Name: Fred Hersch
Occupation: Pianist, composer, improviser
Current Release: Songs from Home will be published March 26th on Palmetto Records.
If you enjoyed this interview with Fred Hersch and would like to find out more about his work, visit his expansive and insightful website.
Fred Hersch: "I call myself “an accidental activist”. During the early years of the AIDS epidemic in New York City, I felt at first powerless to do anything, to be of service. In the early 90s I began to give concerts and produce CDs for organizations including Broadway Cares and Equity Fights Aids. I, who was infected myself, was in no position to write large checks.
Not only was I able to raise significant funds, I was able to enlist donated time and talent for many great musicians who wanted to be of use. I do think that music, just on its own, makes the world a better place.
There is a long history of protest music. Whether it was to call attention to the plight of the oppressed, or whether it was trying to inspire unity, all this music has been so important. Since I largely play instrumental music, without lyrics, I strive to take the listener to a place that is not escapist, but that is rewarding in multiple ways. These days, with streaming and the internet, I can reach many more listeners than I would just playing in concerts, clubs, and festivals.
Lately, I have done two projects to raise money for the Jazz Foundation of America, and am planning another project for March to benefit Feeding America which supports food banks across the US. Besides raising significant funds for these organizations, I have been a spokesperson for artists with HIV/AIDS, and for gay musicians in jazz. I think that coming out about my personal situation may have been inspiring to others who were facing some of the same challenges.
During the first days of the pandemic in March, I began broadcasting a “Tune of the Day” on Facebook Live at 1pm, 7 days a week. I think that that was an example of just trying to brighten people’s day and express myself in a way that was accessible and healing for me as well.
Whether it is raising money for a social cause, or a political platform you believe in, I think that the pandemic has made most artists that I am aware of much more involved in benefiting important causes. Once again, the internet has made this available to many more people. Those $25 contributions really add up.
Every registered non-profit has a website. Right now, the need is so great for so many, that sometimes it is hard to decide what to support. I suggest picking one area to focus your energy and contributions on. For me, one area is food insecurity. The other is homelessness.
Of course, I continue to raise money to fight the HIV epidemic, which is still sadly with us. "