In a music industry prone to labels, Hiromi Uehara strives to avoid typecasting. “I don’t really believe in genres,” says the classically trained pianist and composer, who counts Oscar Peterson, Erroll Garner and Jeff Beck as influences. “I don’t want people to have any preconceptions about me. I want the first impression to be the music.”
So it’s not surprising that Uehara, 30, pushes the piano’s limits with her first solo album, “Place to Be” (Telarc International), which hit stores January 26 (she has five previous titles with her backup band, Sonic Bloom). The spunky, jazz-meets-rock record features Uehara’s energetic, experimental approach and was inspired by time she spent on the road during her 20s.
“I’ve met so many people in every place you can imagine — Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa — and I wanted to thank the people who gave me a home, a place to be,” says Uehara, who has performed everywhere from Carnegie Hall to the Glastonbury Festival. Most of the songs on the 12-track album, such as “BQE,” “Berne Baby Berne!” and “Cape Cod Chips,” are directly associated with specific locations. “It’s a traveling diary,” explains Uehara.
The Hamamatsu, Japan, native has seduced many an audience over the years, having honed her piano skills from a very young age. “I started when I was six years old, and never wanted to quit playing. It was the best toy when I was little,” she says. She enrolled in the Yamaha School of Music a year later and eventually landed at the Berklee College of Music in 1999, where she studied jazz composition and contemporary writing. It was there she was introduced to jazz legend Ahmad Jamal, who helped launch her career. “He hooked me up with everything,” she says.
Well, not quite everything. When it comes to her fashion choices, Uehara turns to her husband, Japanese designer Mihara Yasuhiro. Best known for his collaborations with Puma, Yasuhiro asked Uehara to perform at his 2006 Milan show after seeing her on television. The pair were smitten and married in 2007.
“I always loved fashion like any girl, but now I get to go backstage and see it more. I wear [his designs] almost every day,” says Uehara. She recently appeared in Gap’s Japanese fall 2009 ads and favors cardigans, one-pieces and thigh-high boots onstage.
All the better armor against the pressures of her newfound solo career and its international tour, which continues Wednesday in Boston.
“This feels very alone,” she says. “It’s the biggest challenge because you have nobody else and express things with just one sound. I have to be the drummer, the bass player and the orchestra. It’s all my responsibility.”