Fred Hersch: Celebrating Walt Whitman
FH: Well, my partner, Scott Morgan, is my closest friend. And then, of course, the guys that I've played with for years, Drew Gress, Nasheet Waits, Kate McGarry, are all people that I'm very tight with. I also have a number of friends who are not musicians, who are visual artists or poets, some of whom I've met at artists' colonies, residencies, and so forth. I have quite a wide network of colleagues and people who are former students, who are now my good friends. Our relationships have morphed into more of a peer relationship or a friendly collegial relationship. I have quite a number of friends all over the country and in Europe as well. Sometimes when I'm really busy, I don't have time to keep up with people. That's one of the hazards of having an intense, multifaceted career that involves travel. So, I'm grateful that I have all the opportunities that I have, but sometimes it gets to be too much. Into this Fall, I have a lot of engagements- you can see the tour page on my website. But they're spaced out, and my partner and I built a second home outside of New York City in Northeast Pennsylvania, which we occupied last September, so this will be our first Spring and Summer out there. I'm really looking forward to spending as much time as I possibly can there.
AAJ: That neck of the woods has a large community of jazz musicians.
FH: Actually, we may not be where you think we are. We're not down in the Delaware Water Gap or Stroudsburg. We're up north. There are some musicians in my area: Mark Murphy lives not far, and Bill Mays. But we pretty much stick to ourselves out there. We don't do a lot of socializing. We just go out there to be quiet, read, be outdoors, play the piano, listen to music. We don't have a television there. It's really nice to just get out. In the city, I live in SoHo on Broadway, and it's basically a shopping mall, especially on the weekends. I've been there twenty-seven years in the same loft, and it's very cheap, so I'm not going to give it up. It's a great base of operations, and my partner works in the city four days a week, and one day out in Pennsylvania. So, if I'm not on the road, we try to get out there for at least three day weekends. So it's just great to have an escape, and a place that's ours, with more space than in the city. I do a lot of composing out there, and so on.
AAJ: Are there any musical "mountains you still want to climb? Any particular musical passions you want to fulfill?
FH: Most of them have to do with composition projects - I'd like to do a large-scale piece with text. Perhaps something on the stage, whether a music theater piece or a small opera. I'm interested in doing more things with poetry. Things come up: I might be writing the score to a full length ballet for a small jazz ensemble. That might happen this year, just waiting to hear. Right now, I need to regroup- it's been a blizzard of stuff and travel since mid-January, and I just need some time to chill.
AAJ: Who are some of your own favorite jazz musicians, past and present?
FH: Some of the people I go back to again and again are Sonny Rollins, Ornette, Monk, Duke Ellington, Paul Bley, Miles in his various incarnations, Coltrane, Earl Hines whose solo recordings I love, Ahmad Jamal, his original trio. These are things I go back to again and again.
AAJ: Tell us about Paul Bley.
FH: I've always been a Paul Bley fan. Essentially, Keith Jarrett is a combination of Bill Evans and Paul Bley. Paul has had a lot of influence on many people, and of course he himself was influenced by Ornette, so there's that particular lineage or branch of the tree. Paul's recorded output is very uneven, but his best records are, I think, fantastic. When I get a chance to hear him live in New York, I always go. I used to hear Tommy Flanagan all the time - he's one of my favorites - it's a shame he's not with us any more. He was great for phrasing and improvising.
FH: I like many vocalists. Carmen McCrae and Billie Holiday are probably my favorites in the jazz realm. Betty Carter, Sarah Vaughan I love, some obscure vocalists, Irene Kral, she's one of my faves, she's real simple, some early Rosemary Clooney. Like I said, certain records hit you in a certain way. Joni Mitchell - as a singer as well as an incredible genius composer/songwriter. As a singer, I think she's really interesting. Certain Brazilian singers I love. Leny Adndrade, Elis Regina, Caetano Veloso.
AAJ: Again, to shift around the topic a bit: like John Coltrane and others, I think of jazz as embodying spirituality. Do you agree?