Fred Hersch

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Fred Hersch
Fred-hersch DSC05858.jpg
Fred Hersch at Reykjavik Jazz Festival 2017
Background information
Born (1955-10-21) October 21, 1955 (age 63)
Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.
Occupation(s)Musician, educator
Years active1977–present
LabelsSunnyside, Chesky, Nonesuch, Palmetto

Fred Hersch (born October 21, 1955) is an American jazz pianist and educator. He has performed solo and led his own groups, including the Pocket Orchestra consisting of piano, trumpet, voice, and percussion. He was the first person to play weeklong engagements as a solo pianist at the Village Vanguard in New York City. 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).[1]

Early life[edit]

Hersch was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. He began playing the piano at the age of four (under the tutelage of Jeanne Kirstein) 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.[2] On graduation, he became a jazz piano instructor at the college.[3]


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".[4] He played with Farmer again in 1981.[5] 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.[6]

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.[7]

In 1981, he and his trio played for singer Chris Connor, who was making a comeback after completing a recovery program for alcoholism.[8]

He played at the Kool Jazz Festival in 1981,[9] and with Joe Henderson in the New Jazz at the Public series in the same year.[10]

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."[11]

In 1983–84, Hersch played many sessions with Jane Ira Bloom in several venues, and with whom he recorded the album, Mighty Lights.[12][13][14]

In 1985, he played with the Jamie Baum Quartet.[15]

In 1986, he played with Toots Thielemans at the Great Woods jazz festival.[16] He played with him in several sessions the following year,[17][18] and again in 1987, receiving special attention for his solos.[19] In 1986, he taught at Berklee College of Music.[20]

He was the pianist for the Eddie Daniels quartet in 1987 and appeared on his album, To Bird with Love.[21]

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."[22]

In 1989, Hersch played with Janis Siegel of The Manhattan Transfer and they recorded together in a studio set up in his home.[23] His first solo piano recording came in 1993: Fred Hersch at Maybeck.[24]

In 2006, Palmetto Records released the solo CD Fred Hersch in Amsterdam: Live at the Bimhuis,[25] and released his eighth solo disc, Fred Hersch Plays Jobim, in 2009.[26]


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.[27]

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.[28]


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,[29]Dawn Upshaw, Joshua Bell,[30] Christopher O'Riley, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg);[31] 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.


Since 2011 he was recognized by The Recording Academy nominating him with multiple Grammy Awards:

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.

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.


Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship in Composition 2003

Coup de coeur de l'Academie Charles Cross 2011 (Alone)

Grand Prix du Disque de l'Academie Charles Cross 2012 (Alive at the Vanguard)

Jazz Magazine (France) “Artiste Étranger de L’année” 2015

DownBeat Critics’ Poll “Pianist of the Year” 2015

JazzTimes Critics’ Poll “Piano” 2015

Jazz Logical “CD Internacional” 2015 (Solo)

Grand Prix du Disque de l’Académie du Jazz 2015 (Solo)

Honorary Doctor of Musical Arts, Northern Kentucky University, 2015

Doris Duke Artist Award 2016

Jazz Journalists Association “Pianist of the Year” 2016

Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, Grinnell College, 2016

Prix Honorem in Jazz from L’Acádemie Charles Cros, 2017

Jazz Journalists Association “Book of the Year about Jazz” 2018

Jazz Journalists Association “Pianist of the Year” 2018

Critical response[edit]

Downbeat magazine described Hersch as "one of the small handful of brilliant musicians of his generation."[32] 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."[33]


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."


Personal Life[edit]

Illness and recovery[edit]

In 1993 Hersch announced publicly that he was gay and that he had been treated for HIV since 1984. He fell into a coma in 2008 for two months.[34][35] When he regained consciousness, he had lost all muscular function as a result of his long inactivity and could not play the piano. After rehabilitation, he was able to play again.[35] In 2011 he performed My Coma Dreams, a stage show written and directed by Herschel Garfein about the contrast between dreams and reality.[36]

Charity work[edit]

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.[37] He has also been the keynote speaker and performer at international medical conferences in the U.S. and Europe.


As leader/co-leader[edit]

Year recorded Title Label Notes
1984 Horizons Concord Jazz Trio, with Charlie Haden (bass), Joey Baron (drums)
1984 As One JMT Duo, co-led with Jane Ira Bloom (soprano sax)
1986 Sarabande Sunnyside Trio, with Charlie Haden (bass), Joey Baron (drums)
1988 E.T.C. Red As E.T.C.; trio with Steve LaSpina (bass), Jeff Hirshfield (drums)
1989 Heartsongs Sunnyside Trio, with Michael Formanek (bass), Jeff Hirshfield (drums)
1989? 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? Short Stories Atlantic with Janis Siegel (plus Harvie Swartz, Kris Yenny)
1990 Evanessence: A Tribute to Bill Evans Evidence Trio, with Michael Formanek or Marc Johnson, Jeff Hirshfield and guests: Gary Burton, Toots Thielemans
1991? E.T.C. Plus One Red As E.T.C.; quartet, with Steve LaSpina, Jeff Hirshfield, Jerry Bergonzi
1991 Forward Motion Chesky Quintet, with Rich Perry (tenor sax), Erik Friedlander (cello), Scott Colley (bass), Tom Rainey (drums)
1992? Red Square Blue: Jazz Impressions of Russian Composers EMI Angel Trio, with Steve LaSpina, Jeff Hirshfield and guests: James Newton, Toots Thielemans, Phil Woods, Erik Friedlander
1992 Dancing in the Dark Chesky Trio, with Drew Gress (bass), Tom Rainey (drums)
1993 Fred Hersch at Maybeck Concord Jazz Solo piano; in concert
1994? Maiden Voyage Chesky with Leny Andrade
1994? Plays Chesky Trio, with Drew Gress, Tom Rainey
1995? I Never Told You: Fred Hersch Plays Johnny Mandel Varèse Sarabande Solo piano
1995? Point in Time Enja Trio and quintet, with Drew Gress, Tom Rainey, Dave Douglas, Rich Perry
1994? Beautiful Love Sunnyside Duo, with Jay Clayton (vocals)
1995? Slow Hot Wind Varèse Sarabande with Janis Siegel, Tony Dumas, Ralph Penland
1995 Passion Flower - The Music of Billy Strayhorn Nonesuch with Drew Gress (bass), Tom Rainey (drums), and string orchestra cond. by Eric Stern; one track duo, with Nurit Tilles (piano); Chief Bey (vocals) added for one track
1996 Plays Rodgers & Hammerstein Nonesuch Solo piano
1997 Plays Thelonious Monk Nonesuch Solo piano
1997? The Duo Album Classical Action Duos, with Jim Hall, Kenny Barron, Tom Harrell, Gary Burton, Janis Siegel a.o.
1997? Thirteen Ways GM As Thirteen Ways, with Michael Moore, Gerry Hemingway
1998 Songs We Know Nonesuch Duo, with Bill Frisell (guitar)
1998 Let Yourself Go: Live at Jordan Hall Nonesuch Solo piano
1999? Focus Palmetto As Thirteen Ways; trio, with Michael Moore, Gerry Hemingway
2000? 4 in Perspective Village Life with Norma Winstone, Kenny Wheeler, Paul Clarvis
2000 Songs without Words Nonesuch solo, duo, trio, quintet; 3 cd set, vol. 3 tributed to Cole Porter
2002 Live at the Village Vanguard Palmetto Trio, with Drew Gress (bass), Nasheet Waits (drums); in concert
2003? Songs and Lullabies Sunnyside Most tracks duo, with Norma Winstone (vocals); some tracks with Gary Burton (vibes) added
2003 Fred Hersch Trio + 2 Palmetto Trio, with Drew Gress (bass), Nasheet Waits (drums) + Ralph Alessi (trumpet, flugelhorn), Tony Malaby (tenor sax)
2003? Soothing the Senses Sensory Resources Solo piano
2005? Leaves of Grass Palmetto lyrics by Walt Whitman, ensemble featuring vocalists Kurt Elling and Kate McGarry
2005? In Amsterdam: Live at the Bimhuis Palmetto Solo piano; in concert
2007? Night & the Music Palmetto Trio, with Drew Gress, Nasheet Waits
2007? Concert Music 2001-2006 Naxos with pianists Blair McMillen and Natasha Paremski, the Gramercy Trio, and cellist Dorothy Lawson
2009? Live at Jazz Standard Sunnyside Quartet, with Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Richie Barshay (percussion), Jo Lawry (vocals); in concert
2009? Plays Jobim Sunnyside Solo piano
2010? Whirl Palmetto Trio, with John Hébert, Eric McPherson
2010 Everybody's Song but My Own Venus Trio, with John Hébert (bass), Eric McPherson (drums)
2011? Alone at the Vanguard Palmetto Solo piano; Grammy Award nominations for Best Jazz Instrumental Album and Best Improvised Jazz Solo
2012? Da Vinci Bee Jazz Duo, with Nico Gori
2012? Alive at the Vanguard Palmetto Trio, with John Hébert, Eric McPherson
2013? Free Flying Palmetto with Julian Lage; Grammy Award nomination for Best Improvised Jazz Solo
2013? Only Many CAM Jazz Duo, co-led with Ralph Alessi (trumpet)
2014? Floating Palmetto Trio, with John Hébert, Eric McPherson
2015? Solo Palmetto Solo piano
2016? Sunday Night at the Vanguard Palmetto Trio, with John Hébert, Eric McPherson
2017? Open Book Palmetto Solo piano
2018? Live in Europe Palmetto Trio, with John Hébert, Eric McPherson

As sideman[edit]

With Jane Ira Bloom

With Art Farmer

With Billy Harper

With Sam Jones

With Matt Kendrick

  • Other Aspects

With Nancy King

With Toots Thielemans

With Roseanna Vitro

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Faculty Profile: Fred Hersch" (15 July 2017) Retrieved on 1 November 2017.
  2. ^ "the third stream" (Jan 20, 1977) Bay State Banner, Boston
  3. ^ "Jazzman on Classic Path To Wider Audience: Pianist Fred Hersch" (July 9, 1989) San Francisco Chronicle p. 42
  4. ^ "Art Farmer Plays at Memory Lane" (Nov 9, 1978) Los Angeles Times p. H20
  5. ^ "Art Farmer Plays It Cool; Art Farmer - With Fred Hersch, Piano; Bob Bodely, Bass; And Billy Hart, Drums; At Tinker's" (26 Sep 1981) Boston Globe p.1
  6. ^ "Jazz Album Briefs" (Apr 18, 1982) Los Angeles Times p. K59
  7. ^ "Going Out Guide" (June 30, 1980) The New York Times p. C.17
  8. ^ "Chris Connor's Comeback" (Jan 16, 1981) The New York Times p. C1
  9. ^ "10th Jazz Festival Goes Singing and Drumming In" (June 26, 1981) The New York Times p. C1
  10. ^ "Joe Henderson in Sextet In Jazz at Public Series" (Nov 1, 1981) The New York Times p. A70
  11. ^ "Jazz Fred Hersch, Pianist" (Mar 26, 1983) The New York Times p. 1.19
  12. ^ "The Pop Life" (Apr 13, 1983) The New York Times
  13. ^ "Jane Ira Bloom Plays in Fast Company" (Apr 15, 1983) Philadelphia Daily News
  14. ^ "Here and There" (Jan 20, 1984) Philadelphia Daily News p.43
  15. ^ "Regattabar to Launch 7-Nights-a-Week Jazz" (Mar 1, 1985) Boston Globe
  16. ^ "Thielemans Whistles for Fun, Profit" (11 July 1986) Boston Globe
  17. ^ "AROUND TOWN Bridging the Seasons" (9 Sep 1987) Newsday p.14
  18. ^ Leonard Feather (21 Sep 1987) "JAZZ REVIEWS THIELEMANS ON TOP", Los Angeles Times p.5
  19. ^ "Toots Thielemans Plays a Hot Jazz Harmonica" (5 Feb 1987) Boston Globe
  20. ^ "Schools Offer the Mechanical While Fostering the Spiritual" (13 July 1986) Chicago Tribune p.8
  21. ^ "Critic's Choice: Jazz" (May 17, 1987) The New York Times
  22. ^ "Fred Hersh Quintet at Willow Jazz Club" (16 Sep 1988) Boston Globe
  23. ^ "A Solo Detour On this route, Manhattan Transfer's Janis Siegel's only harmony is with a piano" (4 June 1989) Newsday
  24. ^ Cook, Richard; Morton, Brian (1996). The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD (3rd ed.). Penguin. p. 626. ISBN 978-0-14-051368-4.
  25. ^ Fred Hersch (2005) Fred Hersch in Amsterdam : Live at the Bimhuis, Palmetto Records (OCLC 874395763)
  26. ^ Fred Hersch (2009) Fred Hersch Plays Jobim, Sunnyside Communications (OCLC 430564030)
  27. ^ Dariusz Terefenko (2012) "JAZZ PIANO", Notes (New England Conservatory Notes) Vol.68 No.3
  28. ^ "Songs of Whitman; Jazz pianist Fred Hersch crowns a lifetime of achievement with Leaves of Grass" (Apr 1, 2003) The Advocate Vol.886 p.50
  29. ^ Renée Fleming, soprano and Fred Hersch, piano - New York City (June 12, 2003) (Michael Palm Series) Broadway Cares, Events Archives
  30. ^ Classical Action's Fifth Anniversary Celebration at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, featuring violinist Joshua Bell, pianists Fred Hersch and Ursula Oppens, dancer/choreographer Bill T. Jones, bassist Edgar Meyer, the Orion String Quartet, clarinetist David Shifrin, soprano Dawn Upshaw, Ida Nevasayneva of Les Ballets Trockadero of Monte Carlo; hosted by Madeline Kahn and Nathan Lane - New York City (Jan 10, 1998)
  31. ^ Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, violin and Fred Hersch, piano - New York City (Jun 13, 200) Broadway Cares, Events Archives
  32. ^ Fred Bouchard, Downbeat; quoted at Press, Fred Hersch website.
  33. ^ David Hajdu, The New York Times Sunday Magazine; quoted at Press, Fred Hersch website.
  34. ^ Collar, Matt. "Fred Hersch". AllMusic. Retrieved 20 July 2017.
  35. ^ a b Hajdu, David (31 January 2010). "Giant Steps: The Survival of a Great Jazz Pianist". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 July 2017.
  36. ^ Ratliff, Ben (9 May 2011). "'My Coma Dreams', by Fred Hersch - Review". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 July 2017.
  37. ^

External links[edit]