SFJazz kicks off new season with cathartic performance from Hiromi

Hiromi performs at SFJazz Center’s Robert N. Miner Auditorium on the new season’s opening night on Thursday, September 8. Photo: Rick Swig

Hiromi threw her head back as she pounded the keys of her piano, occasionally stomping the floor to the beat, as if exorcising all her pent up anger and frustration caused by the pandemic. And rightly so — COVID-19 was the reason it took the Japanese jazz virtuoso more than two years to perform her solo show at the SFJazz Center.

“The last time I was here was March 2020. I was sitting here in the afternoon listening to the news of canceled shows,” she recalled during a break from her set of two hours on Thursday, September 8. in the Robert N. Miner auditorium of the hall. “I think all the staff that was there were on stage, and we were so sad and didn’t know what was going to happen. Nobody knew.”

What Hiromi knew, however, was that her first show in the Bay Area would make up for lost time.

The musician’s frenzied performance, which featured songs from her color-themed album, “Spectrum,” including its cinematic original, “Whiteout,” kicked off SFJazz’s 10th season with a dazzling members-only night, which also featured folk artist Leyla McCalla at the adjacent Joe Henderson Lab. (Both performers play shows through Sunday, September 11, with Hiromi’s Friday, September 9 concert available live during SFJazz’s “Fridays Live” series and during an 11 a.m. replay on Saturday, September 10) .

“I’m just so happy to be here tonight,” said Hiromi, who took an emotional break before returning to music. “I can’t really express in words; I do better on the piano.

Hiromi performs at the Robert N. Miner Auditorium at the SFJazz Center on opening night. Photo: Rick Swig

Indeed, it was an emotional evening for many in attendance, as this season marks a new beginning for the SFJazz Center and the final full season for founder and executive director Randall Kline, who announced in March that he would be retiring. ‘next year.

“It’s come full circle,” Kline said after the concert. “We faced a force of nature in 2020, and Hiromi was a force of nature tonight. It felt like a summons to me, hopefully ushering in a softer time ahead of us – on all strata.

Part of Hiromi’s appeal is her willingness to bounce effortlessly between jazz, classical music and popular music. She was doing off-the-cuff quotes — a variation of “(Meet) The Flintstones” here, several bars of Jobim’s “Waters of March” there — while formally interpolating Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes” and Thelonious’ “Blue Monk” Monk in his arrangement. of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, which she dubbed “Rhapsody in Various Shades of Blue”. It’s a practice she’s had since she started performing the piece when she was 11 or 12, she told the crowd.

It was the first time Leslie Sing had watched Hiromi perform live. The six-year-old SFJazz member from Outer Richmond said she’s enjoyed countless great shows at the SFJazz Center, which she calls her “happy place”, but was particularly “blown away”.

Leyla McCalla performs at the SFJazz Center’s final season opening night. Photo: Rick Swig

And that’s just the beginning. Highlights of the 2022-23 program include the annual Thelonious Monk Festival celebrating the legendary pianist and composer October 5-10; the 10th anniversary celebration of the SFJazz Center, with four special concerts from January 12 to 15; and the 2023 SFJazz Gala, which will be Kline’s last, on May 4.

Hiromi: 7:30 p.m. Friday, September 9. $30-85. Robert N. Miner Auditorium, SFJazz Center, 201 Franklin St., SF; Friday Live and Saturday Encore 7:30 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday, September 10. Free for SFJazz members; $5 per month or $80 per year for SFJazz at Home membership. www.sfjazz.org/athome; The Piano Quintet with PUBLIQuartet. 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday, September 11. $40-95. Robert N. Miner Auditorium, SFJazz Center, 201 Franklin St., SF www.sfjazz.org

Leyla McCalla: 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. from Friday to Saturday; 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. $30-$35, Joe Henderson Lab, SFJazz Center, 201 Franklin St., SF www.sfjazz.org


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