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Art Hirahara: Bowing Before Giants

The jazz latecomer gets inspired during his first Before & After listening session

Art Hirahara
Pianist and composer Art Hirahara (photo: Sara Pettinella)

With the release in 2000 of his impressive first album, Edge of This Earth, pianist Art Hirahara made it clear that he saw himself as a composer as much as a player. Like so many ambitious young musicians from the Bay Area, the San Jose native had lit out for Oberlin. Looking to explore the intersection of technology and composition, he earned a B.M. in electronic and computer music. But he also found a vehicle for his love of improvisation when he was introduced to jazz by longtime Oberlin professor Neal Creque, a brilliant but undersung pianist/composer from the Virgin Islands who made his mark on the New York Latin jazz and studio scenes in the late 1960s.

After earning an M.F.A. in jazz piano performance from CalArts, Hirahara returned to the Bay Area in the late ’90s and made a powerful impression working in an array of creatively charged settings that often intersected with the progressive cadre around Asian Improv aRts. Among them: drummer Anthony Brown’s Asian American Orchestra, a collaboration with harmolodic saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh, and the pan-Asian percussion group Asian Crisis, which the pianist co-founded.

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Originally Published

Andrew Gilbert

Andrew Gilbert is a Berkeley-based freelancer who has written about arts and culture since 1989 for numerous publications, including the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, East Bay Express, Berkeleyside, and KQED’s California Report. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he experienced a series of mind-blowing epiphanies listening to jazz masters at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in the late 1980s, performances he remembers more vividly than the gigs he saw last month.