February 13, 2018
A select member of jazz’s piano pantheon, Fred Hersch is a pervasively influential creative force who has shaped the music’s course over more than three decades as an improviser, composer, educator, bandleader, collaborator and recording artist. A ten-time Grammy Award nominee, he continues to earn jazz’s most prestigious awards, including recent distinctions as a 2016 Doris Duke Artist and 2016 Jazz Pianist of the Year from the Jazz Journalists Association. Proclaimed “the most arrestingly innovative pianist in jazz over the last decade” by Vanity Fair, Hersch has long defined jazz’s creative edge in a wide variety of settings, from his breathtaking solo recitals and exploratory duos to his extraordinary trios and innovative chamber settings. With some three dozen albums to his credit as a leader or co-leader, Hersch consistently wins an international array of awards and lavish critical praise for his albums.
His latest release, Sunday Night at the Vanguard (Palmetto), is a definitive statement by his long-running trio with bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson. This CD was nominated for two 2017 Grammy Awards for Best Jazz Album and Best Jazz Solo. The trio’s previous release Floating (Palmetto), described as “an extravagantly beautiful new album” by Nate Chinen of The New York Times, also earned 2014 Grammy nominations for Best Jazz Album and Best Jazz Solo. And the trio’s two-CD Palmetto set Alive at the Vanguard was awarded the 2012 Grand Prix du Disque in France and named one of the year’s best CDs by Downbeat.
He’s earned similar distinction with his writing, garnering a 2003 Guggenheim Fellowship in Composition. 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. Hersch’s 2010 theatrical project, My Coma Dreams, prompted the New York Times SundayMagazine to describe Hersch as “singular among the trailblazers of their art, a largely unsung innovator of this borderless, individualistic jazz—a jazz for the 21st century.” Based on visions Hersch experienced during a two-month coma in 2008, the evening-length multimedia collaboration with writer/director Herschel Garfein for 11 instrumentalists and an actor/singer was captured on video at Columbia University and released by Palmetto on a 2014 DVD (available on Amazon).
Hersch and numerous other artists have recorded more than 90 of his jazz compositions. Naxos Records released a disc of his through-composed works, Fred Hersch: Concert Music 2001-2006, and the prestigious firm Edition Peters publishes these compositions.
In 2014, Hersch garnered his sixth Grammy nomination for his solo on "Duet" from Free Flying, a duo album with guitarist Julian Lage that received a rare 5-Star rating from Downbeat. Hersch has collaborated with an astonishing range of artists throughout worlds of jazz (Joe Henderson, Charlie Haden, Art Farmer, Stan Getz, Bill Frisell); classical (Renée Fleming, Dawn Upshaw, Christopher O'Riley); and Broadway (Audra McDonald). Long admired for his sympathetic work with singers, Hersch has joined with such notable jazz vocalists as Nancy King, Janis Siegel, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Norma Winstone and Kurt Elling.
For two decades Hersch has been a passionate spokesman and fund-raiser for AIDS services and education agencies. He 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. To day, his efforts have raised more than $300,000. He has also been a keynote speaker and performer at international medical conferences in the U.S. and Europe.
The feature documentary The Ballad of Fred Hersch premiered at the prestigious Full Frame Film Festival in March 2016 to a sold-out house and rave reviews. His memoir, Good Things Happen Slowly, will be published in 2017 by Crown Books/Random House.
A committed educator, Hersch has taught at New England Conservatory, The Juilliard School, The New School and The Manhattan School of Music, and conducted a Professional Training Workshop for Young Musicians at The Weill Institute at Carnegie Hall in 2008. He is currently a member of the Jazz Studies faculty of Rutgers University. He holds Honorary Doctorates from Grinnell College and Northern Kentucky University. Hersch's influence has been widely felt on a new generation of jazz pianists, from former students Brad Mehldau and Ethan Iverson to his colleague Jason Moran, who has said, "Fred at the piano is like LeBron James on the basketball court. He’s perfection."