Japanese pianist Hiromi Uehara and her band Sonicbloom have
just recorded Beyond Standard, a look at some old
jazz standards from her particular musical viewpoint. Small
in size, huge in artistic energy, she performed live in Madrid
on July 3rd 2008. That same afternoon Arturo Mora interviewed
her in the hall of her hotel.
Hiromi and Arturo Mora
ARTURO MORA: First of all, what would you like
to tell us about your new record, Beyond Standard?
HIROMI: I don’t know [laughs].
It’s a very open question. I wanted to make an album
with songs I didn’t write, and I chose the songs I’d
been playing for more than ten years and I’ve tried
to make them sound as if they were my own.
ARTURO MORA: Why did you choose your Sonicbloom
project instead of your piano trio to make that standards
HIROMI: Because when I was touring with this
band I found a lot of potential, I wanted to expand my band.
You know, my band is very edgy. I’m always looking for
some risk to take in music, always looking for the biggest
challenge, and I just couldn’t imagine us playing standards,
because this is a very non-standard band, so I thought it
would be very interesting.
ARTURO MORA: How did you meet [guitarist]
David “Fuze” Fiuczynski?
HIROMI: I met him in Boston, I was a big fan
of Fuze and his band, the Screaming Headless Torsos. Even
before I came to the States it was one of the bigger goals
for me, just to meet him in person. I invited him to play
in my first record as a special guest, and then I felt something
very special and I thought: “yeah, someday I wanna do
a full album with him.”
ARTURO MORA: Does the presence of Fuze inspire
you when writing or arranging?
HIROMI: Definitely, like in the piece “Caravan”,
I don’t think I could do it without him. As a fan I
always wanted to listen to him play that song, thinking that
Fuze is playing the melody, so OK, what can I do about it?
ARTURO MORA: Have you ever thought in adding
some kind of wind instrument to your band, like a saxophone?
HIROMI: Yeah, I went to Berklee and I studied
arranging and composition, and I studied the instruments I
don’t play, so...
ARTURO MORA: What could you tell us about the
rhythm section playing with you tonight?
HIROMI: The drummer is Jordan Perlson, we went
to school together, a brilliant drummer, amazing touch, amazing
technique. He went to Berklee with me, as Tony Grey, the bass
SERGIO CABANILLAS: Are you still playing with
Martin [Valihora, the drummer on the album]?
HIROMI: Yes, he’s now doing something
in his own country [Slovakia]. Sometimes when they have their
own thing we switch musicians. It’s fun, I really enjoy
it. The first time is always hard. Sometimes I play with this
guitar player John Shannon, a brilliant guitar player, he’s
amazing. Everybody has different aspects and music changes
and cooks itself and it’s very interesting. When I say
something every different musician talks to me in a different
way, and makes me think in another idea, so it’s always
ARTURO MORA: Browsing through your website I’ve
seen your photoblog. It looks like you’ve been doing
a bit of tourism around Madrid these days...
HIROMI: Yes, I did! I really wanted to go to
Aranjuez. I did the record with Chick [Corea], it hasn’t
come out yet, it came in Japan. I made the record last September.
We played “Spain” together, and we played “Concierto
de Aranjuez”, and I wanted to see where this music came
from, it’s good to know its origin.
ARTURO MORA: The pics and text you put in that
photoblog, is that some kind of therapy to stay out of the
music world for a while?
HIROMI: It’s just to communicate with
my fans, I specially enjoy meeting Japanese people now. I
started it because I realized that Japan is very far East,
very far from Europe, very far from the States, and I can
say many things, mainly about food [laughs], I want
to show people what can you get in other places. It’s
fun, you know.
ARTURO MORA: What about the audiences? What
could you tell us about the differences among European, American
and Japanese audiences?
HIROMI: Well, it really depends on the context
the concert is held. Sometimes when it’s in a concert
hall or a jazz club it’s different, outdoors or indoors
is different, Barcelona and Madrid is different, and Tokyo
and Osaka is different, Osaka is more like Barcelona and Tokyo
is more like Madrid. The important thing is when the audience
scream and are part of the music and create energy. But I
enjoy the quiet audiences as well, as long as there is a focus.
ARTURO MORA: You just mentioned the word “energy”,
which looks like a key word in your music, you’ve mentioned
it many times, and it’s a very important concept when
you perform. How do you focus that energy on the piano?
HIROMI: Well, for me the piano’s just
a tool. The reason I’m playing music is that I love
people, I love making people happy. And I know I can make
people happy through the piano. I was in Taiwan and I spoke
no word of Chinese and I couldn’t understand anything
that the M.C. was talking about. I went to the stage, I didn’t
know anybody in the audience, of course, they didn’t
speak my language, but as soon as I played the piano we were
united, and I felt like at home. The power of music is amazing.
ARTURO MORA: Do you do some sports or exercises
to keep the physical energy going?
HIROMI: I do yoga. It’s mainly for my
fatigue because of all the travel and performance. It’s
not only playing live, but carrying my keyboard on my bag,
and my huge suitcase [laughs].
ARTURO MORA: Being very young you’ve achieved
a big success. What do think expect from your career in the
HIROMI: Well, I have so many things that I want
to do in music. Just playing this kind of music or this other
kind of music. I hope just to keep playing music no matter
what. To me keeping doing something that you love is beauty,
keeping the effort to be better and to see the landscapes
you had never seen before. I want to see more, and the more
you get the more you want, so it’s a neverending story
ARTURO MORA: Which living musicians would you
like to play with?
HIROMI: That’s hard, there’s far
too many... [she doubts]. The people I want to meet in person
and the people I want to play with are very different. Sometimes
you love the musicians but you just can’t hear you playing
with them. The person I really wanted to play with is dead,
he’s Frank Zappa. I can really hear the possibility
of me playing with him. But he’s not here, so in my
next life, or maybe in Heaven... I’m waiting for it
[laughs]. About living musicians, it’s hard, because
you don’t know until you play with that person. When
I get a call I go there, play and it happens or not, and then
you decide from there.
ARTURO MORA: What music are you listening to
at the moment?
HIROMI: I don’t know why, but these are
Red Hot Chili Peppers’ days. I was also listening to
Rachmaninoff. In the morning I was listening to Errol Garner.
ARTURO MORA: That’s a very wide array
HIROMI: It is wide, but it all inspires me,
it’s music that fits my mood at the moment. I think
that sometimes it’s even dangerous that we have so much
knowledge about the music, ‘cause you know that Errol
Garner is a jazz pianist, you know which era he was existing
in, but maybe my friend from the high school has no idea about
it and she just goes: “It’s cool, is he alive?”,
and that’s the impression we should always have. I’ve
just gone to the Reina Sofía Museum today, and I love
to see painting, but I don’t really know much about
it, and when I feel it I love it, no matter it is famous or
not famous. If I like something I get to know more about that
ARTURO MORA: So I guess it would be really hard
for you to describe your own music.
HIROMI: I guess I’m doing music because
I can’t describe it into words, maybe people like you
can describe it because you’re a professional at it,
otherwise I would be a writer [laughs].
SERGIO CABANILLAS: Do you usually listen to
HIROMI: Yes, I’m a big fan of King Crimson
and Gentle Giant. I didn’t know about Gentle Giant until
last year, and somebody came and told me: “you have
to listen to Gentle Giant, you’ll love it!”.
SERGIO CABANILLAS: Maybe your music could be
defined as “progressive jazz” [laughs], because
in all of your songs there’s a lot of different movements,
like in a Yes tune. That’s why I was wondering if you
usually listen to that kind of music.
HIROMI: Yeah. You know, when I was in London
Bill Bruford came to my show, he said he was a friend of David
Fiuczynski’s, and I went: “Oh, my God, Bill Bruford’s
here!” [laughs]. I really love the music I can say goes
crazy, to me it’s like the best compliment, you know,
when somebody listens to my music and says: “it’s
crazy”. Yeah, that’s it, I love that! [laughs].
ARTURO MORA: Which are your upcoming projects?
HIROMI: We’ll continue to tour a little
while, there are a lot of festivals coming. I’m writing
for orchestra. I’m very fascinated about Rachmaninoff
and Stravinsky and all these people. Why don’t classical
pianists play their own pieces these days? If I really love
Rachmaninoff, would I really play his tunes? No, because he
played his own tunes, so maybe I could write something to
show him my respect.
ARTURO MORA: You’ve been working on that
for some time, haven’t you?
HIROMI: I’ve been trying to write for
orchestra for five years and I’m still working on it.
I have small bits but I’m not really satisfied with
it, so I’ll just keep writing until I feel it can go
on the stage.