With all of Fred Hersch’s amazing accomplishments in a career that spans five decades — nearly 40 live and studio albums, playing piano with Stan Getz, Art Farmer and other Jazz giants, securing the first solo piano booking at the legendary Village Vanguard, becoming an esteemed educator and tireless AIDS activist, earning five Grammy nominations, winning acclaim as one of the most innovative pianists in Jazz — it never seemed plausible that the gifted Cincinnati native and Walnut Hills High School grad would have to make a comeback.
In Hersch’s case, that comeback involved relearning to walk, feed himself and play piano; a 2008 bout of pneumonia (brought on by his decades-long battle with AIDS) ultimately caused septic shock and dementia and forced doctors to put him in a medically induced coma.
For Hersch, it was grist for his creative mill. Once recovered, he conceived a multimedia performance called My Coma Dreams, which continues to be performed, drawing ecstatic reviews. He also wrote and recorded Whirl, acclaimed as one of the best Jazz albums of 2010, and followed with Alone at the Vanguard, the recording of his final solo set at the venerable New York club which earned Hersch a pair of Grammy nominations at the most recent ceremony.
Hersch’s just-released latest, the two-disc Alive at the Vanguard, captures his trio (bassist John Hebert, drummer Eric McPherson) in a rhythmic and harmonic mind-meld that showcases Hersch’s considerable compositional skills as well as his flawless ability to interpret Jazz classics and the American Songbook.
After scoring a grant for funding, production on the feature-length documentary Fred Hersch Now started up again recently. The project of award-winning filmmakers Carrie Lozano and Charlotte Lagarde is described (at fredherschfilm.com) as a “chronicle (of) the life and work of a musical genius, an educator, an AIDS and gay rights activist and one of the foremost Jazz musicians of our time.”
The recent album is the impetus for Hersch’s current tour with the same trio and his two-night stint at Downtown’s Blue Wisp Jazz Club.
His solo performance at the club last year was his first local show in over a decade and his first club date here in nearly 20 years. Hopefully, Hersch’s second visit within just 15 months is a trend that will continue into the foreseeable future.
The trio performs at the Blue Wisp this Monday and Tuesday, with two shows each night, at 7 and 9:15 p.m. The early shows have a $30 admission fee; it’s $25 for the second shows ($15 for students who present their ID). For more on the gigs, visit thebluewisp.com. (Preview by Brian Baker)
More Local Notes
• While little ones are welcome (encouraged, actually), the “Bluegrass for Babies” event at Sawyer Point this Saturday isn’t a music fest featuring fiddlers and banjoists jamming high, lonesome versions of lullabies for newborns. Bluegrass for Babies is a locally based non-profit that hosts annual concerts to raise funds for the Perinatal Institute at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. With a goal of raising $50,000, the group’s fourth annual Bluegrass for Babies concert will run 4-9:30 p.m. and feature numerous family- (and eco-) friendly vendors, activities and exhibits, as well as some world-class Bluegrass. Headlining is nationally acclaimed Michigan Americana/Bluegrass crew Greensky Bluegrass, local Jazz singer and children’s music singer/songwriter Jennifer Ellis and Cincy heroes The Comet Bluegrass Allstars round out the bill. Visit bluegrassforbabies.com for complete info.
• If Oktoberfest mania gets to be too much, FB’s has the perfect respite. The Downtown nightclub is celebrating its third anniversary this Saturday with a big ol’ block party in Rusconi Alley, behind the bar (which is at 126 Sixth St.) and next to the old Shillito building. The outdoor stage — which runs 4-11 p.m. — features a steady stream of local and national live acts while inside the club, DJ Etrayn, DJ Sinceer, DJ Storm and DJ Vik will be spinning 4 p.m.-2 a.m. The outdoor stage will include San Diego buzz band Hyena and great local crews like DAAP Girls and Gold Shoes. There’s no cover charge until 9 p.m.
• Next week, the MidPoint Music Festival returns to the clubs and venues of Over-the-Rhine and Downtown for its 11th annual event Sept. 27-29. Be sure to visit MPMF.com for the latest updates (Indie duo Sleigh Bells had to cancel at the last minute due to injury, for example) and to buy your three-day wristbands (which are going fast!). Also, check in on the citybeat.com music blog every day for the Daily MPMFer, featuring critic’s picks, video previews and more. (Mike Breen)
CONTACT MIKE BREEN: firstname.lastname@example.org or @CityBeatMusic