I met Fred for the first time at a concert being given by the then-unknown pianist Ethan Iverson (of The Bad Plus fame.). And over the years I ran into him a number of other times. I always admired the sound that he produced from the piano: always clear, ringing, and beautiful, even, consistent, and warm. I always felt that, as a relatively untrained pianist (my previous instruments were trumpet, then drums), I would never be able to approach that type of pianistic tone. I came up playing with loud drummers and playing on crappy pianos and not-so-crappy-but-still-less-than-authentic keyboards, so my approach to sound production was bang, bang harder, and then bang as hard as you can until you have tendonitis. However, it was suggested to me by a colleague that a lesson with Fred Hersch might actually do wonders for my technique. Indeed, his teaching studio has included great young pianists like Iverson, Sam Yahel, and Brad Mehldau.
So I had the idea to take a lesson with Hersch as mental post-it note for a long time. But it wasn't until I ran into him one night at Small's that I decide to seize the moment."Are you sure you want to take a lesson?" challenged Hersch, in a friendly way. "Of course," I replied, "I'm always trying to improve, and I also want to have a different perspective on sound production for my students." Hersch agreed to meet me at his apartment in Soho for a lesson a few weeks later.
"Snow is Falling" is a gorgeous waltz, which makes nice use of the effect of the piano in unison with the bassist using his upper register. The piece starts out swaying between two chords, B-G-D to C-G-D, which are more implications of harmony, giving the introduction a mysterious quality, possibly giving the listener the image of a dark snowy evening. And then the melody leads us into some different, warmer colors. There is much theory behind jazz harmony, but Hersch, like most fully-actualized jazz musicians, writes and plays for the emotional quality of each chord. (Isn't that what music is supposed to be about? Sometimes telling students to used the altered scale on a dominant 7th chord and a dorian scale on a minor 7 is so abstract because they don't feel anything from the harmony. There's so much "emotional content" in harmony.)
Hersch has a great feel for the shape of the dynamics and timing in relation to the harmony. Pieces like
"Por Toda Minha Vida" and "Luiza" are absolutely breathtaking, especially the latter tune; I was so moved by the melancholy of this track that I think someone should write, cast, and produce a tragic French film solely around Hersch's performance of the song! (OK, let's not get carried away...) But at times I was thinking about two solo pianists who I love to listen to; Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett. In my humble opinion, Hersch gives them a run for their money with this collection.
|Antonio Carlos Jobim|
I think Fred Hersch really balanced the energy well on this CD; there's great samba energy, but also he captures the chamber music feeling of bossa nova. A masterwork like this makes me rethink my approach to piano playing. Maybe I'll have to go for another lesson next time I'm in New York.