Silent, Listening Fred Hersch

Cover Silent, Listening

Album info



Label: ECM Records

Genre: Jazz

Subgenre: Contemporary Jazz

Artist: Fred Hersch

Album including Album cover Booklet (PDF)

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  • 1Star-Crossed Lovers03:57
  • 2Night Tide Light03:27
  • 3Akrasia04:15
  • 4Silent, Listening03:50
  • 5Starlight04:54
  • 6Aeon03:14
  • 7Little Song04:53
  • 8The Wind07:01
  • 9Volon03:18
  • 10Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise05:07
  • 11Winter of my Discontent06:41
  • Total Runtime50:37

Info for Silent, Listening

Silent, Listening is both a highly individual musical offering and an important contribution to ECM’s line of innovative solo piano recordings. It finds US pianist Fred Hersch, one of jazz’s most outstanding soloists, putting a poetic emphasis on alert, open improvisation while also embracing original compositions and a scattering of standard tunes in his album’s graceful creative arc. Interspersing songs and spontaneously composed pieces, Hersch shapes and sustains a musical atmosphere that he describes as “nocturnal”, an atmosphere of heightened sensitivity to sound.

“I still believe in the idea of an album as a complete musical statement from beginning to end,” he says, adding that this is a perspective being lost in an impatient age. “To me, an album has to tell a story.” Silent, Listening builds upon Hersch’s alliance with Manfred Eicher, established with The Song Is You, Fred’s duo album with Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava.

“The things that I’ve been happiest with in my life as a musician in jazz,” says Fred, “have been those things that have happened most organically. And in that recording with Enrico, which was made very spontaneously, I recognized that something special was going on. I said afterwards that I’d really like to make a solo album with Manfred as producer, in the same hall – where the acoustics, to my ear, are pretty-near perfect - and on the same piano.”

In May 2023 Hersch returned to Lugano’s Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI. “I came with some ideas of tunes of mine I might want to play, and with some little snippets of things that were like launching pads for improvisation. ’Silent, Listening’, the title piece, for instance, has written material at the beginning and the end, and I improvise on its motives and feel.”

“Little Song” is a Hersch composition, written originally for the duo with Rava, which receives its recorded premiere here. As for the standard pieces chosen, “I had no idea I was going to play those. I just sort of felt them in the moment, and then the spontaneous compositions arose to offset the tunes.” To name the latter, Hersch brought along a list of titles culled from a Robert Rauschenberg monograph – “Rauschenberg was always good with titles” - hence “Volon”, “Aeon” and more.

“I play a little more inside the piano than I usually do,” says Hersch of the exploratory, freely-structured pieces. “People don’t necessarily associate me with open improvising, but it is something that I have done a lot of, over the years. In fact, the recording with Enrico also included an improvisation that worked really well. And Manfred’s very positive response to that encouraged me to go further in this direction, alternating tunes and not-tunes on the solo album.”

Among the standards, Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington’s “Star-Crossed Lovers” sets the scene with a sparse, haunted interpretation that cleaves to the melody. “It’s such a beautiful melody, and sometimes it’s enough to state it. I learned the tune from Jimmy Rowles who used to play the song , as did Tommy Flanagan. I knew both of them well when we all worked at Bradley’s in New York, and recorded a version of ‘Star Crossed Lovers’ on my very first album back in 1985.”

“The Winter of my Discontent” is a tune that Hersch began playing after meeting its composer Alec Wilder in 1978. “Wilder made contact – also at Bradley’s, as it happens - and sent me books of his songs, and that’s one I’ve been playing ever since, in different formats including duo and trio. In Lugano, the mood of what I was playing seemed to suggest and lead to it.”

“Softly As In a Morning Sunrise” is, in Fred Hersch’s mind, “always associated with Sonny Rollins at the Village Vanguard. Sonny’s version is the gold standard for me. Sonny Rollins is my hero, frankly. As a jazz musician he has everything, and I’ve been strongly influenced by him.”

“Akrasia” is an instance of a Hersch composition that took on a second life in the studio. Its title, meaning “acting against one’s better interests”, is an allusion to life in lockdown when, Fred says, he found himself spending too much time indulging in detective novels and computer games. “You know you shouldn’t be doing it, but… Anyway, ‘Akrasia’ is a longer composition and, when we started recording it in Lugano, I suddenly realized that the music was on the floor, and I couldn’t see it! So I played the beginning of it and then just kept going, improvising, and it turned into something unexpected but, we felt, interesting.”

This openness to contingency and willingness to honour the flow of things was also, Hersch says, reflected in his performance of Russ Freeman’s “The Wind”, which provides one of the album’s most magical sequences. Fred says that his younger, perfectionist self might have balked at his delineation of the melody but that, at 68, he is trying “not to micromanage everything anymore. What we got was a great first take” – gentle, but full of feeling – “that would have been impossible to recapture with the same spirit.”

The in-the-moment spontaneity of Silent, Listening makes it, similarly, a self-contained one-off. Hersch enjoys the challenge of finding new musical solutions for new spaces and his upcoming touring activities include solo piano performances in both the US and Europe. Dates include Merkin Concert Hall, New York City (April 16), Piedmont Piano Company, Oakland CA (April 28) ,Dakota, Minneapolis MN (April 29), SPACE, Chicago IL (April 30), Cleveland OH (April 31), Firenze, Italy (May 11), Festival Ste Germain, Paris, France (May 18), Stadtcasino, Basel, Switzerland (May 21), Innsbruck, Austria (May 23),), Flagey, Brussels, Belgium (May 31), Ghent, Belgium, June 1. Additionally Fred Hersch plays duo concerts in France with Avishai Cohen in Nantes (May 6) and Coutances (May 8), and appears with the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra in Stockholm, Sweden on May 17. He plays in trio with Drew Gress and Joey Baron in Treviso, Italy on May 25. Hersch returns to Europe for another round of concerts in October.

Fred Hersch, piano

Fred Hersch
A select member of jazz’s piano pantheon, Fred Hersch is a pervasively influential creative force who has shaped the music’s course over more than three decades as an improviser, composer, educator, bandleader, collaborator and recording artist. He has been proclaimed “the most arrestingly innovative pianist in jazz over the last decade” by Vanity Fair, “an elegant force of musical invention” by The L.A. Times, and “a living legend” by The New Yorker.

A fifteen-time Grammy nominee, Hersch has regularly garnered jazz’s most prestigious awards, including recent distinctions as a 2016 Doris Duke Artist, 2016 and 2018 Jazz Pianist of the Year from the Jazz Journalists Association, and the 2017 Prix Honorem de Jazz from L’Acádemie Charles Cros for the totality of his career. He recently placed #2 Jazz Musician of the Year in the 2021 DownBeat Critics Poll and was named #3 Jazz Pianist. He was also honored as the 2021 International Jazz Artist of the Year by Jazz Magazine (France).

If “good things happen slowly”, as the title of Hersch’s 2017 memoir attests, such good fortune has nonetheless accrued to the point where the pianist can enjoy the accolades and adulation of peers, critics and audiences alike. He has long set the standard for expressive interpretation and inventive creativity in a stunning variety of settings, 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.

With more than fifty albums to his credit as a leader or co-leader, Hersch consistently receives lavish critical praise and numerous international awards for each highly anticipated new release. His latest album with his long-standing trio, 2018’s Live In Europe (Palmetto), documents one remarkable evening in Brussels and has been hailed as its best to date – considerable praise for an ensemble that consistently plays at such a staggeringly high level.

The trio, in which Hersch has been joined by bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson for the last decade, was voted the #1 Jazz Group in the 2019 DownBeat Critics Poll, recognizing its unique ability to traverse a wide range of styles and approaches while maintaining profound depths of emotion and the exhilarating spark of invention. Both the trio and its previous two Palmetto releases, 2016’s Sunday Night at the Vanguard and 2014’s Floating, were nominated for Grammy Awards in the categories of Best Jazz Solo and Best Jazz Album.

His newest project Breath By Breath (release date January 9, 2022 on Palmetto Records) features nine original compositions with piano, bass, drums and The Crosby Street String Quartet. It contains the 8-movement Sati Suite that is inspired by various aspects of his longtime insight meditation practice. An early review from All About Jazz says, “What sets Breath by Breath apart is not that he uses a string quartet on record for the first time. It is instead the complete ease and mastery with which he integrates the strings into a very tight ensemble concept.”

As versatile and exploratory as his trio and duo excursions can be, nowhere is the boundless range and emotional diversity of Hersch’s artistry as evident as in his breathtaking solo performances. Jazz Times has hailed his unaccompanied playing as “a complete, self-sufficient, uniquely pure art form,” while All About Jazz has remarked that “when it comes to the art of solo piano in jazz, there are two classes of performers: Fred Hersch and everybody else.” Of his 2020 quarantine solo album Songs From Home (his 11th solo album), All About Jazz said it is “a message of quietude and hope in the midst of the sufferings we undergo in life”, NPR’s All Songs Considered called it “the week’s most necessary listen” and it was named one of the Ten Best Jazz Albums of 2020 by Slate.

Hersch garnered a 2015 Grammy nomination for his solo on “Duet” from Free Flying, a duo album with guitarist Julian Lage that received a rare 5-star rating from DownBeat. An exceptionally responsive and intuitive collaborator, Hersch has engaged in duo partnerships with a number of spirited artists, including Anat Cohen, Bill Frisell, Julian Lage, Chris Potter, Enrico Rava, Avishai Cohen and Miguel Zenon; and vocalists Kurt Elling, Esperanza Spalding, Kate McGarry, Cécile McLorin Salvant and Renée Fleming. His many sideman credits include Joe Henderson, Art Farmer, Stan Getz, Charlie Haden and other jazz legends.

His 2019 project, Begin Again, had him collaborating with acclaimed arranger/conductor Vince Mendoza and features Hersch with Germany’s WDR Big Band. Nine of Hersch’s compositions – from early pieces to the newly-recorded title track – are sensitively orchestrated by Mendoza, who arranged the legendary symphonic albums Both Sides Now and Travelogue for Joni Mitchell. The title track Begin Again was nominated for a 2020 Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition.

In 2006, Hersch became the first artist in the 75-year history of New York’s legendary Village Vanguard to play a weeklong engagement as a solo pianist. His second solo run there was documented on the Grammy-nominated Alone at the Vanguard, one of five recordings he’s made at the iconic New York City club. His 2017 Palmetto album Open Book was, as the title implies, his most revealing and intimate solo outing, and was nominated for two 2018 Grammy Awards.

The album’s release coincided with the publication of his acclaimed memoir, Good Things Happen Slowly (Crown Archetype Books/Random House). The book compellingly reveals the story of his life in music along with a frank recounting of his health struggles and triumphs as the first openly gay, HIV-positive jazz musician. It was featured in the Sunday New York Times and on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” named one of 2017’s Five Best Memoirs by the Washington Post and The New York Times, and acclaimed as 2018’s Book on Jazz of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association. His story has also been told via the feature documentary by acclaimed filmmakers Carrie Lozano and Charlotte Lagarde The Ballad of Fred Hersch which premiered to a sold-out house at the prestigious Full Frame Film Festival in March 2016 and is now streaming.

While widely renowned for his playing, Hersch has earned similar distinction with his writing, garnering a 2003 Guggenheim Fellowship in Composition among other awards. The same year he created Leaves of Grass, a large-scale setting of Walt Whitman’s poetry for two voices (Kurt Elling and Kate McGarry) and an instrumental octet. Leaves of Grass was selected to open the 2017 Jazz at Lincoln Center season at the Appel Room. He has received commissions from Roomful of Teeth, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, The Doris Duke Millenium Fund, Tippett Rise and The Gilmore Keyboard Festival among many others. He has been awarded nine residencies at MacDowell and one at Bellagio.

Of the premiere by pianist Igor Levit of his Variations on a Folksong at Carnegie Hall in January of 2022, the New York Times said “the variations are a musical vision of nearly unbroken serenity and benevolence.”

Hersch’s visionary 2010 theatrical project, My Coma Dreams, prompted the New York Times Sunday Magazine to describe the composer as “singular among the trailblazers of their art, a largely unsung innovator of this borderless, individualistic jazz—a jazz for the 21st century.” Based on visions Hersch experienced during a two-month coma in 2008, the evening-length multimedia collaboration with writer/director Herschel Garfein for eleven instrumentalists and an actor/singer was captured on video at Columbia University and is now available for streaming.

For two decades Hersch has been a passionate spokesman and fund-raiser for AIDS services and education agencies. He 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. To date, his efforts have raised more than $300,000. He has also been a keynote speaker and performer at international medical conferences in the U.S. and Europe. In 2020, he raised $50,000 for the Jazz Foundation of America with a limited-release live duo EP with vocalist Esperanza Spalding and with “Eight x 88”, a streaming event from Steinway Hall featuring eight of NYC’s greatest jazz pianists in solo and duo formats.

A committed educator, Hersch has taught at New England Conservatory, The Juilliard School, The New School and The Manhattan School of Music and has given master classes around the world. He holds Honorary Doctorate degrees from Grinnell College and Northern Kentucky University. Hersch’s influence has been widely felt on a new generation of jazz pianists, from former students Brad Mehldau, Sullivan Fortner and Ethan Iverson to his colleague Jason Moran, who has said, “Fred at the piano is like LeBron James on the basketball court. He’s perfection.”

Booklet for Silent, Listening

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