The Fred Hersch Trio

Released August 12, 2006

Grammy Nominee for Best Jazz Instrumental Album 2017




The Village Vanguard has always held a special place in my heart. From the first time I went there – driving 4 hours down from Boston with some friends to hear Dexter Gordon in his historic return to the US from Europe in 1976 – to the sets that I spent listening to the music from the staircase when I was a young musician with limited funds, it has always represented the ideal, real jazz club experience for me. Over 80 years old, it is indeed the “Carnegie Hall” of jazz clubs and my many years as a sideman there with Joe Henderson, Art Farmer, Charlie Haden, Sam Jones and others were always a thrill. It is also the best place in the world to play with a piano trio. The acoustics allow you to play whisper-soft yet the sound magically fills the room – and the audience is really “there” with the musicians in a very intimate and engaged way with very little amplification.

This recording almost didn’t happen. I was on-again, off-again about doing this, my fourth, recording at the Vanguard. And it wasn’t until I came in for our sound check at 5pm on Tuesday that I decided to assemble the recording team for Friday through Sunday. I just had a feeling that I can’t explain – that some special music was going to happen.

This trio has been together for about seven years and this is our fourth project together – and our second one recorded live at the Village Vanguard. John and Eric and I have developed a distinctive sound and a high level of trust that allows us to play a wide range of material with both respect and creativity. We are all very sensitive to sound, individually and as a unit – and it is my continuing joy to make music with them.

What you have here is the entire first set (with two additions from the second set) in the order we played them that Sunday evening in March of 2016. I could tell by the first notes of A Cockeyed Optimist that we were “in the zone”– and I feel that we stayed there for the entire set. We captured lightning in a bottle in a way that is almost impossible to get in a studio. We are pleased to share with you the results of this very special evening.

Fred Hersch

Many Thanks To: John and Eric for everything they bring to the music; Lorraine and Deborah Gordon, Jed Eisenmann and the entire staff of the Village Vanguard for making us feel so welcome for so many years; James Farber and Geoffrey Countryman for capturing our sound; Missi and Robert at Palmetto for their continuing enthusiasm; Ann Braithwaite; Mark Wilder; Dave Darlington; Mike Epstein; Matt Morrell; Rob Leurentop; Vivian Chiu and the Concert Artist Department at Steinway & Sons; Joel Bernache; to the Blackwing Palomino, my favorite pencil; and to all the folks who come out to hear us play and support live jazz in Greenwich Village, NYC.

Track Listing:

1. A Cockeyed Optimist (Fred Hersch / Richard Rodgers) 7:29

2. Serpentine (Fred Hersch) 8:37

3. The Optimum Thing (Fred Hersch) 5:14

4. Calligram – for Benoit Delbecq (Fred Hersch) 5:11

5. Blackwing Palomino (Fred Hersch) 6:13

6. For No One (Fred Hersch / Paul McCartney) 7:05

7. Everybody’s Song But My Own (Fred Hersch / Kenny Wheeler) 7:19

8. The Peacocks (Fred Hersch / Jimmy Rowles) 10:14

9. We See (Fred Hersch / Thelonious Monk) 7:06

(Fred Hersch, Grammy Award for Best Improvised Jazz Solo 2017)

10. Solo Encore: Valentine (Fred Hersch) 3:26


Fred Hersch: piano

John Hébert: bass

Eric McPherson: drums

Recorded on March 27, 2016, at Village Vanguard, NYC

Produced by Fred Hersch

Producers: Missi Callazzo and Robert John

Recorded by James Farber


Reach up to the CD shelf and pull a handful of Fred Hersch CDS down. You’ll find that the pianist has a good thing going with the Village Vanguard. Alive At The Vanguard (Palmetto Records, 2012) a stellar two CD set, and terrific solo set, Alone At the Vanguard (Palmetto Records, 2011), are Hersch’s most recent recordings from the legendary venue; and now he and his trio offer up Sunday Night At the Vanguard
Hersch says this is his best trio album. Almost every artist says that about their latest—that this one’s the best. But he might be right. The vote here would have gone to a studio recording, Whirl (Palmetto Records, 2010), a marvelous in-the-zone effort with this same trio—John Hebert on bass, Eric McPherson playing drums—until Sunday Night At The Vanguard rolled around. 
The trio opens with Richard Rodgers’ “A Cockeyed Optimist,” which is not exactly a familiar tune, in spite of its authorship. But as an opener it works to perfection, with a silvery, raindrop intro that finds a quirky groove that paints an upbeat atmosphere, with a bright melody that sounds like a second cousin to “It Might As Well Be Spring.”  “Serpentine,” a Hersch original, is a wandering slither of a tune, unpredictable and spooky, lovely in its fluid, abstract way; “The Optimum Thing” sparkles; and “Blackwing Palomino,” maybe the only jazz tune ever written for a pencil, has the feel of a new jazz standard. 
Hersch’s output has been consistently excellent, but sometimes—as on this special Sunday Night—the stars align. The trio, from the opening notes of “The Cockeyed Optimist,” is locked into and to a telepathic interplay zone—playful and eloquent, elegant and assured. 
The Lennon and McCartney gem, “For No One,” has the forlorn desperation of the song’s lyrical content. The Beatles’ version—a masterpiece in its own right—didn’t take things to this dark of a place. 
Kenny Wheeler’s “Everybody’s Song But My Own” rolls in a restless, jittery mode. “The Peacocks,” from the pen of Jimmy Rowles, is pensive, lonely. Hersch explores an almost unmatchable majesty of the tune, with a bit of dissonance, before he jumps into Thelonious Monk, with “We See,” an irrepressible jewel, followed—as an encore to the show—the Fred Hersch-penned “Valentine,” one of the more inward tunes in Hersch’s songbook, counterpointing a mostly gregarious, effervescent set by one of the jazz world’s top piano trios at the top of their game.

Dan McClenaghan (AllAboutJazz)