Thursday, June 20, 2013

Interview with Fred Hersch

Pianist Fred Hersch and his trio will perform July 7 at the 2013 Iowa City Jazz Festival. KCCK's Gordon Paulsen interviewed Hunter about the show and his career.

You can hear Hersch’s music regularly on KCCK at Or, for a consistent dose of music from artists appearing at the Jazz Festival, check out the Iowa City Jazz Fest channel at It's a 24-7 music feed of jazz fest artists.

Interviews with Hersch and the other headliners air regularly on the Jazz Fest Channel. Transcripts will also be posted here.

I’m Gordon Paulson and on the phone with me from his home in New York is pianist and composer Fred Hersch who will be bringing his trio to the 2013 Iowa City Jazz Festival. He will be performing on the mainstage at 6 pm on the final day of the festival on Sunday, July 7th. Fred, welcome.

FRED: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.

Your most recent recording “Alive at the Vanguard” on Palmetto Records. And speaking of the village Vanguard, you achieved a milestone. You were the first artist in the 75 year history of the village Vanguard to play a weeklong engagement as a solo artist. That’s quite the heritage there because we’re talking about people like Bill Evans and so many others along the way. How did that all happen?

FRED: It happened sort of as a fluke. I was playing with my trio there, I believe in 2005, and it was -might have been opening night, Tuesday-. Drew Gress was playing bass for me at the time and he was stuck in California and he couldn’t get back. His plane was delayed so I called John Hébert, who is now my current bassist, and he was also in California. So I said to the two of them, whoever can get back first should come down to the club and play the gig. But there was nobody there, no bassist for the first set. So just as the owner, Lorraine Gordon who just turned 91 I think, just as she was walking in the club with the manager- I kind of cornered the manager, Jed Eisenman to get up and play a solo set-. So I was walking onto the stage as she was coming into the club so she couldn’t say no. And I played a solo set and their reaction was really, really positive. And the following year I had a solo album coming out called “Fred Hersch in Amsterdam: Live at the Bimhuis” so I said how about we coordinate the release of that solo album with a week of solo piano at the Vanguard and she said yes. So it became quite a big event, it sold out and all that kind of stuff. And I’ve done it once since, and that became my solo record “Alone at the Vanguard”. So I’ve played there two solo weeks and numerable trio weeks, quintet weeks, and of course, in the old days as a side band with Joe Henderson, Art Farmer, and Sam Jones. In fact I have my picture on the wall of the club next to Mingo’s, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Bill Evans, and Coal Train. Not that I believe I’m in that esteemed company but it’s an incredible honor to feel like I’m really part of the history of, probably, the greatest Jazz club in the world.

Talk a little bit about what you are planning and what you have in store for the Jazz Festival, who will you be bringing with you, I assume these are people you play with on a fairly regular basis.

FRED: Yeah, I’m bringing the A-Team, my current trio which is John Héber on bass and Eric Mcpherson on drums. We have two CD’s out, one is the two CD set “Live at the Vanguard” and previous to that we did a solo, then we did a studio album called “Whirl”. I’ve been playing with these guys consistently for the last four or five years and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying it. I think it’s a very special trio. Typically we play some original music, of course, some reworkings of standards and things from the jazz repertoire; Monk, Ornette Coleman, and Wayne Shorter, people like that. It’s kind of a drawing from those three bodies of material; original, standards, and jazz compositions by others. We’ve played many festivals and numerous club engagements. I think it’s a very dynamic group and pretty unique. Sometimes when I get on the road I can’t always get both of them lined up so I still play with Drew Gress, who I’ve played with for many years as well as various other people who I have that can sub if I need to. But I always try to bring these guys wherever I go and hope that our schedules line up. I was attracted to both John and Eric by the way they approach their instrument in terms of sound. Also both of them are extremely experienced in playing all kinds of jazz, things that are tune based and tunes that are not tune based. Eric really approaches the drumset with a percussionist perspective and uses very interesting implements sometimes. John has a great ear for harmony but also has a looseness that is very refreshing. They both like the play a whole range of material that we’ve created as a band. I think, for me, I don’t really have to say much. I just pick the set everybody knows what to do. There’s a lot of surprise and a lot of really great feeling between the three of us that, you can’t quite put your finger on it, but it somehow works. I’m far from a dictator, these guys make their own contributions. A lot of these pieces that we’ve played now for some time has taken on their own life. It’s always a good time on stage, it’s a great vibe, and I think they’re really supportive but also they really add to the mix in a lot of unexpected ways which is exactly what you want when you’re playing with people for a long period of time.

Fred Hersch will bring his A-Teram, the same trio that appears on his most recent recording “Live at the Vanguard” on Palmetto Records on Sunday, the final day of the 3 day Iowa City Jazz Festival, Sunday, July 7th at 6 pm on the mainstage in downtown Iowa City.

FRED: Yeah, fantastic. I’m looking forward to that myself.

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