Pianist and composer Fred Hersch taught NEC jazz students beginning in 1980 and, with intermittent breaks, through 2015.
Hersch has been called "one of the small handful of brilliant musicians of his generation" by Down Beat, and has earned a place among the foremost jazz artists in the world today. From the late 1970s onward, as a sideman to jazz legends including Joe Henderson, Art Farmer, and Stan Getz, he has solidified a reputation as a versatile master of jazz piano, as well as a relentlessly probing composer and conceptualist. Whether unaccompanied, in duo, working with trios and quintets, Hersch has explored the jazz tradition to its fullest, even as he opens new and undiscovered doors.
Hersch has ongoing special collaborations with jazz and classical instrumentalists and vocalists around the world, from Bill Frisell, Toots Thielemans, and Charlie Haden, to pianist Christopher O'Riley '81 A.D. and singers Renée Fleming, Norma Winstone, and Audra McDonald. An unconventional line-up of piano, Ralph Alessi, trumpet, Jo Lawry, voice, and Richie Barshay '05, percussion, is captured on the 2009 CD The Fred Hersch Pocket Orchestra: Live at Jazz Standard.
In 2006, Hersch set a milestone in the history of New York's legendary Village Vanguard by becoming the first solo pianist to perform a full weeklong engagement. In 2010, as part of a larger return from a prolonged bout of serious illness that included a two-month coma, Hersch returned to the Village Vanguard for a second solo stint. The entire last set is captured on the new CD Alone at the Vanguard. "I could have culled tunes from each of the week's twelve sets, but on this final set I was 'in the zone' and we decided to go with that," says Hersch.
Hersch has appeared on more than one hundred recordings total, including more than two dozen albums as bandleader/solo pianist. In 1999, Nonesuch Records released Let Yourself Go: Fred Hersch at Jordan Hall, one of the rare jazz CDs recorded in NEC's majestic hall. Hersch's solo piano compositions and chamber music are published by Edition Peters.
Hersch has been awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship, grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and Meet the Composer, Chamber Music America, seven composition residencies at the MacDowell Colony, and one at Bellagio and Civitella Raineri in Italy. Hersch's numerous accomplishments also include a 2003 Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship for composition and five Grammy nominations, four for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance and one for Best Instrumental Composition (2006).
Hersch has acted as a passionate spokesman and fundraiser for AIDS services and education agencies since 1993. He has produced and performed on four benefit recordings and at numerous concerts for the charities Classical Action: Performing Arts Against AIDS, and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, that have raised over $250,000 to date.
Hersch received NEC's Outstanding Alumni Award in 1990.
B.M., with honors, NEC. Former faculty of the New School, The Juilliard School, and Manhattan School of Music. Currently visiting professor, Rutgers University. Recordings on Nonesuch, Naxos, Palmetto, Sunnyside, Chesky, Varese Sarabande, Arabesque Jazz, and Sony Classical.
Photo by Steve J Sherman