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Let Yourself Go: The Lives of Jazz Pianist Fred Hersch

Chris Kompanek By

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Fred Hersch
Let Yourself Go: The Lives of Fred Hersch

Katja Duregger's intimate documentary about virtuoso pianist Fred Hersch has the personal touch of a home movie. Broken down into four sections that are viewed individually on the DVD, the film covers all aspects of his life from his work as a musician and composer to his teaching and his longtime struggle with AIDS.

There are essentially two storylines that unfold in counterpoint: Hersch's exceptional career as one of the best living piano players and jazz composers of his generation and his courageous decision to be one of the first gay jazz musicians to come out and live openly as an inspiration to others. Both have made a large impact on the jazz community, occasionally causing the latter to overshadow the former. There are sections devoted to both as well as a "main section" that outlines all aspects of his life and how one informs the other. He rarely does extensive touring anymore due to the nature of his illness and the fear of running out of medicine. Duregger documents a 2007 European tour, illustrating both the taxing effect it has on his body and the immense pleasure he gets from performing for his fans.

Hersch believes that the character of a person is reflected in their playing. His gentle nature comes across both in candid interviews and in the many clips from live performances and rehearsals, giving his music a distinctive sound and a dynamism that's rarely heard today. He's not in a hurry to play as many notes as he can; therefore his melodies unfold in a beautiful space of tranquility, giving the flourishes all the more power. This is a lesson he's eager to impart on his students in master classes he leads all over the world.

A bonus section gives a glimpse of his talent with four complete songs including "Gravity's Pull," a brilliantly constructed original composition that flows effortlessly with support from Hersch's excellent trio, as well as two solo performances. This unique film is a great introduction to a singular talent for newcomers, but avid fans will find much to love as well.

Production credits
Producers: Volker Gehrke and Katja Duregger

Director: Katja Duregger

Narrator: Jennifer Jones

In the USA, Let Yourself Go: The Lives of Fred Hersch is available only from


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