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Fred Hersch

An acclaimed jazz pianist, composer, and educator, Fred Hersch is a supremely gifted soloist with a sophisticated, yet unself-conscious approach to playing standards and his own original compositions. As a teacher, he counts both Brad Mehldau and the Bad Plus' Ethan Iverson as former students. As a player, his nuanced style, influenced by such giants as Ahmad Jamal, Bill Evans, and Oscar Peterson, has garnered him multiple Grammy nominations, and made him a benchmark for modern jazz. Openly gay and diagnosed HIV-positive at age 30, Hersch is a vocal proponent for gay rights and AIDS research and education.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1955, Hersch began playing classical piano at age four and was dabbling in composing before the age of ten. However, it was while attending Grinnell College in Iowa that he first became interested in jazz. He dropped out of college and spent some time gigging around Cincinnati before enrolling at the New England Conservatory, where he studied with pianist and composer Jaki Byard. After graduating with honors in 1977, Hersch moved to New York City where he began playing nightly, paying his dues as a sideman. He also made his recording debut during this period, appearing on such albums as Art Farmer's Yama and Billy Harper's Awakening, both in 1979.

From 1980 to 1986, Hersch taught at the New England Conservatory. During this time, he began leading his own trio and working as a sideman with such luminaries as Chris Connor, Joe Henderson, Stan Getz, Toots Thielemans, Eddie Daniels, and others. He made his album debut as leader in 1984 with the trio album Horizons, featuring bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joey Baron. That same year, he paired with clarinetist Jane Ira Bloom for As One; the first of many collaborations between the duo. The '80s remained a busy period for the pianist, who recorded extensively with others, and released his own albums, including 1986's Sarabande, 1988's E.T.C., and 1989's Heartsongs.

In 1993, Hersch came out as gay, announcing the information in his hometown during a benefit performance for AIDS Volunteers of Cincinnati. At the same time, he also revealed that he had been receiving treatment for AIDS since his diagnoses with the disease in 1984. From the '90s onward, Hersch has remained a tireless proponent for both gay rights and AIDS research and education. He has produced benefit recordings, performed in numerous charity concerts, and given keynote addresses at international medical conferences.

The '90s were also the start of a more prolific creative period for Hersch, who earned praise for such releases as 1990's Evanessence: Tribute to Bill Evans, 1992's Dancing in the Dark, and 1994's I Never Told You: Fred Hersch Plays Johnny Mandel. Beginning with 1995's Plays Billy Strayhorn, Hersch built a sturdy set of albums on Nonesuch Records, many of them paying tribute to his influences, including 1996's Plays Rodgers & Hammerstein and 1997's Thelonious Monk-themed Thelonious. Similarly, 1998's Songs We Know found him investigating many of his favorite compositions alongside guitarist Bill Frisell.

In the 2000s, Hersch remained quite active, releasing several highly ambitious works including the three-disc Songs Without Words in 2001 and the Walt Whitman-inspired project Leaves of Grass, which featured contributions from vocalists Kurt Elling and Kate McGarry in 2005. For 2007's Night & the Music, Hersch returned to a more intimate, less conceptual trio setting.

In 2008, Hersch developed HIV-induced dementia, which left him in a coma for two months. Upon awaking, he underwent extensive rehabilitation to help regain his ability to play piano. Following his recovery, he released the bossa nova-themed solo piano effort Fred Hersch Plays Jobim in 2009. The trio recording Whirl appeared on Palmetto in 2010. Also in 2010, Hersch was the subject of a major article in The New York Times Sunday Magazine entitled Giant Steps: The Survival of a Great Jazz Pianist, by David Hadju.

Hersch then delivered two companion live albums with the 2011 solo piano date Alone at the Vanguard, followed a year later by the Grammy-nominated trio album Alive at the Vanguard. 2013 also proved to be a fruitful year as he appeared on no less than three albums: Fun House with pianist Benoit Delbecq, Only Many with trumpeter Ralph Alessi, and Free Flying, a collaboration with guitarist Julian Lage.

In 2014, Hersch received yet another Grammy nomination, for his trio album, Floating. That same year he released the DVD My Coma Dreams, a 2011 performance of his multi-media stage show based on his coma experience. The live album Solo, recorded at the Windham Civic Center Concert Hall in Windham, New York, followed in 2015. In 2016, Hersch was the subject of directors Charlotte Lagarde and Carrie Lozano's documentary film, The Ballad of Fred Hersch. ~ Matt Collar
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Solo

1. Olha Maria/O Grande Amor

2. Caravan

3. Pastorale

4. Whirl

5. The Song Is You

6. In Walked Bud

7. Both Sides Now

x

Track List: Alone At the Vanguard

1. In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning

2. Down Home (Dedicated to Bill Frisell)

3. Echoes

4. Lee's Dream (Dedicated to Lee Konitz)

5. Pastorale (Dedicated to Robert Schumann)

6. Doce DE Coco

7. Memories of You

8. Work

9. Encore: Doxy

x

Track List: Personal Favorites

1. Secret Love

2. Played Twice

3. For All We Know

4. Child's Song

5. Evanessence

6. I Fall In Love Too Easily

7. Professor K.

8. Forward Notion

9. Iris

10. Nostalgia

11. Out Of Nowhere

12. If I Should Lose You

x

Track List: In Amsterdam: Live At the Bimhuis

1. A Lark

2. The Nearness of You

3. Evidence

4. At the Close of the Day

5. O Grande Amor

6. The Peacocks

7. Don't Blame Me

8. Valentine

x

Track List: The Fred Hersch Trio + 2

1. A Riddle Song

2. And I Love Her

3. Miss B.

4. Black Dog Pays A Visit

5. A Lark

6. Down Home

7. Rain Waltz

8. Marshall's Plan

9. Lee's Dream

10. The Chase

x

Track List: Live At The Village Vanguard

1. Bemsha Swing

2. At The Close Of The Day

3. Phantom Of The Bopera

4. Endless Stars

5. Swamp Thang

6. Stuttering

7. Some Other Time

8. Days Gone By

9. Black Nile

10. I'll Be Seeing You

x

Track List: Songs Without Words

Disc 1

1. Aria

2. Ballad

3. Tango

4. Duet

5. The Moon's Lullaby

6. Waltz

7. Child's Song

8. Up In The Air

9. Heartsong

10. Sarabande

Disc 2

1. Work

2. Caravan

3. The Wind

4. Con Alma

5. Fall

6. Winter Sweet

7. Whisper Not

8. Miyako

9. Duke Ellington's Sound Of Love / Jump Monk

10. Mood Indigo

Disc 3

1. Get Out Of Town

2. So In Love

3. From This Moment On

4. Don't Fence Me In

5. Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye

6. All Of You

7. Easy To Love

8. I Concentrate On You

9. You're The Top

10. Let's Do It

x

Track List: The Fred Hersch Trio Plays...

1. Milestones

2. Iris

3. Played Twice

4. Con Alma

5. Mood Indigo

6. Speak Like A Child

7. Evanessence

8. Think Of One

9. Daydream

10. Forerunner

11. Moment's Notice

12. Doxy

x

Track List: Leaves Of Grass

1. A Riddle Song

2. Song Of The Universal

3. Whoever You Are Holding Me Now In Hand

4. Song Of Myself: Part 1 ("I Celebrate Myself")

5. Part II ("A Child Said, 'What Is The Grass?")

6. Part III ("A Learner With The Simplest")

7. Part IV ("I Exist As I Am")

8. Part V ("I Am He That Walks")

9. Part VI ("Through Me Forbidden Voices")

10. Part VII ("Now I Will Do Nothing But Listen")

11. Part VIII ("I Believe A Leaf Of Grass...")

12. Part IX ("I Fly THose Flights...")

13. Part X ("My Lovers Suffocate Me")

14. Part XI ("Why Should I Wish To See God...")

15. The Mystic Trumeter

16. At The Close Of The Day

17. To You / Perfections

18. The Sleepers

19. Spirit That Form'd This Scene / On The Beach At Night Alone

20. After The Dazzle Of Day

x

Track List: Let Yourself Go

1. Black Is The Color / Love Theme From "Spartacus" (live)

2. Speak Low

3. My Old Man

4. I Loves You, Porgy (live)

5. Moon & Sand

6. ...Departed

7. Let Yourself Go

8. Blue Monk

9. The Nearness Of You (live)

x

Track List: Night & The Music

1. So In Love

2. Rhythm Spirit

3. Heartland

4. Galaxy Fragment/You And The Night And The Music

5. Boo Boo's Birthday

6. Change Partners

7. How Deep Is The Ocean

8. Gravity's Pull

9. Andrew John

10. Misterioso

x

Track List: Whirl

1. You're My Everything

2. Snow Is Falling...

3. Blue Midnight

4. Skipping

5. Mandevilla

6. When Your Lover Has Gone

7. Whirl

8. Sad Poet

9. Mrs. Parker of K.C.

10. Still Here

Comments

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toridickerso n
Lovely music to listen to anytime.
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lttorres
Perfect music for a night of quiet conversation . Like a warm sweater on a cool evening.
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...and God love him, he played the Skipper Ryle Show when we was little kids.
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I love this ceribreal type of music
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mph_cia
Another Shining product out of Walnut Hills H.S.!
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Heartson
by. Fred. Herch
on Songs. Without. Words
Report as inappropriate
All. Of. You
by. Fred. Herch

Report as inappropriate
Fred Hersch is wonderful. Also try Red Garland, Gene Harris and Shelly Berg Trio Blackbird album.
Report as inappropriate
Very talented Musician. I love his melodic style... smooth, easy, soft, nice and tender.
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Eat & drank while loving this music.
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Am going to check him out at the Village Vanguard - can't wait!
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royalucas
Aw Yeahm, Aw Yeah! Fan for Life. Thx Fred!!!
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pamap02
He makes beautiful music! Love this guy.
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lovleylana12 3
"I Loves You Porgy." What can one say? Wow!! Moving, beautiful, amazing. So very very well done!
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Very nice--Fred's a great pianist, and he can swing too.
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I love Fred Hersch!
Report as inappropriate
extreme feeling - can lift spirit from depression
Report as inappropriate
His work on "Leaves of Grass" w/Elling and McGarry is awesome
Report as inappropriate
nurit7
piano jazz, thoughtful
Report as inappropriate
Man, "A Riddle Song" is so damn cool.
Report as inappropriate
noebro
"At The Close of The Day" - absolutely stunning!

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