The Arty Semite

Fred Hersch Focuses at the Vanguard

By Matthew Kassel

  • Print
  • Share Share

Inside the Village Vanguard in Manhattan’s West Village, photographs of legendary jazz musicians line the dark-green walls. Stage left, above a portrait of a stolid John Coltrane, hangs a shot of the pianist Fred Hersch playing a song, his eyes closed, an intense yet peaceful aura about him.

Steve J Sherman

Hersch, 56, is relatively young to have earned his spot on the wall, which features many players who have passed away. But he certainly deserves it. Though perhaps under-appreciated in the wider world of music, Hersch is one of the most respected musicians in jazz, known for his refined style and unapologetic devotion to his craft. That style, however, is easy to miss: Hersch is not outwardly virtuosic; he forgoes showy displays in favor of grace and subtlety and precision.

On September 11, Hersch brought his trio to the Village Vanguard to kick off a week-long run at the club. The band — including Hersch on piano, John Hébert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums — is heralding the release of its new two-disc set, “Alive at the Vanguard,” recorded in February during its last residency there.

It’s a solid album, and the band has only gotten better since the winter. During the trio’s first set on Tuesday, the music was characterized by a quiet intensity — each player contributed an equal amount, creating just the right level of tension.

McPherson, delivering discreet eddies of rhythm, rarely played with regular-sized drumsticks. He used the widest assortment of tools I have seen a drummer handle in one session: paddle-shaped implements, bundled sticks, wire brushes and sticks so thin they looked like conductor’s batons. Each sound counted: Near the end of “Sad Poet,” an elegiac tune Hersch wrote for Antônio Carlos Jobim, McPherson took a quiet-storm solo which gained power from the nuanced precision of his touch.

Hébert’s solos had a similar feel: He plucked the strings of his instrument with refinement, letting the notes fade away in an elegant trail of vibrato. He and Hersch also had a tight connection, playing bass lines in tandem throughout the night.

Hersch wore a vintage-looking, button-down T-shirt, blue slacks and suede bucks with orange shoelaces. His song choices consisted mostly of ballads. He played “Tristesse,” which he wrote for the late drummer Paul Motian, Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes” and a medley that started out beautifully as Jerome Kern’s “The Song Is You” and playfully morphed into Thelonious Monk’s “Played Twice.”

Hersch leaned over his piano as he played, his eyes closed and his hands in perfect control above the keys. He delivered rich chords along with phrases that seemed almost baroque in the way they began in one hand and ended in the other. At one point in “Havana,” his own composition, Hersch leaned his head closely above his right hand, cocking in his ear as he played a line high in the keyboard’s register. It was a small gesture, easy to miss — a stamp of focus.

The Fred Hersch Trio plays at the Village Vanguard through Sunday, September 16.

Watch the Fred Hersch Trio perform at the Village Vanguard in February, 2012:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Music, Village Vanguard, Jazz, Fred Hersch

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.