Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for readers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!


Good Things Happen Slowly: A Life In And Out Of Jazz

Mark Corroto By

Sign in to view read count
Good Things Happen Slowly: A Life In And Out Of Jazz
Fred Hersch
307 Pages
ISBN: #9781101904343
Crown Archetype Press

Disclaimer #1: Like the author, I harbor a blood pathogen (he HIV, me Leukemia) that is intent on killing me.

Disclaimer #2: Being of similar age, the author's discovery of jazz as an art form very much paralleled mine.

It was September 4, 2015, and I was in attendance at the annual Chicago Jazz Festival. Pianist Fred Hersch and his trio of John Herbert and Eric McPherson were performing in Millennium Park at the stunning Jay Pritzker Pavilion designed by architect Frank Gehry. The occasion was a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a civil rights milestone that lends not only protections to those with disabilities like HIV and cancer, but shields them from discrimination. Maybe it was the night or the observance of the ADA's milestone, but, like many in the audience, Hersch's music brought tears to my eyes. Here was a trio performing at the highest level and with an energy that, to paraphrase Thelonious Monk, "lifted the bandstand."

The pianist's story is a remarkable one. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1955 to a lawyer father and a Smith College graduate mother, Hersch was attracted to and encouraged to play music at a young age. While classical music was his education, he must have believed he had invented improvisation as he made a habit out of "faking" the parts he was not interested in practicing. He also was attracted to other boys, but had no information or role models at the time for guidance. He became a local celebrity at 10, winning first prize at a competition, and from there being asked to perform on television. At the time, he most definitely would not have known that Fats Waller was the host of Fats Waller's Rhythm Club, a show that was nationally broadcast from Cincinnati's WLW, from 1932-34. Certainly, the jazz germ was planted in Ohio by the local jazzmen. His classical lessons were supplemented with bits of jazz, and by his late teens, Hersch was listening to Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, and Bill Evans. After a brief stay at Grinnell College in Iowa, a school that both Herbie Hancock and Gary Giddins attended, he returned to Cincinnati and immersed himself in the local scene.

Hersch's story of his discovery of improvisation and his sexual identity also parallels the institutionalization of jazz education, the fabrication of jazz as a post-modern marketing device, and the recognition of LGBT rights in America. His experience with the jazzmen of Cincinnati as the keepers of the flame bridged into his education at the New England Conservatory in Boston, where Jaki Byard and Gunther Schuller were creating a brand new way for the jazz performers to get "schooled." His experience straddling both institutional learning and a bandstand education gave Hersch a unique perspective on the state of jazz in the late 1970s and early '80s. Where he sought out the living jazz masters like Jimmy Rowles, Joe Henderson and Tommy Flanagan who were all but ignored by the major record labels because they were signing the "Young Lions," institutionally trained and marketing friendly attractive striplings. It's not that Wynton Marsalis and Branford Marsalis weren't talented, it's just that somehow music buyers were persuaded to believe these two brothers had originated the music they played, while masters like Sonny Rollins and Freddie Hubbard, still at the top of their game, were ignored. Hersch's apprenticeship with the masters, and his stint in formal education, gives us a historical prospective on the current state of this music. He details his persistent approach elbowing his way into the jazz scene in New York and his dogged determination to be heard, not as a Young Lion or a classicist, but as himself.


comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Good Morning Blues Book Reviews Good Morning Blues
by Richard J Salvucci
Published: January 11, 2018
Read The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums Book Reviews The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums
by Roger Crane
Published: December 19, 2017
Read Listening For The Secret: The Grateful Dead And The Politics Of Improvisation Book Reviews Listening For The Secret: The Grateful Dead And The...
by Ian Patterson
Published: December 10, 2017
Read All That's Jazz Book Reviews All That's Jazz
by Phil Barnes
Published: December 6, 2017
Read "The Art of Conduction" Book Reviews The Art of Conduction
by Riccardo Brazzale
Published: June 30, 2017
Read "Softly, With Feeling" Book Reviews Softly, With Feeling
by Richard J Salvucci
Published: October 24, 2017
Read "The Beatles - On the Road, 1964-1966" Book Reviews The Beatles - On the Road, 1964-1966
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: August 19, 2017
Read "Good Things Happen Slowly: A Life In And Out Of Jazz" Book Reviews Good Things Happen Slowly: A Life In And Out Of Jazz
by Mark Corroto
Published: September 13, 2017