A journey with Fred Hersch

On April, 19, a very special solo piano album will be released, on vinyl and cd: even whithout knowing about Fred Hersch’s life, and thus possibly projecting one’s thoughts on the music, „Silent, Listening“ very much is a journey in itself, an unforgettable one, I suppose, a meditation on life grounded in complete surrender to the here and now. The record will be part of my jazz radio hour at the Deutschlandfunk on April, 4. “A living legend” (The New Yorker) within jazz’s piano pantheon, Fred Hersch was also one of the first openly gay, HIV-positive jazz musicians. He made his Princeton University Concerts debut as part of the „Healing with Music“ series to discuss this profound relationship to music. „Silent, Listening“ is a strangely uplifting album. Its title contains the best way to participate in this journey. After his brilliant duo album with Enrico Rava on ECM now available on vinyl, too), Fred returned to the famous studio in Lugano, and in my jazz magazine (and on „flowworker“) he will speak about his new, „nocturnal“ solo trip.

Here are my six questions for Fred:

One – the best way to listen (silently) to this album is from start to end. No distractions. Once you‘re inside, every composition has a unique atmosphere, and it all comes together in a perfect sequence. Can you say something about the „story“ of this album, framed by two standards that, from the titles, suggest drama and, well, no happy ending („winter of my discontent“) – then again, how warm sounding and heartfelt is that last piece! I divert. So what is it that makes this for you a kind of „nocturnal journey“? 

Two – … and this second piece: Night Tide Light. Though it has it abstract moments, no easy melody, it also  a very sensual sphere. Introverted as it is (or night time music, so to speak) it gets me every time…

Three – In May 2023 you returned to Lugano’s Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI. After the duo with Enrico Rava. Your support now and then Stefano Amerio behind the controls. And Manfred Eicher (with his very long history of solo piano recordings). I once was witness in the immense space there, when Tigran Hamasyan sat at the piano, so I know the place. Are there memories, conversations with Manfred, certain ideas, tiny moments, whatever… something you remember vividly from those two days?

Four – some titles reference not so nice things from the past, for example Akrasia  with its recurring short deep notes – and nevertheless tender moments in between. Uncanny, a bit, and nevertheless a strangely floating piece of music. In regards to your knack for computer games and detective novels during lockdown, is this a kind of musical study of overcoming obstacles? 

Five – there‘s a very distant echo in my ears, in regards to space, giving the sounds time for decay, short, breathing silences, to Paul Bley‘s early ECM piano solo album „Open To Love“. You may know it well or not – a kind of heigtened sensitivity can be perceived from my listener‘s side from the first sound onwards in your forthcoming work. Do you have a strategy (yoga, meditation…) to create a certain  mood or state of mind, for such a trip… or is it enough to focus on the moment and give it a go? 

Six – this album never appears like a sentimental journey in spite its beautul  takes on some old and famous melodies. Like „The Wind“. In the end, afterwards, when mixing and listening to the whole album for the first time: what did you surprise most? In spite of the fact you have a lifetime of knowledge about your playing? 

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