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As a musician, she’s performed around the world, but found her first home away from home at the Blue Note in New York City. There she performed one-week sets for almost nine years, but now Toronto will be welcoming her at Koerner Hall on June 24.
I had a chance to talk with Hiromi about her travels, her playing, and her seventh visit to Toronto for the jazz festival.
Yuhi Kimura: You have participated in Toronto Jazz Festival (TJF) six times now, so when I say ‘Canada’ what do you picture in your mind?
Hiromi Uehara: At the Toronto Jazz Festival, I remember playing music at both Nathan Phillips Square and on the West Jet Stage. Torontonians have great concentration and able to listen to sounds, and I admire how they can be quiet enough for my music and be merry enough to still enjoy the performance. Toronto is a place where I feel there’s a deep knowledge of music in all audiences.
YK: You think Torontonians make good audiences?
HU: Yes, absolutely so. I always look forward to performing in Toronto.
YK: You’re constantly on the go and performing around the world, but what do you do on your days off?
HU: During concert tours, I move to the site early in the morning and check in into a hotel to get a power nap, if I have time for that. And then, I got to the hall to rehearse the concert and eventually have the public performance. That is my day, so I don’t even have time to go sightseeing! My concerts occupy my day.
I’ll give an example from my concerts in Canada. I have 4 concerts in 5 days in Victoria, Vancouver, Ottawa and Toronto. The rest of day one is for flight to move from Vancouver, West to Ottawa and then East. That takes for 9 hours in relation to the time difference between them. With a schedule like this, I cannot spend time for a pleasure. I go around the world as kind of work, so I have to give up spending time for an amusement. I could go back to countries where I have been for vacation. However, the last thing I want to do after a concert tour is going back on an airplane.
YK: That sounds crazy, how do you manage to keep up?
HU: There is always a time difference; therefore, I always have jet lag. For instance, there is 2 or 3 hours difference between west and east in Canada. If I get accustomed being in each country, I need to move to another place after then. So, for me, it is important to adjust my body to my performance and to be in perfect condition. I don’t need to feel refreshed every morning, but I have to stay in shape as much as possible.
YK: What do you do when you go back to Japan?
HU: Eating Ra-men. I love it. This is my soul food. I love any kind, but if had a favorite sort it would be Sina soba, a Chinese-style noodle and Tonkotsu made with pork soup.
YK: I saw many pictures of food on your Facebook and Blog, is there anything culinary you look forward to when in Toronto, Canada?
HU: Not really because I have not even eaten food which is specialty product in Canada; however, I certainly buy maple cookies every time when I visit Canada. This is one of my favorite!
YK: Your music is popular not only in Japan, but around the world. What is your attraction from your point of view?
HU: I don’t think there’s anything particularly special, I just play my music as well as I can for audiences. I think it is a miracle that people take out time to listen to my music, so I put 100 per cent into every performance. I’m grateful for an audience, I work hard for every concert.
YK: Do you feel any pressure knowing how many people listen to your music, especially online?
HU: I have many fans listening to my songs and watching my music videos compared to when I first started doing public performances. I am really happy about that and I can understand their feeling better with a larger audience. Now, I face two difficulties. One of them is winning a newcomer’s heart and mind. The next one is difficult because it’s about answering my fan’s and audience’s expectations. I don’t feel afraid about that because the result doesn’t change if it do. I just do my best for every audience and after they’ll tell me whether I am good or not.
YK: During your performances, it’s like you change into a whole new person. What do you think about while you’re performing?
HU: Well, improvisation is similar to having a conversation. I answer sounds from drummer and bassist, and decide what sound I should make on the spot. I need to concentrate on it highly during each performance.
YK: Your music can also change styles much like “Hiromi’s Sonicbloom”. How do you find artists or bands to collaborate with you?
HU: Regarding Anthony and Simon, who have been performing with me, Anthony joined my debut album and second one as one of guest artists. Moreover, I was fan of him, so I wanted to compose music with him. We have made three albums such as ‘Voice’, ‘Move’ and ‘Alive’. We were thinking about who should join us and match when we composed songs for ‘Voice’. And then, we finally found the answer is Simon. Fortunately, Simon has been one of Anthony`s friends for 30 years and has played together before. Our meeting was very destiny like pulling each other and we could consist of us as The Trio Project. However, of course, I choose artists to collaborate by myself understanding their musical senses.
YK: Tell me about Simon and Anthony.
HU: Simon is a gentleman from the United Kingdom. He is cheerful and sociable person and always thinks about how to get people to have fun. In regard to music, he is stoic and tunes his drums carefully and has a good ear for music.
Anthony is stubborn when it comes to his bass guitar. He seems to think about it all day and nothing else from what I’ve seen. Although he was making line to check passport in an airport, he was tuning his guitar in that time. His character is also gentle same as Simon and he likes to protect people from any opponent.
Nowadays, I perform with people who are older than me. I saw them and understood the reason why they could still play music at the forefront. They have done such a large quantity of practice to maintain their quality of music.
YK: Tell me about attraction of piano from your view.
HU: If you tap a keyboard it makes a sound. I mean everybody can do that, but you need to practice well if you want to play a violin, a trumpet or some musical instruments which are difficult to play. I am attracted by the potential of piano to make countless tones such as warm and cold colors, smooth sounds, amorous sounds and so on. The more practice or the more concerts I have, the more tones I find and since I started playing piano when I was six years old I’ve found a few new ones.
YK: Tell me about your new album ‘Alive’.
HU: ‘Alive’ is the third album I made with Anthony and Simon. When we were making the first album ‘Voice’, I looked for band mates who could make the songs I composed better and gathered them. The songs pulled the members together and this was the beginning of us. Then we went around the world with ‘Voice’, but it caused an adverse effect. In other words, I imagined that a song must be excellent if they play it with me. I wrote script and then I chose actors or actresses when I was making the first album ‘Voice’. I casted them in each part of role and composed songs for them, but it needed work to get it all there. So in order to make our songs better we worked harder on our third album ‘Alive’ and we are trying to bring out its potential.
YK: Do you have a message for Toronto?
HU: I am very grateful for inviting me to join the Toronto Jazz Festival. I think Toronto audiences know jazz music and I can feel contrast between their respectful silence and merry excitement, so it’s always a pleasure to play for them.