Fred Hersch Debuts 'My Coma Dreams' Three Years After Falling Gravely Ill
By now, everyone with a passing interesting in current-day jazz is familiar with the story of Fred Hersch, the HIV-positive pianist who was so ill with pneumonia in 2008 that he was put into a medically induced coma for two months.
Around the time of the release of his 2010 trio album 'Whirl,' we checked in with Hersch to see how things were progressing and found an artist who literally had a new lease on life, once again playing beautifully and with a vitality he hadn't felt in a long time. At that time he was beginning work on a long form piece called 'My Coma Dreams,' which made its world premiere May 7-8 at Montclair State University's Alexander Kasser Theater.
A decidedly lyrical pianist who nonetheless likes to keep the listener guessing, Hersch seemingly works in every context, ranging from his transporting solo gigs to the large ensemble multi-media extravaganzas like his 'Leaves of Grass' project and now 'My Coma Dreams,' which is undoubtedly his most ambitious work to date.
The stage was set with a screen for visuals (animation and graphic design) by Sarah Wickliffe. Hersch himself was at the piano and he was joined by 10-piece ensemble of a four-piece brass section, a string quartet as well as bass and drums. The 75-minute piece was directed Herschel Garfein, who also wrote a libretto that was based short sketches Hersch wrote down of several recurring dreams he had while in coma. The narrator/singer Michael Winther was in charge of story, relaying it in bits and pieces of the real world using the perspectives of Hersch, Hersch's partner Scott Morgan and others while the music and visuals represented the dream world inside Hersch's head.
Fred Hersch Performs 'Valentine' in 2010