The Fred Hersch Trio
Monday, November 4th, 8 p.m.| Fulkerson Recital Hall, HSU
"Unfalteringly elegant...[Hersch has a] knack for articulating emotional truths within the frame of a song."
—Nate Chinen, New York Times
"Hersch stands among the truly elevated artists in modern music. If you want a working definition of the jazz piano trio, circa early 21st century, start here."
—Neil Tesser, Chicago Examiner
Jazz piano doesn’t get any better than Fred Hersch. His long career includes more than 40 albums as a leader or co-leader, five Grammy nominations, and annual residencies at New York’s Village Vanguard. Years ago, the late, great New Yorker staff writer Whitney Balliet christened Hersch a “poet of a pianist,” and it’s widely agreed that now, at age 58, he’s at the top of his form. Both DownBeat and Slate named his latest trio album, the two-disc Alive at the Village Vanguard, one of the Best CDs of 2012.
Hersch was actually the first pianist in the Vanguard’s storied history to play weeklong solo stints, and his photo has earned a permanent place on the club’s wall, right next to Bill Evans—fitting, since as an up-and-comer in the ‘80s Hersch was often touted as the piano legend’s most prominent heir. Critics still use words like “lyrical,” “transcendent,” and “crystalline” to describe Hersch’s music, but they’ve long since recognized that he’s nobody’s clone.
In a 2010 profile for the New York Times Sunday magazine, David Hajdu depicts Hersch as “a fiercely independent but unassuming presence on the New York jazz scene” for the last four decades. Surveying that scene, Hajdu name-checks the front-rank pianists of contemporary jazz: Brad Mehldau, Ethan Iverson, Jason Moran, Vijay Iyer—each one, in his own way, a practitioner of a music that’s expressive, catholic, “unyielding to rigid conceptions of what jazz is supposed to be.” “And singular among the trailblazers of their art, a largely unsung innovator of this borderless, individualistic jazz,” concludes Hajdu, “is the pianist and composer Fred Hersch.”
In fact, those younger pianists regard Hersch as a role model, an influence, and a mentor. Mehldau remarks that “Fred’s musical world is a world where a lot of the developments of jazz history and all of music history come together in a very contemporary way. His style has a lot to do with thinking as an individual, and it has a lot to do with beauty. I wouldn’t be doing what I do,” he says frankly, “if I hadn’t learned from Fred.” For Jason Moran, meanwhile, “Fred at the piano is like LeBron James on the basketball court. He’s perfection.”
In 2008, Hersch underwent a harrowing and prolonged medical crisis that nearly cost him his life. HIV-positive for more than two decades, he developed AIDS-related dementia, and complications from treatment put him into a two-month-long coma. His near-miraculous recovery involved extensive physical rehabilitation: he had to re-learn to walk and eat—and play piano. Jazz blogger and Ottawa Citizen columnist Peter Hum voices the critical consensus when he says that in the wake of his ordeal, Hersch is playing with even more subtlety, freedom, and “exploratory zeal” than ever.
Hersch’s bond with bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson has settled into the sort of rapport and self-assurance that characterize the great piano trios in jazz history. Besides leading groups of his own, Hébert, a Louisiana native, has in recent years played sideman roles with pianist Uri Caine and guitarist Mary Halvorson. McPherson, too, is a busy man: he cut his teeth with the great Jackie McLean and has since supported the likes of Andrew Hill, Pharaoh Sanders, Jason Moran, and Greg Osby, not to mention RJA alumni Luis Perdomo and Rez Abbasi. (For his part Hersch, in addition to early sideman work with Stan Getz, Art Farmer, Toots Thielemans, Joe Henderson and Jane Ira Bloom, has had significant collaboration with such RJA guests as reedists Michael Moore and Tony Malaby; trumpeters Dave Douglas and Ralph Alessi; bassists Michael Formanek, Scott Colley, and Drew Gress; and drummer Nasheet Waits.)
All three band members are committed educators, and Hersch is also a passionate spokesman and fund-raiser for AIDS services and education agencies. All we can add is that Hersch’s music is deeply beautiful and his current trio is one of the finest working bands in jazz. Put away your sliding scales: this is the gold standard.
Fred Hersch will also present a clinic at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, November 5th in Room 131 of the "old" Music Building (outside and across the walkway from Fulkerson Recital Hall). People of all levels of experience are welcome to attend, and admission is FREE.
Words & Pixels:
Additional support for this show comes from Arcata Arts, George Epperson DDS, KHSU, Barbara and Wesley Root, Rustic West Trading Company, Threadbare Dancewear, Tomo Japanese Restaurant, and Zwerdling Bragg & Mainzer LLP.