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.