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SF Chronicle: Fred Hersch, Performer of "Uncommon Fluency, Feeling, Invention," Returns to Stage

Fred Hersch

Fred Hersch will perform two shows in San Francisco this weekend: a free solo concert and intimate conversation with the audience at the Community Music Center's Capp Street Concert Hall at 6 PM on Friday, followed by a Saturday night concert at Herbst Theatre with the Fred Hersch Pocket Orchestra: Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Richie Barshay on percussion, and singer Jo Lawry on vocals.

These events follow a harrowing year, to say the least, for Hersch, who survived a number of life-threatening illnesses and complications from AIDS, making his triumphant concert return in New York City last October just days after leaving the hospital.

San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Jesse Hamlin, who spoke with the pianist/composer about the ordeal and his return to the stage, asserts that "Hersch, who plays jazz with uncommon fluency, feeling and invention, has recovered, regaining his strength through intense physical therapy and getting back to the affirming business of making music."

Hamlin describes Hersch, who recorded a number of albums for Nonesuch Records from 1996 through 2001, and his new Pocket Orchestra as a "smashing" and "rich-voiced quartet," in an article in which the two discuss the past year's events, Hersch's long musical career, and his experience coming out as a gay man in an era (the early 1980s) and a field not known for being particularly open-minded about it.

"I've become the den mother for gay jazz musicians and a lot of musicians with AIDS," Hersch tells the Chronicle. "And for years I've talked about the value of being out, particularly as an artist, so you're not compartmentalizing your life and worrying about who knows what. Maintaining a closet is very expensive in terms of your psychology. It's a lot of effort."

Hersch acknowledges how far the jazz community, like the world outside it, has come in terms of homophobia over the past 30 years, explaining that today, "When I'm out on the scene, I feel very much embraced as a member of the jazz community."

Of course, in the end, says the Chronicle's Hamlin, "What matters is the music, made fresh every night by artists like Hersch."

Read the complete interview with Hersch with further insight on what to expect at this weekend's concerts, at For more upcoming dates on Fred's performance schedule, visit


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