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”