Fred Hersch is my undisputed hero.
For those of you who may not know him, Fred is a jazz pianist living in New York. I met him back in the 1980s, when I recorded a couple of demos at his small recording studio in SoHo. After that we lost touch, and then I moved to Rio de Janeiro in the 90s.
Right around that time, Fred discovered that he was HIV positive and decided to make it public, along with the fact that he is gay. As far as I know, he may have been the first jazz musician to tell the world he was gay—no easy feat in the macho world of jazz at that time or any time.
Before long, Fred became seriously ill with AIDS, and in 2008, he developed AIDS-related dementia. Many times, it seemed he was close to death. Eventually he fell into a coma and remained unconscious for two months. When he finally came out of the coma he had lost almost all the motor function in his hands—a pianist’s worst nightmare.
But Fred hung in there. He went through months of rehabilitation and therapy, and today, at age 56, he has a new live double album recorded at the Village Vanguard and a string of tour dates into 2013.
These things alone could have made Fred my hero, but the real reason he’s my hero is because of his refusal to accept the dire verdicts about his life and career—his refusal to let anything deter or distract him from his goal of making beautiful, individual, eloquent music. In his own words, referring to the disease that tried to bury him:
“I am not going to acknowledge that it has the power to mess with me.”
Good for him—and good for us, too.