Dan Ouellette on Fred Hersch:
The ten-time Grammy nominee, at the age of 62, has been called a living legend and a virtuoso partly based on his over 30-recording discography beginning with his 1986 debut, Horizons, not to mention his performances at theaters, festivals and clubs (he was the first pianist to do a week of solo piano at the storied Village Vanguard in 2006). His transporting music is introspective, conversational and personal that goes deep into self-realization. There’s also an element of whimsy. What’s remarkable about Hersch’s creative career of many colors is that he almost died twice, once due to an HIV/AIDS-related semi-coma dementia in late 2007-early 2008 and later that year during an induced coma for a severe and debilitating case of pneumonia (which had nothing to do with his HIV status) resulting in septic shock. Miraculously he came back from the dead twice. “I’m not a quitter,” Fred says. “It’s part of my nature. It’s remarkable about all the great things that have happened since. In a weird way, I’m playing better. My health is better than it was 25 years ago in every respect.” Last year Fred, who was the first openly gay, HIV-positive jazz pianist, wrote his page-turner memoir Good Things Happen Slowly: A Life In and Out of Jazz (with jazz writer David Hajdu). “It felt like the right time to tell my story,” he says. “In the Japanese tradition, they say you’re born when you turn 60. I was inspired by Patti Smith’s book Just Kids, about [photographer] Robert Mapplethorpe and the early days of the punk movement in the ‘70s. I related to the story.” There’s a spirituality of freedom underneath all of Fred’s music. It’s sums it up in one of the quotes tagged in his emails. He quotes Plato: “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and charm and gaiety of life...”
Ouellette, Dan, "Fred Hersch Interview by Dan Ouellette" (2019). Jazz Interviews Archive. 38.
Additional FilesFred Hersch Interview 7-15-19.pdf (116 kB)