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Among pianists, Fred Hersch is universally regarded as one of the supreme poets of jazz improvisation.

The richly appointed architecture of his music, combined with the intelligence and gracefulness of his playing, makes performances by the Fred Hersch Trio much-anticipated occasions for musical dialogue between artist and audience.

The group will perform 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 9, at the Williams Center for the Arts. Tickets for the public cost $18 and can be purchased by calling the box office at 610-330-5009.

Hersch is a Guggenheim honoree and two-time Grammy nominee for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance. The New Yorker called his 2003 recording, Live from the Village Vanguard, “one of the most satisfying recordings of this superb pianist’s career.” This disc — emblematic of the ensemble unity that the Williams Center audience will enjoy between Hersch and his rhythm section of drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist John Hebert — topped the CMJ Jazz Chart for six weeks and received the “Coup de Coeur” from the Academie Charles Cros in France.

Critics are virtually unanimous in their praise:

“Mr. Hersch has honed a solo piano concept second to none in jazz.” —The New York Times

“one of his generation’s most gifted interpreters of the American songbook.” – The Washington Post

“A pristine pianist with a poet’s soul–a pair of qualities that combine to especially dazzling effect.” – The Boston Globe

“…one of the leading lights of this generation’s pianists.” – Jazz Times

“Few jazz pianists have ever struck as beguiling a balance between technique, feeling, insight and imagination…Hersch’s engagement with each of these songs is so complete that he evokes the sort of secret meanings words cannot.” — Jazziz

He is widely recognized for his ability to reinvent the standard jazz repertoire – investing time – tested classics with keen insight, fresh ideas and extraordinary technique – while steadfastly creating his own unique body of works.

Hersch has recorded more than 20 albums as a solo artist or bandleader, co-led another 20 sessions, and appeared as a sideman or featured soloist on some 80 further recordings.

A player who always seeks out new challenges, Hersch’s output spans a wide variety of musical settings. “I’m always happiest when I’m doing many different things,” he explains. “I love to collaborate. And I live in New York, where the incredible wealth of talent makes it relatively easy to have ongoing special projects.”

His most recent release, The Fred Hersch Trio + 2 (Palmetto, March 2004), features trumpeter Ralph Alessi and tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby in addition to bassist Drew Gress and drummer Nasheet Waits. The trio in its various incarnations has been a hub for Hersch’s activities since 1986; he says it “feels like home,” a place to return time and again. The group has appeared in major clubs and festivals worldwide and recorded a total of seven albums.

Although Hersch thrives on the musical dialogue created with his bandmates, he also revels in the demands of solo performance.

“Without those other voices, I really need to interact with the instrument and the acoustical environment,” he says.

Solo piano is an unusual specialty in jazz, and Hersch may well have more unaccompanied recordings to his credit than any other jazz pianist of his generation. In 2001, Nonesuch released an unprecedented three-CD boxed set titled Songs Without Words: Volume One features ten original compositions; Volume Two presents classic tunes by great jazz composers such as Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, and Wayne Shorter; and Volume Three contains re-workings of songs by master tunesmith Cole Porter. The French Academie du Jazz honored the set as its “Disc of the Year.”

Six previous solo piano recordings include Let Yourself Go, an eclectic recital recorded live at Boston’s famed Jordan Hall, and Thelonious: Fred Hersch Plays Monk, which The Washington Post declared “a landmark album.”

Hersch’s career as a performer has been greatly enhanced by his composing activities, a vital part of nearly all of his live concerts and recordings. He recently created Leaves of Grass, a large-scale setting of Walt Whitman’s poetry for two voices (Kurt Elling and Norma Winstone) and an instrumental octet. The piece was premiered in a handful of cities including Washington, D.C. in 2003; a March 2005 performance in New York City has been scheduled at the new Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall. 24 Variations on a Bach Chorale, a major solo piano composition, was recently published by the distinguished house of CF Peters. Hersch’s dance score for “Out Someplace,” commissioned by the Doris Duke Foundation’s Millennium Project for the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, was premiered at the Kennedy Center in 1999. He has also received commissions from the Gilmore Keyboard Festival, Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, and the Lucy Moses School of Music in New York City.

Hersch’s compositional efforts and performance collaborations speak to the gradual erasure of boundaries between jazz and classical music as art traditions. He toured with concert pianist Christopher O’Riley during 2003-04 in a program titled “Heard Fresh: Music for Two Pianos.” In the past, he has enjoyed musical partnerships with pianist Jeffrey Kahane and violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg as well as sopranos RenĂ©e Fleming and Dawn Upshaw. In addition, Hersch has appeared as a soloist with orchestras across the U.S. and Europe, including the Pittsburgh, Utah, Vermont, and Santa Rosa Symphonies, the Toronto Sinfonietta, the BBC Radio Orchestra, Hungary’s Mendelssohn Chamber Orchestra, and the Sinfonietta Caracas of Venezuela. At home in New York City, he has performed with both the Eos and Concordia Orchestras.

The nationally recognized Performance Series at Lafayette attracts more than 10,000 people each season. It has been cited for performing excellence by the National Endowment for the Arts, National Dance Project, Chamber Music America, Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund, Pennsylvania Arts and Humanities Councils, and Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

The 2004-05 Performance Series at Lafayette is supported in part by gifts from Friends of the Williams Center for the Arts; by the F.M. Kirby Foundation; by provisions of the Alan and Wendy Pesky Artist-in-Residence Program, J. Mahlon and Grace Buck Foundation, and Croasdale Fund; and by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

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