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Fred Hersch at Miner Auditorium

Harry S. Pariser By
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Fred Hersch
Miner Auditorium, SFJazz
Fred Hersch Solo at SF Performances
San Francisco
March 8, 2014

No stranger to San Francisco, pianist Fred Hersch has been a frequent guest of SF Performances, having last performed here in 2011 when he presented My Coma Dreams, an evening-long work for eleven instruments with a singing actor and multimedia and animation effects at Herbst Theater. (It is based on a real life experience in 2008.) San Franciscan Nancy McNally, who attended the show, dubbed it "a transformative experience." As is the case with Vijay Iyer, another jazz performer frequently invited to play by SF Performances, Hersch is no stranger to the jazz scene having played as a sideman for the likes of such jazz luminaries as Stan Getz, Art Farmer and Joe Henderson. Nominated for two Grammys in 2011 (for his solo CD Alone at the Vanguard), the New York Times has maintained that he is "singular among the trailblazers" and, in addition to performing, he is also a member the Jazz Studies faculty of The New England Conservatory.

A dapper Fred Hersch, donning a gray shirt and wearing dark blue pants, took the stage and sat down to finger his Steinway, launching into a lyrically complex "Olha Maria" (from Fred Hersch Plays Jobim) which transitioned into "Duet" (from Song Without Words).

The eloquent "West Virginia Rose" segued into "Down Home," a number dedicated to guitarist Bill Frisell. Hercsh's right hand shifted to the keys on the far right of the piano to tap out sounds. Next up was "Whirl," from the CD of the same name; the composition was inspired by dancer Suzanne Farrell. Both hands piled onto the left and center of the keyboard as Hersch tilted back away from the keyboards. A sensual, slow-paced rendition of "Both Sides Now," the Joni Mitchell composition, almost languorous in its execution, followed.

Next came "Crazy 'Bout My Baby," a composition by jazz pioneer Fats Waller. The reflective Pastorale, "a sort of homage to Robert Schumann," was followed by an elegant and fast-paced "Caravan," Juan Tizol's jazz standard which was first performed by Duke Ellington in 1936. Then it was Jacob do Bandolim's "Doce de Coco." Hersch, after first thanking the audience for attending, announced: "I can't do what I do if you are not here. I'm not sure what it will be but it will be a Thelonious Monk tune." The composition turned out to be "Bemsha Swing." Hersch left the stage and following a standing ovation returned with the improvisatory "Valentine," a tune Hersch composed on Valentine's Day in 2001 at The MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire; it was nominated for a Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition in 2008.

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