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Hiromi: A Melodic (And Headbanging) Travelogue

Hiromi Uehara is standing up and leaning over the top of the piano. She's reaching inside, and she's got the palm of her right hand directly on the bass strings, muting them as she continues to bang away at the keys with her left hand.

The Japanese jazz pianist is using more than just her hands, though. This is a full-body performance. She's bobbing up and down with the rhythm, almost headbanging. She's even grunting a bit.

"I do talk to the piano," she says. "I have to be really best friends with the instrument. That's how I can really create the music together with the instrument."

She's playing a composition she calls "Choux a la Creme," in NPR's temporary performance studio 4B. It's a musical homage to the sensation you get when eating a cream puff.

"Well, I was just walking down the street in France, and I was looking for a bakery," she says. "And when you're aiming for something that you love, your happiness level just goes up every minute.

"And when I find a bakery, it steps up again, you know. Then, when I find the cream puff itself, I'm so happy. And when I have it, I'm fulfilled with happiness. And when it's gone, I'm sad. It's quite an adventure."

In a studio performance and conversation with host Guy Raz, Uehara — who records as simply Hiromi — says that she often hears melodies in street scenes from her travels. Those melodies form the basis of many songs on her new album of solo piano improvisations, Place To Be.

"I just write a travel journal in music instead of notes," she says.

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