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Fred Hersch

Fred Hersch

American musician
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro American musician
Countries United States of America
Occupations Pianist Music educator Jazz musician Educator
Gender male
Birth 21 October 1955 (Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio, U.S.A.)
Education Grinnell College, New England Conservatory of Music
The details

Fred Hersch (born October 21, 1955) is an American jazz pianist and composer. Hersch has featured himself as either a solo performer or at the helm of varied small ensembles, which in addition to his trio, include a quintet, as well as his "Pocket Orchestra" featuring piano, trumpet, voice and percussion. He was the first person to play week-long engagements as a solo pianist New York City's Village Vanguard. He has recorded more than 70 of his jazz compositions. Hersch has been nominated for several Grammy Awards, and, as of December 2014, had been on the Jazz Studies faculty of the New England Conservatory since 1980 (with breaks).

Early life

Hersch was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. He began playing the piano at the age of four and started composing music by eight. He won national piano competitions starting at the age of ten.

Hersch first became interested in jazz while at Grinnell College in Iowa. He dropped out of school and started playing jazz in Cincinnati. He continued his studies at the New England Conservatory, attracting attention from the press – "a fine showcase for Fred Hersch" – in a college recital. On graduation, he became a jazz piano instructor at the college.


One of Fred Hersch's earliest professional engagements was with Art Farmer in Los Angeles in 1978. Jazz critic Leonard Feather wrote that he "showed his ability as an accompanist and soloist at the out-of-tune piano". He played with Farmer again in 1981. In 1982, the album A Work of Art (Art Farmer Quartet, Concord Jazz CJ-179), was released, with Hersch on piano. It included two original compositions by Hersch. Leonard Feather gave it 3½ stars.

In 1980, the Fred Hersch Trio played at B. Dalton Bookseller, one of many fringe events that were an offshoot of the Newport Jazz Festival.

In 1981, he and his trio played for singer Chris Connor, who was making a comeback after completing a recovery program for alcoholism.

He played at the Kool Jazz Festival in 1981, and with Joe Henderson in the New Jazz at the Public series in the same year.

In 1983, Hersch played a duo session with bassist Ratso Harris at the Knickerbocker Saloon, New York. The New York Times wrote, "Mr. Hersch is a romantic. He is openly involved in what he is playing and projects this involvement with body English and facial expressions that subtly underline the sense of his music. His lines often become gently billowing waves of sound, and he rises and falls, tenses and relaxes along with them."

In 1983–84, Hersch played many sessions with Jane Ira Bloom in several venues, and with whom he recorded the album, Mighty Lights.

In 1985, he played with the Jamie Baum Quartet.

In 1986, he played with Toots Thielemans at the Great Woods jazz festival. He played with him in several sessions the following year, and again in 1987, receiving special attention for his solos. In 1986, he taught at Berklee College of Music.

He was the pianist for the Eddie Daniels quartet in 1987 and appeared on his album, To Bird with Love.

In 1988, Hersch played in Somerville, Massachusetts with his quintet at the Willow Jazz Club. The Boston Globe described him as "an elegant, highly melodic player."

In 1989, Hersch played with Janis Siegel of The Manhattan Transfer and they recorded together in a studio set up in his home.

In 2006, Palmetto Records released the solo CD Fred Hersch in Amsterdam: Live at the Bimhuis, and released his eighth solo disc, Fred Hersch Plays Jobim, in 2009.


Hersch's career as a performer has been enhanced by his composing activities, which are an important part of nearly all of his concerts and recordings. He has received commissions from the Gilmore Keyboard Festival, the Doris Duke Foundation, the Miller Theatre at Columbia University, the Gramercy Trio and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. A disc of his through-composed works, Fred Hersch: Concert Music 2001-2006, was released by Naxos Records.

A number of Hersch's compositions have been transcribed by music publisher Edition Peters. These include "Valentine", Three Character Studies, Saloon Songs, and 24 Variations on a Bach Chorale.

Hersch was awarded a 2003 Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship for composition. In the same year, he created Leaves of Grass (Palmetto Records), a large-scale setting of Walt Whitman's poetry for two voices (Kurt Elling and Kate McGarry) and an instrumental octet; the work was presented in March 2005 at Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall as part of a six-city U.S. tour.

Illness and recovery

In 2008, Hersch developed HIV-induced dementia. He then fell into a coma which lasted two months. When he regained consciousness, he had lost all muscular function as a result of his long inactivity and could not play the piano. After intense rehabilitation, he made a full recovery.

Hersch's 2011 production My Coma Dreams was a full-evening work for 11 instruments, actor/singer and animation/multimedia, based on dreams he retained after emerging from his coma. A recording of the work was released on DVD in 2014.


He received Grammy nominations in 2011 for Alone at the Vanguard (Best Jazz Album and Best Improvised Jazz Solo). He has received other Grammy nominations for Best Instrumental Composition, and two for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance. In 2011 Hersch was voted Jazz Pianist of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association. His two-CD trio album, Alive at the Vanguard, was awarded the 2012 Grand Prix du Disque by the Académie Charles Cros in France and was named one of the Best CDs of 2012 by Downbeat.

In 2013, Hersch and guitarist Julian Lage were nominated for "Song without Words #4: Duet" (Best Improvised Jazz Solo) from Free Flying, a duo album.

In December 2014, Hersch was nominated for the 57th Grammy Awards. In the "Best Jazz Instrumental Album" category, his trio was nominated for Floating. The track "You & the Night & the Music", from Floating, was nominated for "Best Improvised Jazz Solo." National Public Radio named floating No. 11 on its list of 50 Favorite Albums of 2014.

Hersch has been awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship, grants from Chamber Music America, the National Endowment for the Arts and Meet the Composer, and seven composition residencies at the MacDowell Colony. Hersch has been a guest on a variety of radio and television programs.


Hersch has collaborated with a variety of instrumentalists and vocalists in the worlds of jazz (Joe Henderson, Charlie Haden, Art Farmer, Stan Getz and Bill Frisell); classical (Renée Fleming,Dawn Upshaw, Joshua Bell, Christopher O'Riley, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg); and Broadway (Audra McDonald). Hersch has accompanied jazz vocalists such as Nancy King, Norma Winstone and Kurt Elling.

Hersch has taught at The New School and Manhattan School of Music, and conducted a Professional Training Workshop for Young Musicians at The Weill Institute at Carnegie Hall in 2008.

Charity work

Hersch has been a spokesman and fund-raiser for AIDS services and education agencies since 1993. Hersch has produced and performed on four benefit recordings and in numerous concerts for charities including Classical Action: Performing Arts Against AIDS and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS which had raised over $250,000 as of June, 2013. In April, 2016 he played a benefit concert for Buddhist Global Relief. He has also been the keynote speaker and performer at international medical conferences in the U.S. and Europe.


Hersch's influence has been widely felt on a new generation of jazz pianists, from former Hersch students including Brad Mehldau and Ethan Iverson of the Bad Plus, to his contemporary Jason Moran, who said: "Fred at the piano is like LeBron James on the basketball court. He's perfection."

Critical response

Downbeat magazine described Hersch as "one of the small handful of brilliant musicians of his generation." The New York Times described him as "singular among the trailblazers of their art, a largely unsung innovator of this borderless, individualistic jazz – a jazz for the 21st century."


As leader/co-leader

Sortable table
Date Artist Album title Label Notes
1985 Fred Hersch Trio with Charlie Haden, Joey Baron Horizons Concord Jazz
1985 with Jane Ira Bloom As One JMT duo
1986 Fred Hersch Trio Sarabande Sunnyside
1988 E.T.C. E.T.C. Red trio with Steve LaSpina, Jeff Hirshfield
1989 Fred Hersch Trio Heartsongs Sunnyside with Michael Formanek, Jeff Hirshfield
1989 Fred Hersch The French Collection (Jazz Impressions of French Classics) EMI Angel with Steve LaSpina, Joey Baron and guests: James Newton, Kevin Eubanks, Toots Thielemans, Eddie Daniels
1989 with Janis Siegel Short Stories Atlantic (plus Harvie Swartz, Kris Yenny)
1990 Fred Hersch (Trio) Evanessence: A Tribute to Bill Evans Evidence with Michael Formanek or Marc Johnson, Jeff Hirshfield and guests: Gary Burton, Toots Thielemans
1991 E.T.C. E.T.C. Plus One Red quartet with Steve LaSpina, Jeff Hirshfield and Jerry Bergonzi
1991 Fred Hersch Group Forward Motion Chesky quintet with Rich Perry, Erik Friedlander, Scott Colley and Tom Rainey
1992 Fred Hersch Trio Red Square Blue: Jazz Impressions of Russian Composers EMI Angel with Steve LaSpina, Jeff Hirshfield and guests: James Newton, Toots Thielemans, Phil Woods and Erik Friedlander
1993 Fred Hersch Trio Dancing in the Dark Chesky with Drew Gress and Tom Rainey
1993 Fred Hersch At Maybeck Concord Jazz solo; Maybeck Recital Hall Series, Vol. 31
1994 with Leny Andrade Maiden Voyage Chesky
1994 Fred Hersch Trio Plays Chesky with Drew Gress, Tom Rainey
1995 Fred Hersch I Never Told You: Fred Hersch Plays Johnny Mandel Varèse Sarabande solo
1995 Fred Hersch (Trio and Quintet) Point in Time Enja with Drew Gress, Tom Rainey, Dave Douglas and Rich Perry
1995 with Jay Clayton Beautiful Love Sunnyside duo
1995 with Janis Siegel Slow Hot Wind Varèse Sarabande partly with Tony Dumas, Ralph Penland
1996 Fred Hersch (Trio) Passion Flower - The Music of Billy Strayhorn Nonesuch with Drew Gress, Tom Rainey and string orchestra cond. by Eric Stern
1996 Fred Hersch Plays Rodgers & Hammerstein Nonesuch solo
1997 Fred Hersch Plays Thelonious Monk Nonesuch solo
1997 Fred Hersch The Duo Album Classical Action misc. duos with Jim Hall, Kenny Barron, Tom Harrell, Gary Burton, Janis Siegel a.o.
1997 Thirteen Ways with Michael Moore and Gerry Hemingway Thirteen Ways GM
1998 with Bill Frisell Songs We Know Nonesuch duo
1999 Fred Hersch Let Yourself Go: Live at Jordan Hall Nonesuch solo
1999 Thirteen Ways Focus Palmetto trio with Michael Moore and Gerry Hemingway
2000 with Norma Winstone, Kenny Wheeler, Paul Clarvis 4 in Perspective Village Life
2001 Fred Hersch Songs without Words Nonesuch solo, duo, trio, quintet; 3 cd set, vol. 3 tributed to Cole Porter
2003 Fred Hersch Trio Live at the Village Vanguard Palmetto with Drew Gress, Nasheet Waits
2003 with Norma Winstone Songs and Lullabies Sunnyside with Gary Burton on three tracks
2004 Fred Hersch Trio + 2 Palmetto with Drew Gress, Nasheet Waits + Ralph Alessi and Tony Malaby
2003 Fred Hersch Soothing the Senses Sensory Resources solo
2005 Fred Hersch Leaves of Grass Palmetto lyrics by Walt Whitman, ensemble featuring vocalists Kurt Elling and Kate McGarry
2005 Fred Hersch In Amsterdam: Live at the Bimhuis Palmetto
2007 Fred Hersch Trio Night & the Music Palmetto with Drew Gress, Nasheet Waits
2007 Fred Hersch Concert Music 2001-2006 Naxos with pianists Blair McMillen and Natasha Paremski, the Gramercy Trio, and cellist Dorothy Lawson
2009 Fred Hersch Pocket Orchestra Live at Jazz Standard Sunnyside quartet with Ralph Alessi, Richie Barshay and Jo Lawry
2009 Fred Hersch Plays Jobim Sunnyside solo with compositions by Antônio Carlos Jobim
2010 Fred Hersch Trio Whirl Palmetto with John Hébert, Eric McPherson
2011 Fred Hersch Trio Everybody's Song but My Own Venus with Marc Johnson, Joey Baron
2011 Fred Hersch Alone at the Vanguard Palmetto solo; Grammy Award nominations for Best Jazz Instrumental Album and Best Improvised Jazz Solo
2012 with Nico Gori Da Vinci Bee Jazz duo
2012 Fred Hersch Trio Alive at the Vanguard Palmetto with John Hébert, Eric McPherson
2013 with Julian Lage Free Flying Palmetto Grammy Award nomination for Best Improvised Jazz Solo
2013 with Ralph Alessi Only Many CAM Jazz duo
2014 Fred Hersch Trio Floating Palmetto with John Hébert, Eric McPherson
2015 Fred Hersch Solo Palmetto
2016 Fred Hersch Trio Sunday Night at the Vanguard Palmetto with John Hébert (bass), Eric McPherson (drums)

As sideman

With Jane Ira Bloom

  • Mighty Lights (Enja, 1982)

With Art Farmer

  • Mirage (Soul Note, 1982)
  • Warm Valley (Concord, 1982)
  • You Make Me Smile (Soul Note, 1984)

With Billy Harper

  • Billy Harper Quintet in Europe (Soul Note, 1979)
  • The Awakening (Marge, 1979)

With Matt Kendrick

  • Other Aspects

With Nancy King

  • Live at Jazz Standard (Maxjazz, 2006)

With Roseanna Vitro

  • The Time of My Life: Roseanna Vitro Sings the Songs of Steve Allen (See Breeze, 1999; recorded 1986)
  • Conviction: Thoughts of Bill Evans (A Records, 2001)
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