Jazz rulebreaker Hiromi: ‘The piano is a plane that can take me anywhere’

As she arrives in the UK for London jazz festival, the Japanese pianist explains how she subverts expectations to appeal to highbrow listeners and rock fans alike

There aren’t many jazz performers like Japanese pianist Hiromi Uehara. With her hair artfully piled almost a foot above her head, the 44-year-old launches into muscular assaults that traverse everything from fast-paced bebop to contemporary classical, monumental power chords and prog-fuelled excursions on the synth: a maximal sound that brings crowds to their feet, whooping instead of the usual respectful applause of the jazz club.

“My audience is so wide-ranging; I remember a recent show in Italy where there was a very well-dressed older woman in pearls on the front row and next to her was a guy in an Iron Maiden T-shirt,” she says with a laugh. “Further along there was a seven-year-old kid who I could tell was learning the piano.”

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