Hiromi returns to dazzle the Dakota with her piano mastery

Fiery phenom Hiromi Uehara

Fiery phenom Hiromi Uehara

Hiromi's performative abilities demand hyperbole. Since breaking out into the jazz community with her debut record in 2003, Hiromi (born Hiromi Uehara) has brought her mesmerizing, awe-inspiring live show around the world, catching the attention of iconic musicians like Chick Corea and Ahmad Jamal, scoring legions of fans and outpourings of critical praise from her home country of Japan to the U.S. and everywhere in between. It's no stretch to call Hiromi one of the most talented pianists in the world; she's just turned 30, and her humble nature and playful, charming stage presence only add to her dizzying technical abilities and keep the accolades rushing in.

We caught up with the piano phenom prior to her two-night stand at the Dakota this week to talk about her new solo album, Place to Be, her experiences traveling around the world, and why she's excited to return to a club she calls "one of the best."

City Pages: Your new album is all about place. What is the significance of the title, Place to Be?

Hiromi: I travel so much, I'm moving around all through the year, and I was just thinking, where is my place to be? Because I don't stay in one place for that long a time. Traveling, touring is a beautiful thing, but it's not always an easy thing. I have to catch early flights; I have to sleep on different beds every night. But whenever I go to perform and see people smile after I play, I feel that this is why I am doing this, and this is the place to be. I feel like people are giving me the "places to be" all over the world, places that make me feel alive.

CP: Do you feel like your home is on the stage now?

Hiromi: Yes. One of the places to be, yes, of course. I think life is trying to find as many places to be as possible. Family is one thing, friends are one thing, work is one thing, maybe hobbies—having more places that you feel comfortable with will shine your life.

CP: Do you bring your own piano from place to place, or do you have to adjust every night to a new setup?

Hiromi: I do adjust. Ideally, I want to bring my own piano, but it's very difficult. In the club performances, the space is limited and they have their own piano usually, so I try to cope with it when it's playable. I try to greet the piano every day, and—it's really, piano for me is like a living animal, it is not a thing. It is like a creature, it has a soul. When it's dusty and when it's full of fingerprints, they don't sound good. I have to talk to each key, and talk to each part of the piano, so they are really ready to collaborate with me. I just try to play the pianos so that they feel that they are happy to be played by me, and I want them to remember me, and it's all so fun that whenever I go back to a club and to a certain piano that I really enjoyed playing before, it's like, "Hey, long time no see! How have you been?" When I see the scratches, I ask, "Who did it? What happened to you, who treated you bad?" It sounds a little bit out there, but it's really important to me. I think it's the same in any relationship.

CP: You're returning to the Dakota this week, where you've performed quite a few times already. How does the Dakota compare to other venues you've played?

Hiromi: People are so nice! I always enjoy meeting the audience and staff. Amazing food. Amazing, really. I travel a lot of places, but it's one of the best, definitely. That's a club where I always say hello to the chef. It's very rare. When I arrive, I go straight to the kitchen and find the chef, and I want to thank them for the experience that I will have for the next few days. 

Read the full transcript from our Hiromi interview on

HIROMI plays MONDAY, MARCH 8, and TUESDAY, MARCH 9, at the DAKOTA JAZZ CLUB; 612.332.1010