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).
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.
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."
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."
|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|
|2016||Fred Hersch Trio||Sunday Night at the Vanguard||Palmetto||with John Hébert (bass), Eric McPherson (drums)|
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)