Fred Hersch, At Home at the Vanguard

photo by Martin Zemin
photo by Martin Zemin

I try not to miss pianist Fred Hersch when he performs at the Village Vanguard. Hersch shapes the sound of his piano with care and fine calibration, which is doubly rewarded by the club’s celebrated acoustics.
I began my Wall Street Journal review of Hersch’s new CD, “Sunday Night at the Village Vanguard,” (recorded there in March) with an account of him on a recent August Tuesday night. As I wrote there:
“he projected the comfort of a man settled into a favorite easy chair…. As much as any musician, Mr. Hersch considers the Vanguard home. For any jazz lover the basement venue on Seventh Avenue South, which opened in 1935, resonates with history. Its pie-slice shape makes it gorgeously resonant in acoustical terms. For both reasons, musicians have long been moved to record there.”
I also pointed out that “this new release, recorded on the final night of a March engagement, highlights the continuing development of Mr. Hersch’s trio, now seven years running. It’s a wondrous vehicle, set in motion by Mr. Hersch’s music and his crafty interpretations of a wide range of material, but fueled largely by the imaginations of his inventive partners.”
Hersch made his Vanguard debut as a leader in 1996. By then, his career was well established. Yet Hersch has always been determined to do things his way. He resisted the invitations to play the club with all-star rhythm sections; he waited until he could bring his own band in, and that stubbornness has paid off.
I’d documented Hersch’s remarkable comeback from a debilitating two-month coma in 2008. Back then, he told me:
“People tell me that my playing is somehow deeper now since my recovery. I can’t judge whether that’s true or not. But I’ve always been determined to be my own man at the piano. And now, I feel even more of a desire to just be Fred.”
It’s hard to say how much his brush with death and the rigor of rehabilitation had to do with the clarity and exalted expression evident in Hersch’s playing these days, and how much of that is simply the natural maturation of a great talent, back on course. When I listen to Hersch now, the answer hardly matters.
The full review is below: Continue reading “Fred Hersch, At Home at the Vanguard”

Join Me for "NYC: The Afro-Cuban Beat" @ The National Jazz Museum in Harlem (Admission is Free)

Yosvany Terry will be my guest at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem on Sept. 22.

Come join me in Harlem this Fall for some exciting and free-of-charge events.
I’m thrilled to extend my long relationship with the National Jazz Museum in Harlem with a new series of discussions and listening sessions at the museum’s lovely new location on West 129th Street—NYC: The Afro-Cuban Beat.
My previous programs at NJMIH focused on New Orleans since the flood; these were low-key, in-depth and always highly charged conversations, rich with audience participation and musical interludes.
This new series explores a current flowering of Afro-Cuban influence along New York’s jazz landscape. My guests include: Yosvany Terry (September 22:); David Virelles and Román Díaz (October 18:); Arturo O’Farrill (November 7); and Michele Rosewoman (November 15). Details and links below.
Continue reading “Join Me for "NYC: The Afro-Cuban Beat" @ The National Jazz Museum in Harlem (Admission is Free)”

At Haystack, Summer 2016

IMG_0213I’m still unpacking from my recent trip to Deer Isle, Maine.
The clothes are long out of suitcases, and all that. Still, with newspaper deadlines and daily life rushing back in I haven’t yet made sense of the ideas newly swirling in my mind or unpacked the feelings that got stirred up inside me.
Deer Isle, a gorgeous island off the coast of Down East Maine where photos sometimes end up more like paintings (see above), is distinguished in obvious ways by its tidal coves and its luscious lobster and in less obvious ones by distinguished craftsmanship of all types and an open-minded fascination with the arts.
The latter two qualities owe in good measure to the presence, on the far end of Stinson Neck, of Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. Haystack, which was founded in 1950, is a summer camp—if, that is, all the campers were ceramic and textile artists and glassblowers and woodworkers, and the campgrounds designed by a world-class architect (in this case, Edward Larrabee Barnes) to flow gently into the wooded cliff overlooking Jericho Bay, which feeds the Atlantic Ocean.
For more than decade, I’ve connected the musicians I’ve engaged for the Deer Isle Jazz Festival (another good story) with Haystack for two-week residencies. These residencies have brought memorable moments: pianist Arturo O’Farrill organizing artists on homemade instruments for an improvised Afro-Cuban opera; pipa player Min Xiao Fen leading a similar performance on traditional Chinese instruments; bassist William Parker, in concert at the Stonington Opera House, playing the glass bells a Haystack glassblower designed for him; guitarist Dave Tronzo, using the custom slides made at Haystack during another concert; poet and saxophonist Roy Nathanson mining local oral histories of lobstermen for lyrics, and leading Haystack students in an original song cycle.
Strangely beautiful stuff happens if you hang around Haystack long enough. Now it was my turn. Continue reading “At Haystack, Summer 2016”

Dan Joseph's Musical Ecologies (Next Up, Peter Gordon)

Peter Gordon, who will perform and discuss his music with Dan Joseph on Sept. 8 in Brooklyn’s Musical Ecologies series. Photo by Jesse Winter.

Often, even when I’m not listening to music in my office, I’m listening to music. The stuff from down the hall, that is.
On one side is a space used by bassist Ben Street, a hero of today’s jazz scene. Street invites all manner of musicians in, just as in his professional work; best of all is when he’s working with Cuban percussionist Román Díaz.
Sometimes I hear the sound of hammered dulcimer, the primary instrument played by Dan Joseph, whose space is right across the hall from Street’s. Joseph’s wide-ranging tastes frequently draw me away from what I’m supposed to be listening to. I wander down the hall just to figure out what’s coming from his space, or to get a better taste of it. Often, I’ve never heard anything like it.
Joseph leads his own chamber group, The Dan Joseph Ensemble, and has collaborated with some of New York’s most adventurous musicians. A few weeks ago, he lent me a terrific book, “Deep Listening,” which was inscribed by its author, Pauline Oliveros, one of Joseph’s principal teachers.
In addition to his composing and music making, Joseph often writes about music and culture, for The Brooklyn Rail and Like me, he likes to talk about music, sometimes in public. He’s created one vital forum for such discussions—the music and sound series Musical Ecologies at The Old Stone House in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Joseph started the series in the fall of 2012, out of “my own need for more regular and substantive conversation with other music people,” he told me. “As the series has unfolded,” he said, “this conversation component has really become its heart.”
His next installment, Sept. 8, focuses on a musician who has long fascinated me: Peter Gordon. At Musical Ecologies, Gordon will present “The Ten of Wands,” a self-described “solo tone poem” with saxophone, keyboards, laptop and spoken word. The evening will begin with a conversation hosted by Joseph, and a reception will follow.
Here’s some more information on the series, and about Gordon: Continue reading “Dan Joseph's Musical Ecologies (Next Up, Peter Gordon)”

Remembering Bobby Hutcherson

photo by Brian McMillen

Like so many listeners, I first discovered the brilliance and originality of vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson though “Out to Lunch,” the 1964 album by alto saxophonist, flutist and bass clarinetist Eric Dolphy, which remains among my favorites.
Through the years, I’ve come to appreciate the breadth, depth and intensity of Hutcherson’s work through several decades and in many contexts.
I was saddened to learn of Hutcherson’s death on Monday, at 75, at his home in Montara, California. Hutcherson had long suffered from emphysema. The last time I heard him perform, at an NEA Jazz Masters ceremony, he had to be helped to the stage and was breathing with the aid of an oxygen tank up until the moment he took the stage. But once at his his instrument, he was relaxed and, in moments, ferocious, in the way that only he could be on his chosen instrument.
Nate Chinen got it just right in the obituary he filed in The New York Times, in describing Hutcherson’s distinction: Continue reading “Remembering Bobby Hutcherson”