A Japanese jazz prodigy finds her voice as she returns to a healing home

When a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan in March, many touring artists canceled their plans to visit. Japanese classical and jazz pianist Hiromi, however, rearranged her touring plans to come home. “Bands have just stopped coming, and I respect that decision,” she says from Tokyo, where she has just completed a string of 18 benefit concerts. “But things are totally functioning in Tokyo. Sometimes the news broadcasts are much more dramatic than what it is. We have a normal life, but we’re trying to recover emotionally and psychologically. There is not that much physical damage in Tokyo, but we have psychological damage.”

Born Hiromi Uehara in Hamamatsu, Japan, Hiromi began playing classical piano at 5 before gravitating toward jazz when she was just 8. “My mother took me to piano and swimming lessons like every other kid,” says Hiromi, who went on to study at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. “The only thing I fell in love with was the piano. I was fascinated by how much energy the music brought me. I was so happy playing, and I realized that everyone who was around me when I was playing was always smiling. I had the impression that music makes people happy. I loved making people happy and wanted to keep doing that.”

Her latest album, Voice, is making people happy around the world. The album’s title, Hiromi says, suggests its overall concept. “I wanted to capture people’s inner voices, and the screaming is represented in the repeated piano notes,” she emphasizes. “I wanted a three-dimensional sound. It was almost like the voice of the people was coming to me from here, there and everywhere, from every angle.”

Hiromi plays other tracks, such as the groove-oriented “Flashback” and the moody, minimalist “Delusion,” with a controlled fury. “When I listen to the album I can feel the story from the first to last track, and that was what I was the happiest about,” she says. “When I was making this album, I was thinking a lot about making it like a book or movie. When it was released in Japan, a lot of people told me that if they stopped the CD right before the ending track, they felt nervous. They wanted to hear the whole thing to the end. The album has a really connected musical life, and I am really happy about that.”

–Jeff Niesel

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