On September 30, the Fred Hersch Trio will be joining DPAC for a night of unforgettable music and community. The trio — consisting of Fred Hersch on piano, John Hébert on bass, and Eric McPherson on drums — specializes in a variety of beautiful and rhythmically interesting jazz music. We asked Mr. Hersch a few questions about his life and career in preparation for the upcoming performance.
What impact has COVID had on you/your group?
Fred: We were not able to play together for almost 2 years. John has been living in Kalamazoo and teaching at Western Michigan University. I have been in the New York area, but mostly at my second home in Pennsylvania that I share with my partner Scott. And Eric has been in Greenwich Village. We played for the first time since 2019 in Woodstock over Labor Day weekend and it was really great to reconnect.
How did you adapt during the pandemic?
Fred: I had about nine or 10 months where I was really not particularly interested in playing the piano or composing. Around the start of this year, I began to get my inspiration back. On the one hand, I would never wish for this to have happened. On the other hand, taking a year or so off after working professionally for 45 years made me appreciate the joy of music more and reaffirmed why I became a jazz musician to begin with.
How did the trio meet and/or form?
Fred: In the last 25 years or so, I have really worked in my trio only with three drummers and two bass players. I was playing with John Hébert with a different drummer, Nasheet Waits, and I wanted a drummer with a different approach, a bit lighter. He suggested Eric, who I was well aware of but had never played with, for a week at the Village Vanguard about 12 years ago and we have played together ever since.
How do you prepare before a show?
Fred: Thinking is the enemy! I try, as much as possible, not to think about what’s going to happen on stage before we begin. Typically, I distract myself backstage by talking to the band — or anybody who happens to be back there, such as stagehands, etc. I’ve also been known to do word puzzles or play computer games to relax my mind. I don’t typically plan sets, although right as we go on stage, I’ll either tell the band what I’d like to start with, or I’ll ask them what they would like to start with so I don’t have to decide myself. Then the set just evolves as it does.
Does the trio have a shared favorite or memorable performance thus far?
Fred: I treasure all of our performances at my home club, the Village Vanguard in New York. There are others too numerous to mention!
What’s the most enjoyable part of trio work? The most challenging?
Fred: The most challenging thing is definitely the travel! As they say, “We don’t get paid to play, we get paid to travel.” There’s lots of joy in spontaneously composing music with gifted colleagues. It is always different night-to-night and venue-to-venue, and that is the most important thing in the end.
Besides jazz, what genres of music do you enjoy?
Fred: I enjoy a wide range of music: classical music of all kinds, music from Brazil, music from West Africa, and classic R&B. I also try to keep up with the younger jazz musicians and check out their projects, and I spend some time listening to albums that are sent to me by my colleagues. I know that both John and Eric are deep listeners to a wide variety of genres.
We look forward to welcoming the trio to the center’s stage, and we thank Mr. Hersch for his insightful answers. Make sure to grab your tickets for September 30 at 7:30 p.m., and get ready for an unforgettable, toe-tapping night of jazz!