An enigma is defined as “a person of puzzling or contradictory character.” Can you use it in a sentence? Hiromi Uehara and Aki Takase are enigmas. Who are they? They are enigmas, and also two of my favorite jazz pianists. The root of their enigmatic character is at the heart of their music. It’s difficult to define what they do with a piano because it fluctuates from song to song. Although their music is different, they share some overarching stylistic quarks. Their music is both childish and soberingly serious. There is a fun fresh sense of playfulness in much of their work, yet it retains the formal brandy-snifter-motif of earlier jazz legends. They are inventive and unique to the point of being strange. But it is a strangeness that delights in it’s ability to surprise. Two examples of this are:
1. Aki Takase putting ping pong balls on the strings of the piano so they rattle and add a percussive element to the song.
2. Hiromi Uehara playing the strings of a grand piano like an upright bass.
In addition to their Harlem Globetrotter like piano playing, they are just a blast to watch. You can see by the smiles on their faces how much they truly love performing. Both women have played with some of the greatest musicians the world has ever known; including Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, and Chick Corea. As a piano player and lover of Jazz I was thrilled when i discovered these two incredible musicians. Although Hiromi played the Annenberg center this time last year, I wasn’t able to go. Unfortunately I don’t know when either of them will be on tour again. It seems Aki plays jazz festivals in Germany every year, and Hiromi is constantly on the move. Thankfully there is YouTube and I can continue to discover great art. To me great art is that which transcends it’s medium and loses it’s form. Often this occurs when words are like a painting, a painting is like a song, and a song is like a story. I think both of these musicians do that with their art. I hope you will give them a listen even if you’re not a fan of jazz.
Here are some of my favorites.