Pianist Fred Hersch is a kind of model for what a top-tier jazz career looks like anymore. His is not a household name; serious contemporary jazz doesn’t mint so many of those. While his jazz legitimacy has been notarized by high-level collaboration with heavies like Stan Getz, Art Farmer and Toots Thielemans, Hersch’s CV is mostly a gaudy peacock fan of fellowships, grants, residencies and French awards – for jazz has become a largely academic and patron-driven art. What did Fats Waller know from fellowships?
But great jazz players and composers these days (and Hersch is quite simply among the best at both) are commercially marginalized, and this is how they make a go. They have borrowed the currencies of success and acclaim from the economy of “serious” music. Hersch also happens to be a 15-time Grammy nominee.
Like many of today’s more ambitious jazz minds, Hersch has “crossed over” in numerous directions. In his case, the targets tend to be not less but more rarefied, challenging and cerebral than the default jazz piano trio. His inventive solo interpretations of Jobim (2009’s Fred Hersch Plays Jobim) reimagine the music of Antonio Carlos “Tom” Jobim as introspective and almost classical in its internal, contrapuntal complexity. Hersch’s stunning Leaves of Grass (2005) is a brainy chamber-vocal-jazz setting of the poetry of Walt Whitman. It is “jazz” only insofar as it borrows from jazz’s harmonic language, and because it swings from time to time. On 2017’s House of Many Rooms, Hersch departs the genre completely in a work billed as “new concert music.” Not long after that, however, Hersch dives headlong back into the native tongue with a tribute to Bill Evans, the default hero of all cerebral and classically influenced jazz pianists, and 2017’s solo outing Open Book.
Even by Jazzstock’s consistently lofty standards, this is a big get. Jazzstock presents modern jazz legend Fred Hersch on Saturday, December 7 at the Senate Garage. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 on the day of the concert.
Fred Hersch, Saturday, Dec. 7, 7:30 p.m., Senate Garage, 4 North Front St., Kingston; www.jazzstock.com.