That same narrative could apply to his sexuality. Back in the day, there were no LGBT organizations in colleges, let alone high schools. The idea that a gay couple could attend the prom or be voted class president was inconceivable. Hersch had to discover his sexuality in a time that, unfortunately gave rise to the AIDS crisis and the fear of discrimination. Of course, he kept his sexuality hidden for most of his early career because it may not have been true at educational institutions, but bandstand apprenticeships were not welcoming to a gay musician. Sure, fellow Ohioan, Dayton-born Billy Strayhorn
(1915-1967) was as open as a gay man could be in the 1940s, '50s, and '60s, but he was seemingly under the protectorship of Duke Ellington
and rarely felt the spotlight his excellent musicianship merited. Hersch reveals in the book how he came out, why he came out, and how he did so on his own terms.
In between his rise in the music world that has included ten grammy nominations, a Guggenheim, twice being named Pianist of the Year by the Jazz Journalist Association, he details his music projects, including his musical tribute to Walt Whitman's Leaves Of Grass
and the story of his two month coma, which came on from the complications of HIV. His telling of the ordeal and its complications are gut wrenching. It could only be through the love of his partner Scott Morgan and his will that he survived. As he explained about his brush (let's say brushes) with death, "a confrontation with death brings home the preciousness of life... It was the newest, brightest, shining, most surprising, most uplifting feeling I had ever had."
Maybe that was the feeling that informs the music he is currently making. The crowd most likely absorbed those vibrations that evening at the 2015 Chicago Jazz festival.