Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Fred Hersch: Songs Without Words

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.

The recording industry may be on the brink of imploding, and while I’m not planning on shedding many tears, I do hope Nonesuch under executive producer Robert Hurwitz manages to survive the post-Napster shakeout. Here is one label that still understands how to be both profitable and righteous, turning out savvy recordings and reinvesting unexpected windfalls from hits like the Buena Vista Social Club into worthy projects unlikely to excite a Wall Street analyst, except, perhaps, a very hip one. How else to explain mid-career, 10-CD retrospectives devoted to composers John Adams and Steve Reich or, on the jazz side, Songs Without Words, a new three-CD set chronicling the gifts of pianist Fred Hersch?

The emergence of Hersch, 45, as one of our most satisfying pianists has been an intriguing story, though the armchair psychology that would link artistic flowering to his personal odyssey as an openly gay and HIV-positive musician is a chimera. If Hersch’s art deepened in the mid-’90s, it mostly reflected the natural maturation of a creative and hard-working musician with 20 years in the trenches. The process of distilling the mainstream vocabulary into a personal voice takes years (if it happens at all).

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.