every decade reflecting on the last 10 years of her life.

Hiromi’s 2009 album, Place to Be, was released as she was turning 30 and aimed to capture “the sound of her twenties.” Spectrum, recorded in 2019 on the eve of her 40th birthday, is a vibrant reflection of her musical journey in her 30s. Every piece on the album revolves around the theme of colors. Hiromi reflected on the development of her playing in Jazzed magazine, saying:

“The more you play, you can technically play more things in more ways. But you also can have more colors in your palette. When I was 6, if the teacher told me you have to play blue, then I probably knew one way to play blue. Now I can play deep blue, light blue. I know so many different ways to play blue as well as other colors. It doesn’t only come with techniques and the piano; it also comes with the experience of life and so many different things. If you are sincere with your instrument, I think you can make that happen.”


Further reading:

Listen to Hiromi’s Music:

Kaleidoscope (Spectrum, 2019) Spotify | Youtube

Libertango - Live (Live In Montreal, 2017) Spotify | Youtube

Connect with Hiromi:

 

Works Cited

E! News, "Twitter / @enews: In a room full of athletic..." 23 Jul. 2021, 10:54 a.m. https://twitter.com/enews/status/1418585328336707585.



"Hiromi: Composing with Colors". Jazzed Magazine, 21 Oct. 2019, https://www.jazzedmagazine.com/articles/spotlight/hiromi-composing-with-colors/.


"Hiromi Uehara". Berklee College of Music, n.d., https://college.berklee.edu/people/hiromi-uehara.


Lutz, Phillip. "The Kaleidoscopic Colors of Hiromi’s Pianism". Downbeat, 5 Dec. 2019, https://downbeat.com/news/detail/kaleidoscopic-colors-hiromi-pianism.


Robicheau, Paul. "Festival Review: 2022 Newport Jazz Festival — A Relaxed Musical Vibe, Communal and Diverse". the arts fuse, 3 Aug. 2022, https://artsfuse.org/259804/festival-review-2022-newport-jazz-festival-a-relaxed-musical-vibe-communal-and-diverse/.


Steiman, Harvey. "Pianist Hiromi Uehara is redefining the possibilities for combining classical music and jazz". Seen and Heard International, 9 Dec. 2022, https://seenandheard-international.com/2022/09/pianist-hiromi-uehara-is-redefining-the-possibilities-for-combining-classical-music-and-jazz/.


Uehara, Hiromi. "PROFILE | Hiromi Uehara". Hiromi Uehara official site, n.d., https://www.hiromiuehara.com/s/y01en/artist/001/profile?ima=0000.

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