Fred Hersch, born in Cincinnati, Ohio, is, at 66, the most discreet of essential pianists. Some of his students are better known than him. However, Fred Hersch, a fragile teenager with large hands, is respected by the entire profession. In Europe, the Salle du Bal Blomet (Paris, 15th) is on the way to becoming his favorite home base: “Its design is original. Rather oblong, the space is perfectly used: you can see and hear the artist from everywhere, the acoustics are more than adequate, he explains. Guillaume Cornut, the director, is a good pianist and I feel there like at the Village Vanguard when I arrived in New York in 1977. Blomet is the Carnegie Hall of clubs. »
What Fred Hersch, covered with distinctions and other Grammys, does not say is that, after his first visit to this room, Guillaume Cornut had asked him his opinion: “during my new visit, the piano had been changed”. Discretion, diction and movements, Fred Hersch has other ways of imposing himself: the seriousness of which we quickly perceive the double bottom, the attention to the smallest detail and a certain sense of human relationship. It is its presence (desired by a music-loving organizer) that qualifies a place, and not the other way around. Like at the Sunside in Paris, at the Saint-Emilion festival in Gironde… Or at the Getxo in Biscay (Basque Country). A story of encounters and personal ties, the simple list of his partners – from Art Pepper to Joe Henderson via Art Farmer – tells of his situation, what he brings and what he seeks: his delicacy and the delicacy of his game.
Airy play and pure control
It was in Tokyo in 1987, while playing in a trio with Red Mitchell and Eliot Zigmund, that harmonica player Toots Thielemans spotted him and recommended him to Eddie Daniels. Here he is a professor at the New England Conservatory in Boston. It was while “rehearsing” (curious idea of the focus, this research mixed with chance, off-screen, off-screen, which could not “rehearse” anything) with Chet Baker that he met Charlie Haden. Immediately it sticks. Haden invites him to join the Liberation Music Orchestra. That’s good, since the Woody Herman Orchestra and that of Sam Jones, he is used to large formations. He will form a trio with Haden and Joey Baron, an album will be released by his recording studios, Classic Sound.
Renal failure resulting from his HIV status (two months in a coma in 1987), his fragile health never held him back “his phenomenal energy at the crossroads of his classical culture and his taste for improvisation” (according to Jean-Paul Ricard in his remarkable note in the Jazz Dictionary, Laffont editions). Airy play, sparks with such pure control, “all that matters is to achieve symbiosis, emotion, without ever giving up on the touch control that opens the way in solo”. He physically describes his shouldering as it is transmitted to the fingers, “like a yoga exercise: I prefer to tell a story in music, to align thousands of notes…”
Evidence in support, these four sold-out evenings at the Bal Blomet: solo (May 11); string trio and quartet (May 12); tribute to Brazil (May 13, with clarinetist Stéphane Chausse); duet with trumpeter Avishai Cohen (May 14) as he likes to do with Enrico Rava: “On the piano, the solo is very complicated. Too many challenges, too many parameters, too little control, especially over sound levels and tempos. »
When he arrived in New York, he says, all the master pianists of the genre were still alive. And to name those who still are: Abdullah Ibrahim, Ahmad Jamal, but also Tommy Flanagan, Jimmy Rowles – “capable of the sweetest slowness” – and Monk, of course. “Each solo recital I play a ballad and a Monk theme…Keith Jarrett is more compelling in a trio, but he’s recorded so many albums…Too many, maybe. As for Martial Solal, he is “a genius”, he judges. “Cecil Taylor?” An extraordinary case…” Let’s add that Natalie Dessay joins him on the first night for two songs. “My one and only goal: to play every night what I have never played before. »