The 2011 Palmetto disc by Fred Hersch – unanimously acclaimed as one of the great living jazz pianists – was called “Fred Hersch Alone at the Vanguard.” What is utterly mind-boggling to consider about it is that not long before he made the solo piano disc at one of America’s most legendary clubs, he was in an AIDS-related coma for two months that followed a period of AIDS-related dementia.
Hersch is one of the truly great jazz figures. It seems to many that he’s been around forever. He was, for instance, one of the finest pianists Stan Getz ever had – and considering that list included Kenny Barron and Chick Corea, that’s quite a distinction. His music with the great soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom is some of the greatest that either ever made. Nor is he merely a great lyric master of jazz piano. He’s also ambitious enough to have written a large-scale setting of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” in 2003.
A rare and, indeed, irreplaceable visit by the Fred Hersch Trio will open this year’s Albright-Knox Hunt Art of Jazz series at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Playing drums and bass will be those heard on his two-disc set “Alive at the Village Vanguard”: bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson.
– Jeff Simon