Fred Hersch

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Fred Hersch
Fred Hersch at Reykjavik Jazz Festival 2017
Fred Hersch at Reykjavik Jazz Festival 2017
Background information
Born (1955-10-21) October 21, 1955 (age 65)
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, of Jewish parents. 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 Ratzo 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.

Awards and honors[edit]

Grammy Award nominations[edit]

Art Farmer's A Work of Art in 1983[37] and two of Eddie Daniels' albums with Hersch in 1986 and 1987[38] preceded Short Stories, a collaboration between Janis Siegel and Hersch, co-led and co-produced with arrangements by Hersch, that got a nomination for her vocal performance in 1989.[39] In 1992 finally Dancing in the Dark, his seventh trio recording and second for Chesky Records, was nominated for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance.[40]

Critical response[edit]

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


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.[42][43] 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.[43] In 2011 he performed My Coma Dreams, a stage show written and directed by Herschel Garfein about the contrast between dreams and reality.[44]

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.[45] 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" indicates year of release, artists and labels are only linked once at first appearance. Line-up can be sorted by "solo", "duo", "trio"... All trios are classic piano trios with (grand) piano, upright bass and drum kit, except for the trio Thirteen Ways with saxophonist Michael Moore.)[46][47]

Year Title Label Line-up and notes
1984 Horizons Concord Jazz Trio with Marc Johnson and Joey Baron
1984 As One JMT Duo with Jane Ira Bloom (soprano sax)
1986 Sarabande Sunnyside Trio with Charlie Haden and Joey Baron
1988 E.T.C. Red Trio E.T.C. with Steve LaSpina and Jeff Hirshfield
1989 Heartsongs Sunnyside Trio with Michael Formanek and Jeff Hirshfield
1989 The French Collection (Jazz Impressions of French Classics) EMI Angel Trio with Steve LaSpina, Joey Baron and guests: James Newton, Kevin Eubanks, Toots Thielemans, Eddie Daniels
1989 Short Stories Atlantic Quartet co-led by Janis Siegel plus Harvie Swartz (bass) and Kris Yenny (cello); Siegel was a Grammy nominee for Best Jazz Vocal Performance[39]
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 Quartet, trio E.T.C. with Steve LaSpina and Jeff Hirshfield plus Jerry Bergonzi (tenor saxophone)
1991 Forward Motion Chesky Quintet with Rich Perry (tenor sax), Erik Friedlander (cello), Scott Colley (bass) and Tom Rainey (drums)
1992 Dancing in the Dark Chesky Trio with Drew Gress and Tom Rainey; Grammy nominee for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Individual or Group[40]
1993 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
1993 Fred Hersch at Maybeck Concord Jazz Solo piano, in concert
1994 Plays... Chesky Trio with Drew Gress and Tom Rainey
1995 Point in Time Enja Trio with Drew Gress and Tom Rainey, and quintet adding Dave Douglas (trumpet), Rich Perry (tenor saxophone) on half of the tracks
1995 Beautiful Love Sunnyside Duo with Jay Clayton (vocals)
1995 Slow Hot Wind Varèse Sarabande Duo with Janis Siegel, and quartet with Tony Dumas and Ralph Penland added
1995 I Never Told You: Fred Hersch Plays Johnny Mandel Varèse Sarabande Solo piano; Grammy nominee for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Individual or Group[40]
1996 Passion Flower - The Music of Billy Strayhorn Nonesuch Trio with Drew Gress and Tom Rainey plus string orchestra conducted by Eric Stern; one track is a duo with Nurit Tilles (piano); Andy Bey (vocals) added for one track
1996 Plays Rodgers & Hammerstein 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 Trio Thirteen Ways with Michael Moore and Gerry Hemingway
1998 Plays Thelonious Monk Nonesuch Solo piano
1998 Songs We Know Nonesuch Duo with Bill Frisell (guitar)
1998 Let Yourself Go: Live at Jordan Hall Nonesuch Solo piano, in concert
1999 Focus Palmetto Trio Thirteen Ways with Michael Moore and Gerry Hemingway
2000 4 in Perspective Village Life Quartet with Norma Winstone (vocals), Kenny Wheeler (trumpet) and Paul Clarvis (percussion)
2000 Songs without Words Nonesuch Solo, with few duo, trio and quintet tracks; 3 cd set, Vol. 1 with originals, 2nd with standards and 3rd tributed to Cole Porter
2002 Live at the Village Vanguard Palmetto Trio with Drew Gress and Nasheet Waits in concert
2003 Songs and Lullabies Sunnyside Duo with Norma Winstone; three tracks with Gary Burton added
2003 Fred Hersch Trio + 2 Palmetto Quintet with Drew Gress, Nasheet Waits plus Ralph Alessi (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Tony Malaby (tenor sax)
2003 Soothing the Senses Sensory Resources Solo piano
2005 Leaves of Grass Palmetto Octet with four horns featuring vocalists Kurt Elling and Kate McGarry singing lyrics by Walt Whitman
2005 In Amsterdam: Live at the Bimhuis Palmetto Solo piano, in concert; "Valentine" got Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Composition[40]
2006 Live at Jazz Standard Maxjazz Duo with Nancy King; Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album
2007 Night & the Music Palmetto Trio with Drew Gress and Nasheet Waits
2007 Concert Music 2001-2006 Naxos Solo, duo and trio interpretations of compositions by Hersch with pianists Natasha Paremski, Blair McMillen, the Gramercy Trio, and Hersch himself with cellist Dorothy Lawson on one track
2009 Live at Jazz Standard Sunnyside Quartet with Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Richie Barshay (percussion) and Jo Lawry (vocals), in concert
2009 Plays Jobim Sunnyside Solo piano
2010 Whirl Palmetto Trio with John Hébert and Eric McPherson
2010 Everybody's Song but My Own Venus Trio with John Hébert and Eric McPherson
2011 Alone at the Vanguard Palmetto Solo piano; Grammy Award nominations for Best Jazz Instrumental Album and Best Improvised Jazz Solo for "Work";[40] DownBeat named it one of the Best CDs of 2012
2012 Da Vinci Bee Jazz Duo with Nico Gori
2012 Alive at the Vanguard Palmetto Trio with John Hébert and Eric McPherson
2013 Free Flying Palmetto Duo with Julian Lage (guitar); Grammy Award nomination for Best Improvised Jazz Solo for "Song Without Words #4: Duet"[40]
2013 Only Many CAM Jazz Duo with Ralph Alessi
2014 Floating Palmetto Trio with John Hébert and Eric McPherson; Two Grammy Award nominees for Best Jazz Instrumental Album and Best Improvised Jazz Solo for "You and the Night and the Music"[40]
2015 Solo Palmetto Solo piano
2016 Sunday Night at the Vanguard Palmetto Trio with John Hébert and Eric McPherson; Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Album and Best Improvised Jazz Solo for "We See"[40]
2017 Open Book Palmetto Solo piano
2018 '97 @ The Village Vanguard Palmetto Trio with Drew Gress and Tom Rainey in concert, recorded live in 1997
2018 Live in Europe Palmetto Trio with John Hébert and Eric McPherson; Grammy nominee for Best Jazz Instrumental Album and Best Improvised Jazz Solo for "We See" (again)[40]

As sideman[edit]

Date Artist Album title Label Notes
1979 Art Farmer Yama CTI with Joe Henderson
1979 Billy Harper Billy Harper Quintet in Europe Soul Note
1979 Billy Harper The Awakening Marge
1979 Sam Jones Something New Interplay
1981 Art Farmer A Work of Art Concord Jazz Grammy Nominee for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Group[37]
1982 Jane Ira Bloom Mighty Lights Enja with Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell
1982 Art Farmer Mirage Soul Note
1983 Art Farmer Warm Valley Concord Jazz
1985 Art Farmer You Make Me Smile Soul Note
1986 Eddie Daniels Breakthrough GRP with The London Philharmonia; Grammy Nominee for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Soloist[38]
1987 Jane Ira Bloom Modern Drama Columbia
1987 Tony Dagradi Sweet Remembrance Gramavision
1987 Eddie Daniels To Bird with Love GRP Grammy Nominee for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Soloist and Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Group
1987 Toots Thielemans Ne me quitte pas/Do Not Leave Me Milan/Stash
1987 Roseanna Vitro A Quiet Place Skyline
1988 Jane Ira Bloom Slalom Columbia
1988 Toots Thielemans Only Trust Your Heart Concord Jazz
1991 Jeri Brown Mirage Justin Time
1991 Johnny Mathis In a Sentimental Mood: Mathis Sings Ellington Columbia Grammy Nominee for Best Traditional Pop Performance[48]
1992 Jack Jones The Gershwin Album Columbia/Legacy
1992 Matt Kendrick Other Aspects Suitcase
1992 Various artists (Ana Caram, Paquito D'Rivera, Tom Harrell, and Phil Woods) JVC Jazz Festival Presents a Night of Chesky Jazz Live Chesky
1993 Jeanfrançois Prins Beauty and the Prince AMC (new release 2003 GAM)
1994 Leny Andrade Maiden Voyage Chesky
1994 Roseanna Vitro Softly Concord Jazz
1994 Various artists The AIDS Quilt Songbook Nightengale/Harmonia Mundi featured with an original composition accompanying baritone William Sharp
1995 Chris Connor Lover Come Back to Me: Live at Sweet Basil Evidence
1996 Jane Ira Bloom The Nearness Arabesque
1996 Michael Callen Legacy Significant Other featured on three tracks
1996 Dawn Upshaw Sings Rodgers and Hart Nonesuch
1997 Gary Burton Departure Concord Jazz with John Scofield, John Patitucci and Peter Erskine
1997 Various artists George Delerue: Music from the Films of François Truffaut Nonesuch featured on two tracks
1999 Jane Ira Bloom The Red Quartets Arabesque
1999 Janis Siegel The Tender Trap Monarch
1999 Dawn Upshaw Sings Vernon Duke Nonesuch featured on four tracks
1999 Roseanna Vitro The Time of My Life: Roseanna Vitro Sings the Songs of Steve Allen See Breeze recorded 1986
2001 Roseanna Vitro Conviction: Thoughts of Bill Evans A Records
2003 Jane Ira Bloom Chasing Paint Arabesque
2003 Harvey Mason Trios: With All My Heart VideoArts featured on one track
2003 Luciana Souza Norte e Sul/North and South Biscoito Fino/Sunnyside Grammy Nominee for Best Jazz Vocal Album[49]
2005 Renée Fleming with F.H. and Bill Frisell Haunted Heart Decca
2013 Avishai, Anat and Yuval Cohen as "3 Cohens" Tightrope Anzic

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. ^ "2011 Nominees & Winners".
  33. ^ "Winners for 2016".
  34. ^ a b "2018 Winners".
  35. ^ "Palmarès 2015 - Académie du jazz".
  36. ^ "Fred Hersch wins French "Prix in Honorem Jazz" and "Coup de cœur jazz"".
  37. ^ a b "For information on the Grammy Awards 1983 and a complete list of nominees and winners for all categories, browse through the article".
  38. ^ a b "Eddie Daniels". November 19, 2019.
  39. ^ a b "Janis Siegel". November 19, 2019.
  40. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Fred Hersch". November 26, 2019.
  41. ^ a b "Fred Hersch – The official website of pianist & composer Fred Hersch".
  42. ^ Collar, Matt. "Fred Hersch". AllMusic. Retrieved 20 July 2017.
  43. ^ a b Hajdu, David (31 January 2010). "Giant Steps: The Survival of a Great Jazz Pianist". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 July 2017.
  44. ^ Ratliff, Ben (9 May 2011). "'My Coma Dreams', by Fred Hersch - Review". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 July 2017.
  45. ^ "Buddhist Global Relief 2019 Jazz Concert".
  46. ^ Discography,, Retrieved January 19, 2019
  47. ^ Fred Hersch discography at Discogs. Retrieved January 19, 2019
  48. ^ "Johnny Mathis". November 19, 2019.
  49. ^ "Luciana Souza". November 19, 2019.

External links[edit]