The South Carolina Music Guide

Fred Hersch Trio Plays Spoleto

Just after midday, the call was made to relocate last Sunday evening’s performance by the Fred Hersch Trio from its originally scheduled outdoor venue (College of Charleston’s Cistern) to the decidedly less picturesque TD Arena, on account of rain.  This might have diminished the appeal of a lesser ensemble. But in spite of stadium seating and sports signage, Hersch and his bandmates, John Hebert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums, delivered a performance worthy of the of the most distinguished recital halls. Simultaneously, the concert evoked the seediest of jazz clubs in Greenwich Village, where he could first be heard over twenty-five years ago.  

Nominated for ten Grammy’s for his three dozen albums, Hersch exhibits both the refinement of a classical musician and the improvisational prowess of the Beacon in jazz he has become. His experience spans over three decades, where has been composing, performing and teaching.  The band began the evening with the originals “Havannah,” and “Serpentine,” and continuing with homages to Thelonius Monk (“Dream of Monk”) and saxophonist Sonny Rolins (“New Calypso”). The tight and cohesive trio demonstrated the intuition and attentiveness necessary to yield to one another at just the right junctures, offering an experience of three individual artists of great aptitude collaborating to create a single and singular sound.

Before the the show began on the basketball court, Hersch quipped that the shot clock might be used to time the bass solos, an astute comment from someone who has been called by colleague Jason Moran “the LeBron James of the piano”.  But Herbert required no restraint sharing, as he and McPherson seem to, Hersch’s rare combination of confidence and modesty that rendered the kind one upmanship and bravado completely obsolete. Instead, the three engaged in what could be called “active listening” or “compassionate communication” to the great good fortune of the audience who, albeit, seemed so sedate at times as to be undeserving of the privilege.  

Not even the (granted, thoroughly obscured) rendition of the Paul McCartney’s “To No One,” from the Beattle’s Revolver album roused the calm crowd, though at one point a single gentleman of an age could be seen sacheting through the aisles on the way back to his seat.  By the time the closing ballad came around, one could at least interpret the hush as a sign of Hersch’s spell having been successfully cast, before an abrupt shift back to more Monk released the throngs into the deluge and the dark of downtown Charleston.

The title of Hersch’s memoir, Good Things Happen Slowly, featured in the New York Times and named by the Washington Post one of the Five Best Memoirs of 2017, would suggest no need to hurry out into the night.  A long time spokesperson for AIDS services and education, Hersch has defied the odds, surviving, among other things, a two month long coma in 2008, living on to make good things happen for listeners far and wide and, last night, right here at the Spoleto Festival USA.

– Review submitted by Brit Washburn, a local Charleston poet and Spoleto afficianado.

Related Articles