Fred Hersch

Alone at the Vanguard

Fred Hersch performs at the Healdsburg Jazz Festival Friday, June 3.

During his lengthy career, pianist Fred Hersch has met many challenges but none more daunting that the AIDS-related dementia that afflicted him three years ago and left him in a coma for two months. His recovery included regaining the use of his hands, which had atrophied during his illness. The Ohio native, now 55, moved to the Big Apple in 1977 and immediately found work with such stellar jazzmen as Stan Getz and Art Farmer before forming his own groups, with whom he’s released more than 30 albums. Recorded in 2010 at NYC’s fabled jazz club on the last night of his six-night gig, this CD captures the entire last set in which he plays a haunting mix of standards (e.g., a ruminative version of Eubie Blake’s “Memories of You” and a deliciously relaxed “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning”) as well as a few originals, among them the sprightly “Lee’s Dream,” dedicated to alto saxophonist Lee Konitz. “Work” is his unique take on its unique composer—Thelonious Monk—and captures the essence of Monk’s quirky playing without imitating him. Ditto for the night’s encore: Sonny Rollins’ “Doxy,” his reworking of the 1920s jazz standard “Ja-Da.” This is a magnificent piece of work.