On The Corner
Fred Hersch’s Rich History of Collaboration

Fred Hersch’s Rich History of Collaboration

Fred Hersch’s Rich History of Collaboration
Fred Hersch

Over his four-decade career, Fred Hersch has proven to be one the most consistently inventive and versatile pianists and composers in jazz. With an eye to his duo performances with vocalist Kate McGarry and guitarist Julian Lage on 6/9, we look back at his rich history of duo collaboration.

By the time Hersch moved to New York in the late 1970s following his stint as a student (and later professor) at Boston’s New England Conservatory, he was a veteran of the duet format, working extensively with instrumentalists and as a telepathic accompanist to singers.

One of Hersch’s early duet partners was the audaciously creative saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, who teamed with the pianist on their joint 1985 JMT release As One. A standout track is this lovely Hersch composition “Child’s Song,” dedicated to late bass giant Charlie Haden.

Best known as a founding member of The Manhattan Transfer, vocalist Janis Siegel recorded pair of albums with Hersch in the 80s and 90s. This track from their 1989 collaboration Short Stories is an evocative cover of James Taylor’s “You Can Close Your Eyes.”

In 1997 Hersch recorded a spontaneous album of duets as a fundraising project for Classical Action to benefit HIV/AIDS treatment, education, and prevention programs, with artists including fellow pianists Tommy Flanagan and Kenny Barron, saxophonists Joe Lovano and Lee Konitz, singers Diana Krall and Andy Bey, guitarist Jim Hall, and others. This sprightly take on King, Young, and Van Alstyne’s standard “Beautiful Love” finds Hersch in the company of vibraphonist Gary Burton.

Guitarist Bill Frisell and Hersch collaborated on the superb 1998 Nonesuch duo session Songs We Know, which as the title suggests, is a collection of tunes both artists knew and loved. A deeply lyrical feel for melody marks their take on Charlie Parker’s classic “My Little Suede Shoes”

Hersch’s 2001 Nonesuch release Songs Without Words is an audacious 3-CD set that combines separate programs devoted to original compositions, jazz standards, and the work of Cole Porter in various settings from solo to quintet. One of the set’s highlights is this engaging version of Hersch’s tune “Up in the Air” in duet with trumpeter and frequent collaborator Ralph Alessi.

Free Flying, the 2013 Palmetto duo album that paired Hersch with the masterful young guitarist Julian Lage, netted the pianist a GRAMMY nomination for his solo on the opening track “Song Without Words #4: Duet.” Hersch and Lage reprise their collaboration for the performance on 6/9.

Fred Hersch performs an evening of duos with vocalist Kate McGarry and guitarist Julian Lage on 6/9. Tap here for more information.