Hiromi: Records that changed my life


20th Sep 2023 Culture

4 min read

Hiromi: Records that changed my life
Since her debut, Hiromi has become a big name in the jazz scene. Here, she talks about the records that changed her life and made her the musician she is today
Hiromi is a jazz composer and pianist, who has made quite a name for herself since her debut in 2003. Her albums are critically acclaimed and she even performed at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
On her new album, Sonicwonderland, which will release on October 6, 2023, Hiromi is going on a musical adventure. The album is an eclectic and exciting mix of sounds, so we asked her about the albums that have most influenced her as a musician.

Errol Garner, Concert By The Sea

Errol Garner is a jazz pianist, that I heard when I was eight years old. He showed me what swing music really is. I started on the piano when I was six, but started with regular classical training. My first piano teacher played this album, Concert By The Sea, and I found I couldn’t help but move my body to it. I learnt that this music was swing.
"I didn’t even realise you could play something that wasn’t written"
That was my first musical shock, I think. My mother had taken me to those classical piano lessons, but this was my first big shock from music. The music was improvisational; I didn’t even realise you could play something that wasn’t written. It showed me to be true to what you feel in the moment and to express your emotion. It made me want to start improvising myself.

Oscar Peterson, We Get Requests

This is a piano trio album and I listened to this at the same time as the Errol Garner album. It had a similar effect on me; until I listened to this album, I didn't realise you could improvise in this way.
We Get Requests made me want to tour and to improvise, in the way I do. He really showed me what swing music was. Peterson plays really fast on the keys, so I couldn’t really understand it at the time. I thought to myself how can they compose on the spot like that?

Frank Zappa, Roxy and Elsewhere

I discovered Frank Zappa in my teens. I went to the record store and listened to a few albums, back when you could do that in stores. I found it in the rock music section,  but it didn’t sound like rock music. It sounded like a contemporary form of jazz, but something else too. He’s such a difficult musician to give a genre too. It’s not rock. It’s not jazz. It’s just Zappa.
"It’s not rock. It’s not jazz. It’s just Zappa"
I try and get that same feeling in my music. The more I listened to his music and watched his interviews I saw that he had a strong understanding of himself. That understanding is the thing that guided him.
That clear understanding is something I thought about when I chose people for my own band. I thought about people and the unique sound they have. Two people would play the same piece of music very differently, so I wanted people with really unique sounds.

Vladimir Horowitz, Horowitz in Moscow

This album is about Horowitz returning to Moscow, after moving to the United States for many years. His sound, even without knowing his own personal story, tells you something. His sound tells its own story; each note he played made me cry. It showed me music comes from the heart, and that hands and ears are just a tool.
"It showed me music comes from the heart and that hands and ears are just a tool"
It made me realise that I want to express how I really feel with my instrument. Compared to ten or 20 years ago, I know I now can control my instrument better and that I can express myself better. Playing an instrument is like painting, the amount of colours that you have in your palette matters. At first, you just start out with red, blue and yellow. When you play more, though, you get more colours. You don’t just have blue anymore, you have dark blue and light blue.
The album made me want to get closer to my instrument. The way his sound tells a story was inspiring. On my new album, I want to tell a story too—but a story of freedom and joy, especially after the past few years. I missed performing, during the pandemic. Although I never took performing for granted, I realised how much I needed it.
Hiromi's latest album, Sonicwonderland, with her new band Hiromi's Sonicwonder, on October 6, 2023.
Banner credit: Hiromi (Mitsuru-Nishimura)
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