Fred Hersch: Celebrating Walt Whitman
FH: Certainly, this Leaves of Grass piece is a fairly positive uplifiting piece spiritually. That's the ultimate effect of it. As I wrote in the liner notes, it suggests "Whitman as Buddha or Thoreau, encouraging us to look at the present and be alive in the moment, to treat all creatures respectfully, and embrace your sensuality and be who you are and don't apologize for it. I think that's very timely with what's going on in this country and what's going on in the world. It's good for people to hear those kind of words. I never get tired of them.
AAJ: Your music goes so well with Whitman's words and brings out the meanings so well. It's a spiritually moving listening experience.
FH: Thank you. Also, whenever I play, whether solo, trio, or Leaves of Grass, I try not to overemphasize technique or "chops for their own sake. It's all in service of expression of emotion. I've worked very hard on the sound I get from the piano, and hopefully that sound resonates with people, and they get an emotional reaction, and I play with a great deal of emotion. It's just who I am. On a technical level, I hear a lot of great music being played out there, but I also hear a lot of music that doesn't move me. Ultimately, that's what it's all about - how well you move people and how well you get involved as you play and how you express yourself. And the greatest players, like Sonny Rollins or Miles or Monk, play with a great deal of feeling in addition to being incredible improvisers and having wonderful personal sounds. Those are the people who are my heroes.
AAJ: So spirituality in music is the soul, the expression of something deep inside us.
FH: I agree! And hopefully without being heavy or "new agey about it.
AAJ: Do you follow a spiritual tradition or practice?
FH: The closest would be Buddhism. I was raised Jewish, Americanized Reform Jew, so I guess that makes me a "Jew-Bu"!
AAJ: Are you familiar with Mark Epstein's work?
AAJ: He's a psychiatrist who studied Buddhism and wrote a marvelous book called Going to Pieces without Falling Apart.
FH: Actually, I have heard of that book.
AAJ: Well, it feels as if we're just beginning our discussions- there's so much we could get into. But I know you have a packed schedule, so let's stop here.
FH: Thanks, Victor. And thanks for your positive energy and your support of the Leaves of Grass project.