Fred Hersch Whirls Again

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 - 09:57 AM

Two years ago, celebrated jazz pianist Fred Hersch was in the throes of a life-threatening, A.I.D.S.-related dementia.  He'd been living with H.I.V. since the mid-'80s, but when the virus spread to his brain, he suffered hallucinations, paranoia, and fell into a coma.

Perhaps the only thing more miraculous than his survival was his recovery.  Two months later, he came out of the coma, but ultimately had to re-learn how to eat, how to hold a pencil, and eventually how to play the piano.  There's not a trace of those setbacks on his new record.

Whirl is Hersch's first outing with his trio (filled out by bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson) since before his hospitalization.  Yet the characteristic expressivity of his playing remains unchanged: Hersch's technique is always understated, personal, and beautiful.  These compositions employ a certain Bop melodicism articulated with the same delicate charm as Erik Satie's early piano works.  McPherson's drums are a quiet force on the record as well, darting along tight, acrobatic lines that barely ever rise above mezzo forte.  At times he unmoors himself from the tempo, lending an even more airy quality to Hersch's piano, which already sounds as if it's floating somewhere above your head.

'Skipping' is the most energetic and appropriately-named cut on Whirl.  It finds the band bouncing across meters with a lightness and ease that makes every transition seamless.

Hersch stopped by Studio 360 back in 2002.  He told Kurt how the concept of harmony works across a variety of forms of expression: from music, to visual art, and even design.

- Stephen Reader


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Comments [8]


Mind blowingly awesome miracle God love him!!!!!!

Jun. 25 2010 08:54 AM


Jun. 25 2010 07:41 AM

Initially thought this article to be an obituary.

Truly inspirational. I enjoyed the track.

Jun. 24 2010 09:35 PM

Great story!

Jun. 24 2010 07:31 PM

Inspirational story. I had actually never heard of him before- but really enjoyed the audio track!

Jun. 24 2010 04:22 PM


That's an amazing story.
SOme people struggle their entire life to learn a piano once or not at all.

Nice work!

Jun. 24 2010 11:30 AM

It's great to see and hear Fred playing again. For him to have to re-learn his instrument makes him the Pat Martino of the piano. Palmetto Records strikes again with another solid recording.

Jun. 24 2010 10:50 AM

I like !

Jun. 23 2010 01:16 PM

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