Jan 5, 2022
Once he got over the funk that so many of us experienced during the COVID-19 shutdown of early 2020, Fred Hersch was musically active, streaming live from his home and playing music that made people smile and tap their toes. He began playing live again this summer, and now has a new recording of original material, Breath By Breath, the first time he has written for a jazz piano trio and string quartet.
Breath By Breath contains an eight-movement suite, entitled “Sati Suite.” The piece draws inspiration from the pianist’s longtime practice of mindfulness meditation, and so the movements take the listener through stages of the meditative process. Less you think this is ambient or "wallpaper" music, be assured that it is the kind of challenging yet joyous music that we have come to expect from Fred Hersch.
In part that’s due to the musicians he has enlisted for the album. Bassist Drew Gress was a member of the pianist’s first trio and has been an inspiring bandstand partner for more than three decades. Jochen Rueckert is one of the most in-demand drummers on the modern scene, having played with such greats as Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner, Melissa Aldana and Pat Metheny. The Crosby Street String Quartet, named for the NYC address where they first rehearsed with Hersch, combines four of the city’s busiest freelance string players: violinists Joyce Hammann and Laura Seaton, violist Lois Martin, and cellist Jody Redhage Ferber.
A select member of jazz’s piano pantheon, Fred is an influential creative force who has shaped the music’s course over more than three decades. A fifteen-time Grammy nominee, Hersch has long set the standard for expressive interpretation and inventive creativity. A revered improviser, composer, educator, bandleader, collaborator and recording artist, Hersch has been firmly entrenched as one of the most acclaimed and captivating pianists in modern jazz, whether through his exquisite solo performances, as the leader of one of jazz’s era-defining trios, or in eloquent dialogue with his deeply attuned duo partners. His brilliant 2017 memoir, Good Things Happen Slowly, was named one of 2017’s Five Best Memoirs by the Washington Post and The New York Times.
Podcast 873 is my conversation with Fred, as we talk about the writing and recording of Breath By Breath, how he assembled and rehearsed the musicians, and his plans for playing the material live. We also discuss an upcoming premiere of a Hersch-penned composition played by classical pianist Igor Levit, planned for Carnegie Hall on January 13th. You’ll get a chance to hear the second movement of the suite, called “Awakened Heart,” featuring Fred performing solo with the string quartet.