Through a red door, down a flight of stairs, the Village Vanguard is more than a music room. It's almost a shrine, with a portrait gallery of artists who played here in their prime: Thad Jones with Mel Lewis; Joe Henderson, with whom a young Fred Hersch played for ten years on and off; Tommy Flanagan over the keyboard, inspiring to all.
But it is Fred Hersch whose weeklong booking as a solo pianist is the first in the 70-year history of this New York City jazz landmark. It follows the release of his album Fred Hersch in Amsterdam -– also solo, on the Palmetto label.
Fred arrived in New York in 1977. As a graduate with honors from the New England Conservatory, Hersch soon got work with the flugelhorn player Art Farmer, bassist Sam Jones, and Stan Getz. It was in Farmer's quartet that Fred first played "Sing Me Softly of the Blues," which he plays again on this JazzSet.
Fred says he was strongly influenced by both Bill Evans and Thelonious Monk (both in photos on the wall). Every set has some Monk in it, and on this JazzSet, Fred plays "Funkallero" by Evans. Yet Fred has moved beyond his influences and mentors into his own territory with a contemporary, almost extra-sensory musical intelligence. He blends classical and jazz techniques while improvising. His inner melodies and countermelodies seem to converge or converse within a piece, in a lyrical, daring, expressive way.
With more than two dozen albums as a leader, a previous trio recording at the Vanguard in 2003 was called "one of the most satisfying... of this superb pianist's career."
And before we close, we jump back to 1986, to the Blue Note in New York, for Fred and his exuberant quintet with Dick Oatts, sax; Randy Brecker, trumpet; Marc Johnson, bass; Joey Baron, drums, from the WBGO archive. Thanks to the Grammy Foundation for funding to preserve the archive.
"A Lark" (Fred Hersch)
"Sing Me Softly of the Blues" (Carla Bley)
"Crazy 'Bout My Baby" (Thomas Waller)
"Funkallero" (Bill Evans)
"Valentine" (Fred Hersch)
"Round Midnight" (Monk and Williams)
"When Will the Blues Leave?" (Ornette Coleman)
Fred Hersch: Creators at Carnegie
Thanks to Lorraine Gordon, Deborah Gordon and Jed Eisenman at the Village Vanguard, on Seventh Avenue just below 14th Street in Manhattan.
Our recording engineer and archivist is Yujin Cha with JazzSet Technical Director Duke Markos.
Dee Dee Bridgewater's engineer is Ginger Bruner @ KUNV, Las Vegas.
The script is by Jill McManus.
Producer for JazzSetis Becca Pulliam; Executive Producer is Thurston Briscoe III @ Jazz 88.3 WBGO in Newark, N.J.
Copyright 2007 NPR