In this week's paper, we printed a short interview with Japanese piano sensation Hiromi, who will return to the Dakota this coming Monday and Tuesday for four solo shows. Though we picked out a few choice quotes for print, our conversation with Hiromi actually lasted much longer -- here's the full transcript of our question and answer session.
Your new album is all about place. What is the significance of the title, Place to Be?
Because 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 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 to make me feel alive.
Do you feel like your home is on the stage now?
[laughs] Yes. One of the places to be, yes of course. I think life is like trying to find as many places to be 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. I just feel so fortunate that people are giving me those places that I really feel -- ok, this is it.
Are there challenging aspects to being on the road so much?
Well, I wouldn't say it's easy. It's so much fun that I can't get out of it. It's too beautiful to feel people's positive energy every night.
What are some of your favorite places that you've played?
I enjoy every single place, honestly. As far as the places that I return every year, I feel more at home because I know the place and I know the smell of the club or the concert hall, and I feel, oh yeah, I know this place, I know these people that I work with, the staff, so I feel that I come back to the place I remember, and that definitely does make me feel at home. But I also enjoy the places that I have never been before because it's more adventurous -- there's always chance to make myself feel at home. Every place is beautiful.
Do you bring your own piano from place to place, or do you have to adjust every night to a new setup?
I do adjust. Ideally, I want to bring my own piano, but it's very difficult. There are certain models that they use, for the big festivals and stuff I can bring it, but 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. Just 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's really, 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. So I really want to put make-up on it, I want to, at least, it's like a starting point, make it look beautiful. Then I feel like they are ready to 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. It's a very hard instrument - I've been playing it for the past 24 years, but I really feel great when I feel like I am loved by piano, too, because my love is always there, to a piano. But sometimes it's one way, I don't hear it back. I just try to play the piano 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 treat you bad? All this stuff - it sounds a little bit out, but it's really important to me. It's like flowers, you just have to take care of it, if you want to really get something out of it. I think it's the same in any relationship.
When you were young and just learning how to play, did piano come easily for you? Was practicing ever a chore for you?
For me, I never hated it. I never not wanted to go to the lessons, I always loved it. I always enjoyed lessons, I always enjoyed practicing - not because I was playing well, I just loved the sound, I loved the instrument. Of course there were things that I couldn't play, and I think each person has strengths and weaknesses. For some things, I couldn't do it well and I had to practice more, and some things I still can't play, but I think it's just like living and experiencing life, I just have to - if I try to not see it, then I would never overcome it, so I just want to live with my piano, I decided a long time ago. I just have to work with it.
Were you encouraged to experiment with music from a young age?
Very fortunately, my first piano teacher was a huge fan of jazz music, and she had so many LPs, and she was always playing. Once I heard that she was playing LPs of Erroll Garner and Oscar Peterson, I instantly fell in love with it and was asking, what's this? And she's say, this is Erroll Garner, Concert By the Sea, Oscar Peterson's We Get Requests, I would always ask her to play that. My first experience of swinging the body - I never felt that before with any other kind of music. They make people swing. So I was like, well, it's kind of hoppy, jumpy feeling, and it's so much fun. I started to play some other classical stuff, which I could play at that time, in swing. And she never got mad, my teacher, she would always say, oh, that's interesting. You're not supposed to play it like that, but why did you want to play it like that? It was never played like that. She was very open to all the possibilities in music, and I really feel fortunate to have that teacher. I don't know if I would have enjoyed music as much as if I had had a different teacher, so I really feel lucky.
Have you had other mentors over the years who have inspired you?
Everybody that I listen to. It's impossible to list one. Of course, I met Chick [Corea] at a very early age, so it has a big impact in my life, but a lot of people that I meet, I learn so many things - not even only music. All the life experience reflects on music. I just try to thank everybody, that I feel loved - I feel it's very important to meet people and conversate with people, in music and in life.
If you could go back in time and play with one musician, who would you choose?
Yeah. Sometimes I dream that. He just comes into my dream and we play together. He gives all these crazy directions that I couldn't imagine, and I just play. I really love his music, and I just wish he was alive and I could be in his band.
Your music includes so many different styles and genres. Are there musicians outside of the jazz realm that you find inspiring?
It's so hard to list... I'm definitely inspired by so many people, I love King Crimson, everybody's crazy about Michael Jackson, Squarepusher - it's a techno band, Glen Hansard, who is the actor in Once. He is amazing - I went to see him and I was like, wow. Wow.
What made you decide to do a solo album this time around?
Piano has been my best friend for the past 24 years, it's like a mirror for me, and I recorded the album a couple of days before I was turning 30 years old. I wanted to record my sound of my 20s, I don't think I will be playing exactly the same when I am 40. And maybe 50, and 60, with different life experience, I will be always playing differently, and I wanted to capture it for archival purposes as well. When I look back, I think solo piano was really ideal to see myself in the mirror, and really just capture the sound, this really one-on-one, being naked, and see what I come up with. And when I look back at my life in my 20s, it was full of travels, and I really wanted to thank the people that I'd met on the road and who really have made me feel alive. So I just came out with this idea, Place to Be.
You're returning to the Dakota this week, where you've played quite a few times already. How does the Dakota compare to other venues you've played?
People are so nice! I always enjoy meeting the audience, staff. Amazing food. Amazing, really. I travel a lot of places, but it's one of the best, definitely. That's a club that 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.
HIROMI plays MONDAY, MARCH 8, and TUESDAY, MARCH 9, at the DAKOTA JAZZ CLUB; 612.332.1010