By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS, Rafu Arts & Entertainment
The road can certainly wear you down. A dizzying series of airports, hotels and unfamiliar stages can rob a performer of all sense of place and time.
So it’s easily understood if pianist Hiromi Uehara, who had just arrived via red-eye in Seattle, was a tad confused when I called for the scheduled interview.
“Oh, was that today?” she asked with genuine surprise.
Known globally by her first name, Hiromi is smack dab in the midst of a series of concerts that will span six months and 31 cities in 18 countries. On Monday, she and her Trio Project will perform on the Broad Stage at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center.
Hiromi, 36, has often been labeled as a new vanguard in jazz, the new generation of stars to help not only preserve, but to revive the flagging genre. On the contrary, I view the native of Shizuoka Prefecture as belonging to that traditional, exclusive club of jazz musicians, the true-blood whose life and being are dedicated to almost nothing outside of the music itself. The needs of the press, social media and other modern considerations rate a distant second.
“I never really think about it,” Hiromi said of her place as a leader in the modern jazz realm. “I meet younger people who say they like listening to my music, and that’s inspiring, I’m really always only thinking of how I want to play and how I can find more voices and landscapes.”
A true child prodigy, Hiromi was barely a teenager when she started playing with symphony orchestras, but it was jazz that caught her fancy and lit her fire. When she was 17, a chance meeting with fusion pioneer Chick Corea at the Yamaha School in Tokyo led to her performing on stage with his band – the following day.
Hiromi is blessed with a stirring ability that is of the caliber of an Art Tatum or a Vince Guaraldi, with extraordinary dexterity and a nose for inventive, unexpected improvisation. A video for the title track of her latest album, “Alive,” shows her recording in the studio with bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Phillips. The piece takes flight with Hiromi launching into a high-energy performance that would light up the Playboy Jazz Festival stage.
“Even if we’re playing in the studio, I still feel like I’m playing for an audience, not just for the recording,” she explained. “It’s the same situation on stage. There’s always so much to explain, always treasures to hunt.”
Hiromi said despite the drudgery of the road, she doesn’t tire of the magic playing provides. She said she treats every performance as her first and possibly last.
“I don’t think about where I was yesterday, or where I’ll be tomorrow,” she said. “Hopefully, my dream gig is my next one.”
Hiromi’s Trio Project takes the Broad Stage in Santa Monica at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 28. For tickets and information, call (310) 434-3200 or visit www.thebroadstage.com. For more information on Hiromi, visit www.hiromimusic.com.