Fred Hersch

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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'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).[1]

Early life[edit]

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. [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]

In 2006, Palmetto Records released the solo CD Fred Hersch in Amsterdam: Live at the Bimhuis,[24] and released his eighth solo disc, Fred Hersch Plays Jobim, in 2009.[25]


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.[26]

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.[27]

Illness and recovery[edit]

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.[28]

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.[29] A recording of the work was released on DVD in 2014.[30]


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.[31][32]

In December 2014, Hersch was nominated for the 57th Grammy Awards. In the "Best Jazz Instrumental Album" category, his trio was nominated for Floating.[33] The track "You & the Night & the Music", from Floating, was nominated for "Best Improvised Jazz Solo."[34] National Public Radio named floating No. 11 on its list of 50 Favorite Albums of 2014.[35]

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,[36]Dawn Upshaw, Joshua Bell,[37] Christopher O'Riley, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg);[38] 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[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. [39] 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[edit]

Downbeat magazine described Hersch as "one of the small handful of brilliant musicians of his generation."[40] 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."[41]


As leader/co-leader[edit]

  • Horizons (1984)
  • As One (JMT, 1985) with Jane Ira Bloom
  • Sarabande (1986)
  • E.T.C. (1988)
  • Heartsongs (1989)
  • The French Collection (1989)
  • Short Stories (1989) with Janis Siegel
  • Evanessence: A Tribute to Bill Evans (1990)
  • Forward Motion (1991)
  • Red Square Blue: Jazz Impressions of Russian Composers (1992)
  • Dancing in the Dark (1992)
  • Live at Maybeck Recital Hall, Vol. 31 (1993)
  • The Fred Hersch Trio Plays (1994)
  • I Never Told You: Fred Hersch Plays Johnny Mandel (1994)
  • Point in Time (1995)
  • Plays Billy Strayhorn (1995)
  • Beautiful Love (1995) with Jay Clayton
  • Slow Hot Wind (1995) with Janis Siegel
  • Passion Flower (1996)
  • Plays Rodgers & Hammerstein (1996)
  • Thelonious (1997)
  • The Duo Album (1997)
  • Thirteen Ways (1997)
  • Songs We Know (1998) with Bill Frisell
  • Let Yourself Go: Live at Jordan Hall (1999)
  • Focus (2000) with Michael Moore and Gerry Hemingway
  • Songs without Words (2002)
  • Live at the Village Vanguard (2003)
  • Songs and Lullabies (2003) with Norma Winstone and Gary Burton
  • Fred Hersch Trio + 2 (2004) with Ralph Alessi and Tony Malaby
  • Leaves of Grass (2005)
  • Live at the Bimhuis (2005)
  • Fred Hersch Trio Night and the Music (2007)
  • Concert Music 2001-2006 (2007)
  • Fred Hersch Pocket Orchestra: Live at Jazz Standard (2009)
  • Fred Hersch Trio - Whirl (2010)
  • Fred Hersch Trio - Everybody's Song But My Own (January 2011)
  • Fred Hersch Alone At The Vanguard (March 2011)
  • Da Vinci - Fred Hersch and Nico Gori (March 2012)
  • Fred Hersch Trio - Alive at the Vanguard (September 2012)
  • Free Flying (2013), with Julian Lage

As sideman[edit]

With Jane Ira Bloom

  • Mighty Lights (Enja, 1982)

With Art Farmer

With Billy Harper

With Matt Kendrick

  • Other Aspects

With Nancy King

With Roseanna Vitro

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Faculty Profile: Fred Hersch" (November 6, 2014) NEC
  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. ^ Fred Hersch (2005) Fred Hersch in Amsterdam : Live at the Bimhuis, Palmetto Records (OCLC 874395763)
  25. ^ Fred Hersch (2009) Fred Hersch Plays Jobim, Sunnyside Communications (OCLC 430564030)
  26. ^ Dariusz Terefenko (2012) "JAZZ PIANO", Notes (New England Conservatory Notes) Vol.68 No.3
  27. ^ "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
  28. ^ "Giant Steps: The Survival of a Great Jazz Pianist" (Jan 28, 2010) The New York Times
  29. ^ "Unconscious Lessons of a Jazzman" (May 9, 2011) The New York Times
  30. ^ "Fred Hersch to Release 'My Coma Dreams' DVD" (Sep 2, 2014) JazzTimes
  31. ^ "Grammy Nominations Recognize NEC Musicians" (Dec 9, 2013) NEC
  32. ^ Fred Hersch; Julian Lage (2013) Free Flying, Compact disc (Recorded live at Jazz at Kitano, NYC, February, 2013.), (Notes:All works composed by Fred Hersch except tracks 5 and 9), Palmetto Records (OCLC 854620746)
  33. ^ Fred Hersch Trio (Fred Hersch, piano; John Herbert, bass; Eric McPherson, drums) (2014) Floating (Music CD), Palmetto Records, Redding, Conn. (OCLC 881033489)
  34. ^ "57th Grammy Nominations Recognize NEC Musicians" (Dec 10, 2014) NEC
  35. ^ "NPR Music's 50 Favorite Albums Of 2014" (Dec 8, 2014) NPR
  36. ^ Renée Fleming, soprano and Fred Hersch, piano - New York City (June 12, 2003) (Michael Palm Series) Broadway Cares, Events Archives
  37. ^ 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)
  38. ^ Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, violin and Fred Hersch, piano - New York City (Jun 13, 200) Broadway Cares, Events Archives
  39. ^
  40. ^ Fred Bouchard, Downbeat; quoted at Press, Fred Hersch website.
  41. ^ David Hajdu, The New York Times Sunday Magazine; quoted at Press, Fred Hersch website.

External links[edit]