ince moving to the United States in 1995, Eri Yamamoto has established herself as one of jazz's most original and compelling pianists and composers. Jazz legend Herbie Hancock has said, “My hat’s off to her... already she’s found her own voice.”
During the past twenty years, Eri has been sharing her uniquely lyrical and evocative music with listeners in New York City, throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, Japan, Jamaica, and Australia; with appearances in concerts, clubs, and major festivals.
She has a deeply empathetic rapport with her long-standing trio members bassist David Ambrosio and drummer Ikuo Takeuchi. Together they have recorded several albums, most recently “Life,” released in 2016. As the album title suggests, the music portrays a wide range of her experiences - from joyful to introspective, reflecting the vibrancy of New York and exploring mysteries of nature and memory. Downbeat magazine gave four stars to her previous release, “Firefly,” saying: “Her CD reaffirms Yamamoto’s standing as a contemporary pianist of the highest order. Her virtuosity never gets in the way of playing it straight from the heart.”
Eri has also been dedicated to the art of solo piano, moving audiences with her renditions of her own compositions and her spontaneous improvisations.
Her most recent release, “Live in Benicàssim,” captures her 2017 solo piano concert in that picturesque Spanish town. It is her first solo piano album, and her eleventh
recording under her own name.
Eri was born in Osaka, Japan, and began playing classical piano at age three. She started composing when only eight years old, and studied voice, viola, and composition through her high school and college years. In 1995, she visited New York for the first time, and was so inspired by a performance by pianist Tommy Flanagan that she decided to move to New York to study jazz.. Later that year, she entered the New School University's prestigious jazz program, where she studied with Reggie Workman, Junior Mance, and LeeAnn Ledgerwood.
While in school, Eri started playing at the Avenue B Social Club in the East Village, and in 1998 her trio began an engagement at the historic Arthur’s Tavern in Greenwich Village. Their run continues to this day, after twenty years and counting.
Eri has also been collaborating with such creative and celebrated musicians as William Parker, Daniel Carter, Hamid Drake, Federico Ughi, Yves Leveille and Paul McCandless. Eri has appeared on several William Parker recordings, and has performed in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Tunisia, and South Africa with his groups.
Finally, Eri is a gifted educator. She received her master of music in education and composition from Shiga University, Japan. She has taught private lessons and workshops to jazz musicians of all instruments from the U. S., Japan, Europe, and North Africa.
Eri Yamamoto Trio
Up & Coming
How long does it take to become a great jazz musician? Would you believe five and a half years? That would seem to be the case with Eri Yamamoto, a 32-year-old Japanese pianist who abandoned a budding classical career half a decade ago to pursue jazz studies at the New School. Yamamoto had no jazz background whatsoever when she arrived in New York from Kyoto—something I can personally attest to, having heard her stumble through standards some years back at the Loisaida bar that is now Manitoba’s. Saloon din tended to drown out Yamamoto’s trio until she started pulling out her originals; the attentive silence that greeted them clued me in that fresh ideas were on the way. Yamamoto’s maturity is instantly evident on the title cut/opener of Up & Coming, her self-produced debut. The deceptively simple melody line demands perfect timing, and Yamamoto raises the degree of difficulty by upending it with a bridge in modified waltz-time. The way this impacts her solo is particularly breathtaking: On one chorus, she applies single-note lines reminiscent of Lennie Tristano; next, she alternates running trills with off-kilter phrases; and finally just before a bass solo by John Graham Davis—she slides back and forth across drummer Ikuo Takeichi’s supple pulse.
And yet that’s only a small sampling of the pianist’s breadth and economy. The five originals included here are demonstrate an extraordinarily rich compositional sensibility—to say nothing of a delicate touch—and what’s most impressive is how they outpace Yamamoto’s takes on classics like Miles Davis’s “All Blues” and Vincent Youmans’s “Without a Song.” I haven’t caught Yamamoto’s trio since it took up residence in the Village at Arthur’s Tavern two years ago, but if the album is any indication, the time she’s spent at the rambunctious watering hole has taught her how familiarity combined with subtlety can move a crowd. That understanding is crucial for any musician hoping to become a great player as quickly as she has. Available at www.eriyamamoto.com.
—K. Leander William