Fred Hersch is no stranger to the art of introspection. As a pianist, a composer, a bandleader and a sideman, he has always combined clarity of projection with a willingness to go deep. His latest expression of interiority is a graceful and revealing memoir, Good Things Happen Slowly, which takes shape as a gradual declaration of selfhood, in personal as well as artistic terms.
This week, Jazz Night in America joins Hersch in conversation at his loft in SoHo, to talk about his upbringing in Cincinnati, and the early realization that he was gay; about his scrappy arrival on the scene in New York, back when certain gigs stretched past dawn; about his death-defying recovery from a coma in 2008; and about the creative breakthrough he had a few years before that, adapting the work of a personal hero, the American poet Walt Whitman.
Hersch developed Whitman’s Leaves of Grass into an elegant song cycle, featuring two articulate vocalists, Kurt Elling and Kate McGarry. The piece has been widely celebrated since its premiere, and Jazz Night consulted a noted Whitman scholar, along with Elling and others, for insights. We’ll hear excerpts from a recent performance of the piece, at Jazz at Lincoln Center.
“It’s taken me many years and a lot of lumps to realize who I am,” Hersch reflects. To that end, Jazz Night in America had the good fortune of catching up with him at a moment of fullest self-realization. It’s your good fortune, too.