This interview first appeared in Jazz.com.
Hiromi Uehara’s career burst wide open in 2003 when Ahmad Jamal discovered her demo and produced her successful debut for Telarc Records. Since then, the 30-year old pianist, composer and bandleader recorded five CDs as a leader, including the most recent, Beyond Standard, featuring her group Sonicbloom. Earlier this year, Hiromi’s live encounter with Chick Corea at the Tokyo Blue Note was released as the double-disc Duet (Concord), and her session with Stanley Clarke’s trio has now been issued as Jazz In The Garden (Heads Up). This conversation took place during a live radio broadcast on WPFW-FM, Washington D.C., July 2, 2009.
You’ve worked frequently in a trio setting. How has the addition of guitarist David Fiuczynski changed your vision or concept as a composer?
I’ve been a huge fan of David’s for many years, and I love his band, Screaming Headless Torsos. He was a guest on my debut album and I knew that I wanted to make an entire record with him. So I had him in mind when I wrote all those songs.
The new CD, unlike your previous records, consists mostly of compositions written by others. What drew you to these specific songs?
I wanted to collect the songs that I’d been listening to and playing for at least the past 10 years. These are the songs I grew up with and kept playing in many different ways. And with this band I have now, playing standards is like the furthest thing from what we’d been doing before. So I thought it’s a great combination [laughs].
You’re from Shizuoka, the part of Japan known for motorcycles (Suzuki) and musical instruments (Yamaha). Did you grow up with a piano in your house?
Yes, but I went to my piano teacher’s house to take lessons.
Did your teacher work through classical repertoire first?
Yes, and she was also the one who introduced me to jazz. When I was eight, she played these records of Erroll Garner and Oscar Peterson, and I instantly fell in love with them. She saw me dancing to the music, so she kept playing me jazz records and I kept imitating what they were playing.
Did she teach you how to improvise?
No, she never did any studies for jazz. She was purely a classical teacher and she taught me to play the piano. The other things I just learned by ear.