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EIU Department of Music

Jazz Festival

The 64th Annual EIU Jazz Festival will be held on February 2-3, 2024. The festival will open on Friday, February 2nd, with a concert featuring the EIU Jazz Ensemble and guest performer, Fred Hersch, jazz piano.  Junior and senior high school performances and clinics, including a clinic by Fred Hersch, will be on Saturday, February 3, 2023.  

Information for Directors - please complete all three forms below by Friday, January 5, 2024.

Fred Hersch, Jazz Piano



A select member of jazz’s piano pantheon, Fred Hersch is a pervasively influential creative force who has shaped the music’s course over more than three decades as an improviser, composer, educator, bandleader, collaborator and recording artist. He has been proclaimed “the most arrestingly innovative pianist in jazz over the last decade” by Vanity Fair, “an elegant force of musical invention” by The L.A. Times, and “a living legend” by The New Yorker.

A fifteen-time Grammy nominee, Hersch has regularly garnered jazz’s most prestigious awards, including recent distinctions as a 2016 Doris Duke Artist, 2016 and 2018 Jazz Pianist of the Year from the Jazz Journalists Association, and the 2017 Prix Honorem de Jazz from L’Acádemie Charles Cros for the totality of his career. He recently placed #2 Jazz Musician of the Year in the 2021 DownBeat Critics Poll and was named #3 Jazz Pianist. He was also honored as the 2021 International Jazz Artist of the Year by Jazz Magazine (France).

With more than fifty albums to his credit as a leader or co-leader, Hersch consistently receives lavish critical praise and numerous international awards for each highly anticipated new release. His latest album with his long-standing trio, 2018’s Live In Europe (Palmetto), documents one remarkable evening in Brussels and has been hailed as its best to date – considerable praise for an ensemble that consistently plays at such a staggeringly high level.

The trio, in which Hersch has been joined by bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson for the last decade, was voted the #1 Jazz Group in the 2019 DownBeat Critics Poll, recognizing its unique ability to traverse a wide range of styles and approaches while maintaining profound depths of emotion and the exhilarating spark of invention. Both the trio and its previous two Palmetto releases, 2016’s Sunday Night at the Vanguard and 2014’s Floating, were nominated for Grammy Awards in the categories of Best Jazz Solo and Best Jazz Album.

His newest project Breath By Breath (release date January 9, 2022 on Palmetto Records) features nine original compositions with piano, bass, drums and The Crosby Street String Quartet. It contains the 8-movement Sati Suite that is inspired by various aspects of his longtime insight meditation practice. An early review from All About Jazz says, “What sets Breath by Breath apart is not that he uses a string quartet on record for the first time. It is instead the complete ease and mastery with which he integrates the strings into a very tight ensemble concept.”

As versatile and exploratory as his trio and duo excursions can be, nowhere is the boundless range and emotional diversity of Hersch’s artistry as evident as in his breathtaking solo performances. Jazz Times has hailed his unaccompanied playing as “a complete, self-sufficient, uniquely pure art form,” while All About Jazz has remarked that “when it comes to the art of solo piano in jazz, there are two classes of performers: Fred Hersch and everybody else.” Of his 2020 quarantine solo album Songs From Home (his 11th solo album), All About Jazz said it is “a message of quietude and hope in the midst of the sufferings we undergo in life”, NPR’s All Songs Considered called it “the week’s most necessary listen” and it was named one of the Ten Best Jazz Albums of 2020 by Slate.

Hersch garnered a 2015 Grammy nomination for his solo on “Duet” from Free Flying, a duo album with guitarist Julian Lage that received a rare 5-star rating from DownBeat. An exceptionally responsive and intuitive collaborator, Hersch has engaged in duo partnerships with a number of spirited artists, including Anat Cohen, Bill Frisell, Julian Lage, Chris Potter, Enrico Rava, Avishai Cohen and Miguel Zenon; and vocalists Kurt Elling, Esperanza Spalding, Kate McGarry, Cécile McLorin Salvant and Renée Fleming. His many sideman credits include Joe Henderson, Art Farmer, Stan Getz, Charlie Haden and other jazz legends.

His 2019 project, Begin Again, had him collaborating with acclaimed arranger/conductor Vince Mendoza and features Hersch with Germany’s WDR Big Band. Nine of Hersch’s compositions – from early pieces to the newly-recorded title track – are sensitively orchestrated by Mendoza, who arranged the legendary symphonic albums Both Sides Now and Travelogue for Joni Mitchell. The title track Begin Again was nominated for a 2020 Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition.

While widely renowned for his playing, Hersch has earned similar distinction with his writing, garnering a 2003 Guggenheim Fellowship in Composition among other awards. The same year he created Leaves of Grass, a large-scale setting of Walt Whitman’s poetry for two voices (Kurt Elling and Kate McGarry) and an instrumental octet. Leaves of Grass was selected to open the 2017 Jazz at Lincoln Center season at the Appel Room. He has received commissions from Roomful of Teeth, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, The Doris Duke Millenium Fund, Tippett Rise and The Gilmore Keyboard Festival among many others. He has been awarded nine residencies at MacDowell and one at Bellagio.

Of the premiere by pianist Igor Levit of his Variations on a Folksong at Carnegie Hall in January of 2022, the New York Times said “the variations are a musical vision of nearly unbroken serenity and benevolence.”

Hersch’s visionary 2010 theatrical project, My Coma Dreams, prompted the New York Times Sunday Magazine to describe the composer as “singular among the trailblazers of their art, a largely unsung innovator of this borderless, individualistic jazz—a jazz for the 21st century.”  Based on visions Hersch experienced during a two-month coma in 2008, the evening-length multimedia collaboration with writer/director Herschel Garfein for eleven instrumentalists and an actor/singer was captured on video at Columbia University and is now available for streaming.

For two decades Hersch has been a passionate spokesman and fund-raiser for AIDS services and education agencies. He has produced and performed on four benefit recordings and in numerous concerts for charities including Classical Action: Performing Arts Against AIDS and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. To date, his efforts have raised more than $300,000. He has also been a keynote speaker and performer at international medical conferences in the U.S. and Europe. In 2020, he raised $50,000 for the Jazz Foundation of America with a limited-release live duo EP with vocalist Esperanza Spalding and with “Eight x 88”, a streaming event from Steinway Hall featuring eight of NYC’s greatest jazz pianists in solo and duo formats.

A committed educator, Hersch has taught at New England Conservatory, The Juilliard School, The New School and The Manhattan School of Music and has given master classes around the world. He holds Honorary Doctorate degrees from Grinnell College and Northern Kentucky University. Hersch’s influence has been widely felt on a new generation of jazz pianists, from former students Brad Mehldau, Sullivan Fortner and Ethan Iverson to his colleague Jason Moran, who has said, “Fred at the piano is like LeBron James on the basketball court. He’s perfection.”


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