It is much too early for Hiromi Uehara to think about what she will perform when she takes to the stage with her band next month for the 2008 Hong Kong Arts Festival. And that is the beauty of improvisation, she says. 'This will be the first time for me to play in Hong Kong and I'm really looking forward to it,' said 28-year-old Uehara, who has taken the jazz world by storm since the release in 2003 of her first album, Another Mind. 'I've visited the city once before and I remember it being very energetic, so I'm expecting a lot of energy from the audience,' she said. 'That's very important because in improvisational music, you respond to the audience and they take me off in different directions.' She has certainly missed no opportunities to experiment ever since she first sat at a piano at the age of 6. Born in the Shizuoka Prefecture town of Hammamatsu, south of Tokyo, Hiromi was encouraged to take up the instrument by her mother, Isae, who had wanted to play as a child. Even at that age, Hiromi recalled, she immediately felt joined to the keyboard. 'I loved it straight away,' she said. 'I never felt like playing any other instrument because it always gives me so much to think about musically and it has always been interesting enough to keep my attention.' Hiromi was initially taught classical pieces by her piano teacher, but was drawn to the extensive jazz collection in her home. From her formative piano years, she listened to jazz legends such as Erroll Garner and Oscar Peterson, she said. With a sense of 'liberation' from classical music, Hiromi said she could feel the music for the first time. Taking her cue from her teacher and some of the greatest names in the industry, Hiromi took her first steps into improvisation. 'I was having a hard time reading music, so my teacher said I should play what I feel, and that's great because it gave me so many options,' she said. 'I can land on minor chords and play in different keys on different days. It gives me so much freedom.' Hiromi joined the Yamaha School of Music, gave her first overseas performance in Taiwan at the age of 12 and over the next few years played in Prague with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and improvised live on stage at 17 with Chick Corea after a chance meeting in Tokyo. She moved to Boston and the Berklee College of Music in 1999, studying and performing at east coast venues for the next five years before moving to New York for two years. Her first album went gold and was recognised by the Recording Industry Association of Japan as its Jazz Album of the Year. Her second album, Brain, was released in 2004 and won a host of awards, while the 2005 album Spiral earned her the Jazzman of the Year and Pianist of the Year in Swing Journal's readers' poll. Time Control, her latest album, was recorded in Nashville and released late last year. Her musical influences range across the spectrum, from Bach, to Stevie Wonder, Frank Zappa, King Crimson, Liszt, Sly and the Family Stone and back to Rachmaninov, just to name a few. And she is looking forward to meeting up with fellow performers - who she rarely gets to speak with - in Hong Kong. But when she takes to the stage, it is the audience that determines what she will be playing. 'Every gig that I play is different because it's improvisational music and I never really decide the set before I play,' she said. 'Maybe one hour before the show I'll have some ideas, but my instinct is very important. 'I have to feel it when I get there - the venue, the city, the audience - and then I just let the music fit the place.'