The American jazz pianist and composer, Fred Hersch, began playing piano at a very young age, growing up in the North Avondale neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio, attending Walnut Hills High School. He also had an early interest in mandolin. By age 12, he had written his first symphony. He studied at Grinnell College in the mid-1970’s and began playing in jazz clubs in Cincinnati. He later graduated from New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. His teachers included Sophia Rosoff.
Fred Hersch moved to New York City in the late 1970’s where he soon found a place playing with artists including Stan Getz, Joe Henderson, Lee Konitz, Art Farmer, and Charlie Haden. He soon began recording his own records and composing music. Although Hersch has played in a number of different instrumental combinations, he also plays as a solo performer, and many of his albums - such as “Live at the Bimhuis” (2005) - are solo recitals. In 2006 he was invited by club owner Lorraine Gordon to perform the first-ever solo piano booking in the 75-year history of the legendary Village Vanguard jazz club in New York City. His album "Live at the Vanguard" won him two Grammy awards and he has gone on tour for this album, 2012-2013. Some of the many songs Hersch played included his own compositions such as Jackalope but he also has done multiple randitions of songs such as his Doxy by Sonny Rollins. Hersch's also works as a vocal accompanist and has recently recorded duo work with Jay Clayton, Nancy King, and Karin Oberlin.
Proclaimed by Vanity Fair magazine, “the most arrestingly innovative pianist in jazz over the last decade or so,” Fred Hersch balances his internationally recognized instrumental skills with significant achievements as a composer, bandleader, and theatrical conceptualist, as well as remaining an in-demand collaborator with other noted bandleaders and vocalists. As a solo pianist; as leader of a widely praised trio whose Whirl found its way onto numerous 2010 best-recordings-of-the-year lists; and as the impetus behind the ambitious 2011 production, “My Coma Dreams,” a full-evening work for 11 instruments, actor/singer and animation/multimedia - Hersch has fully lived up to the approbation of the New York Times who, in a featured Sunday Magazine article, praised him as “singular among the trailblazers of their art, a largely unsung innovator of this borderless, individualistic jazz - a jazz for the 21st century.” He was nominated for two 2011 Grammy Awards for “Alone at the Vanguard” - for Best Jazz Album and Best Improvised Jazz Solo; these are his 4th and 5th nominations. His newest trio album is a 2-CD set “Alive at the Vanguard” and it has been garnering wide critical acclaim as one of his best releases in his many-year recording career. It has been awarded the 2012 Grand Prix du Disque by the Académie Charles Cros in France and has made the Best Jazz CDs of 2012 list in Slate and Downbeat.
In addition to his more than three-dozen recordings as a leader/co-leader, his numerous awards include a 2003 Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship for composition, and a Grammy® nomination for Best Instrumental Composition, as well as two Grammy® nominations for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance. Hersch has featured himself as either a solo performer or at the helm of varied small ensembles, which in addition to his trio, include a quintet, as well as his "Pocket Orchestra" featuring an unconventional line-up of piano, trumpet, voice and percussion. Hersch is considered to be the most prolific and celebrated solo jazz pianist of his generation. In 2006, Palmetto released the solo CD “Fred Hersch in Amsterdam: Live at the Bimhuis” and 2009 welcomed his 8th solo disc, “Fred Hersch Plays Jobim”, cited as one of the year's Top Ten jazz releases by NPR and the Wall Street Journal. Alone won the "Coup de Coeur" de l'Académie Charles Cros in France and 2011 also saw Hersch place 4th in the Downbeat Critic's Poll and win as Jazz Pianist of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association.
Fred Hersch’s career as a performer has been greatly enhanced by his composing activities, a vital part of nearly all of his live concerts and recordings. In 2003, Hersch created “Leaves of Grass” (Palmetto Records), a large-scale setting of Walt Whitman's poetry for two voices (Kurt Elling and Kate McGarry) and an instrumental octet; the work was presented in March 2005 in a sold-out performance at Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall as part of a six-city USA tour. More than 70 of his jazz compositions have been recorded by Hersch and by numerous other artists. His 2010 multi-media theatrical project “My Coma Dreams” is a full-evening work for actor/singer, 11 instrumentalists and animation/computer-generated imagery; it was based on dreams he retained after emerging from a 2-month coma in the summer of 2008.
Fred Hersch has collaborated with an astonishing range of instrumentalists and vocalists throughout worlds of jazz (Joe Henderson, Charlie Haden, Art Farmer, Stan Getz and Bill Frisell); classical (Renée Fleming, Dawn Upshaw, Christopher O'Riley); and Broadway (Audra McDonald). Long admired for his sympathetic work with singers, Hersch has joined with such notable jazz vocalists as Nancy King, Norma Winstone and Kurt Elling. He has received commissions from The Gilmore Keyboard Festival, The Doris Duke Foundation, The Miller Theatre at Columbia University, The Gramercy Trio and The Brooklyn Youth Chorus. A disc of his through-composed works, “Fred Hersch: Concert Music 2001-2006”, has been released by Naxos Records; these works are published by the prestigious firm Edition Peters.
Fred Hersch has been awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship, grants from Chamber Music America, The National Endowment for the Arts and Meet the Composer, and seven composition residencies at The MacDowell Colony. In addition to a wide variety of National Public Radio programs including Fresh Air, Jazz Set, Studio 360 and Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz, Hersch has also appeared on CBS Sunday Morning with Dr. Billy Taylor. A committed educator, Hersch has taught at The New School and Manhattan School of Music, and conducted a Professional Training Workshop for Young Musicians at The Weill Institute at Carnegie Hall in 2008. He is currently a visiting professor at Western Michigan University and on the Jazz Studies faculty of The New England Conservatory. Hersch's influence has been widely felt on a new generation of jazz pianists, from former Hersch students including Brad Mehldau and Ethan Iverson of the Bad Plus, to Jason Moran, who has said, "Fred at the piano is like LeBron James on the basketball court. He’s perfection.”
In 1986 Fred Hersch he was diagnosed with HIV. Since then, Hersch has campaigned and performed for several AIDS-related charities and causes. A passionate spokesman and fund-raiser for AIDS services and education agencies since 1993, Hersch has produced and performed on four benefit recordings and in numerous concerts for charities including Classical Action: Performing Arts Against AIDS and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS that have raised over $250,000 to date. He has also been the keynote speaker and performer at international medical conferences in the USA. and Europe. Along with Gary Burton and Andy Bey, Hersch is one of the few openly gay jazz musicians.
An artist of unbounded imagination, ambition and skill, Fred Hersch is, as Downbeat magazine aptly declared, "one of the small handful of brilliant musicians of his generation."