Saturday, December 20, 2008

Let Yourself Go: The Lives of Fred Hersch

Let Yourself Go: De Levens van Fred Hersch (Nederlands) Let Yourself Go: The Lives of Fred Hersch (English)

( To a Fred Hersch Discography.)
Hans Koert
A few weeks ago the documentary "Let Yourself Go'- The Lives of Fred Hersch has been released in Cologne, Germany. This Aha!DVD production was made by Katja Duregger, Journalistin, Autorin and Regisseurin ( = journalist, writer and producer) as she labels herself, who also made video productions about Die Junge Deutsche Jazz Szene ( = the young German jazz scene ), Kronos Quartet meets Bollywood and "Fünf Farben Jazz - Mangelsdorffs selbstbewusste Erben". This Fred Hersch production, a so-called Modular DVD, as she names it, contains several aspects, the "lives", of jazz piano player Fred Hersch, in seperate modules, like "Let Yourself Go", the main movie, "Listen" about Fred Hersch as a musician and composer; "To Tell a Story" about Fred Hersch as a Jazz teacher and "Always There" about the fight agains his HIV and AIDS infection. The last part contains fragments from concerts in Antwerp, Belgium (2007), Kalamazoo - Michigan (USA) (2006) and at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam.
Fred Hersch (photo courtesy Matthew Sussman)

Fred Hersch was born in Cincinnati, Ohio (USA) in October 1955 and started his career with guitarist Cal Collins playing in Cincinnati. He studied music at the New England Conservatory. In 1977 he worked with Art Farmer, who had returned to the States after a ten years stay in Europe ( Fred Hersch plays the piano on the CTI album Yama) and toured with Sam Jones, Billy Harper, Joe Henderson and Stan Getz.
I found a fragment of the Art Farmer Quartet, featuring Art Farmer flügelhorn, Fred Hersch, piano; Dennis Irwin, bass; Billy Hart, drums playing the Charlie Parker composition Red Cross. ( ca. 1982)

In the 1980s Fred Hersch becomes part of the Mel Lewis Orchestra and plays with Eddie Daniels and Toots Thielemans. He starts his own trio, which lasts up until today. In the 1980s Fred Hersch becomes an active member of the gay scene and gets infected; he learned that he was HIV positive. In the documentary and the module "Always There" he speaks unrestricted about this period and this life-threatening infection, which catched him twenty years ago. It's a bit a miracle that he's still around as most of his infected friends are now gone. He tells how his HIV-infections changed his entire life: HIV changed everything, absolutely everything. It forced us gay men to grow up in a very short time ...... AIDS forced us to think about the consequences in a very cruel way.

Fred Hersch ( photo courtesy David Bartolomi )

He was one of the first jazz musicians to speak in public about his homosexuality and HIV infection, which made him a leading figurehead of those infected and a gay activist. I just came out, he explains in the film, because I was tired of thinking: Who knows and who doesn't. This takes away so much energy and I wanted to use this energy for my art and to be free from that. Being infected gives him, curiously, a lot of energy to make his music. He made benefit albums for the organization `Classical Action - Performing Arts Against AIDS, like Last Night When We Were Young - The Ballad album; albums with musicians like Toots Thielemans, Mark Murphy, Phil Woods, Jim Hall, Lee Konitz, Kenny Barron, Tommy Flanagan, Joe Lovano and Gary Burton. For each sold Let Yourself Go DVD one euro will be gifted to the German AIDS-Stiftung.
Fred Hersch ( photo courtesy David Bartolomi )

Four concert fragments are available on the DVD, two with his trio, featuring Drew Gress on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums and two solo. In recent years he often played solo piano, on records and live, like the 2006 Valantine track, recorded at the Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo or the concert at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam. To me chords are not stack of things, he said about being a soloist: each note in a cord is a voice that wants to move somewhere. He is active in producing albums and as a composer for ballet music. I love to share a fragment I found of a Fred Hersch composition Red Autumn, danced by Tawny Chapman and William Lu.

This documentary brings a fascinating view of the many lives, sides, of Fred Hersch: Fred as a musician ( why do I have but few records from him? ) playing in his introvert style, like Bill Evans or Brad Mehldau; as a teacher in master classes; as the HIV infected which the "cocktail", those terrible pills, the AIDS medication day after day; with his relatives, his partner ...... This documentary is a very personal document of a great piano player, fighting against time with a life-threading infection as the sword of Damocles. A documentary you should see !!

Hans Koert


( Back to the top of the article )

On the Fred Hersch website you can find a detailed list of records, featuring Fred Hersch as a leader, or a co-leader, as the major soloist or just as an accompanist . Well - I only have to link you to this great source .....

Keep swinging

Hans Koert

Some interesting links you should have seen:

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hans, Thank you for your current focus on Fred Hersh and, in general, for an excellent site that reflects your own genuine passion for the music, not to mention your broad taste. Chris

12:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi hans,

thanks for the support — hope you have a great holiday and best wishes for a wonderful new year --

cheers, fred

6:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hans-thanks for the fred hersch feature. I didn't know anything about his playing before and appreciate you giving me the opportunity to hear him. All the best for the Holidays and New Year. Jeff Tedford aka Blue Trane

7:55 PM  

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