Fred Hersch


I met Fred long ago when I auditioned at New England Conservatory. Fred was in his last term there. I was hoping to begin in the following year. We chatted about his impressions of NEC and he invited me to watch a big band rehearsal in which he was playing. A big band being what a big band is I couldn’t hear one single note from the upright he was playing.

Afterwards Fred graciously invited me to his flat to hang and talk some more. While there he asked me to play something on his baby grand. To be perfectly clear: we all begin somewhere. My “something” in those days was Autumn Leaves but it was in the overall category of “NOTHING.” Of course I asked Fred to play “something.” His “something” – it might have been Ain’t Misbehavin’ – was astounding. I think that evening Fred also played a Chopin etude or two – easily as if he was simply breathing it in and out.

Several months later during my 1st term at NEC Fred gave me an informal lesson. All I remember from it is watching and listening to him play the heck out of Confirmation. I remember hearing him with with Art Farmer at Lulu White’s. That was the Boston jazz club of the time. Most of the other clubs in Boston with name jazz artists were closed by then but that’s a another story.

When I moved to New York City after NEC I went to hear Fred whenever I could. He often played with the great bassist Sam Jones at Bradley’s. Which was where all great pianists in NYC played. I’d chat with him from time to time in New York – we were acquaintances.

I was on Facebook this morning and I saw a Youtube link he had posted. And all of a sudden I was writing all above.
These days Fred’s at the pinnacle of jazz pianism – he is the pinnacle. So many aspects of his style – harmony, textures, touch, solo piano conception – have influenced the ideals jazz pianists bring to the instrument and the music. Jon Davis in an interview on my Improvised Line blog has a lot of interesting things to say about that.

We all have stories about stuff and circumstances that sent us in one direction or another. For me meeting Fred at NEC during my audition visit is in that category. Is it cliched to say we only know how far we’ve come by looking back at where we began? Well – cliche or not I’ve said it. Please feel free to post your story of a moment, a meeting, a concert, a gig, a lesson – whatever it might be – that influenced where you are with music now.