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Interview: Fred Hersch In Paris

How is it for you to come play in Paris?

I love playing in Paris I wish this time I had more time. The last time I was playing at La Villette, Cité de la Musique, big concert. Playing at the Duc des Lombards is nice but it’s not a 9-foot Steinway in a beautiful concert hall,  it’s a different experience. I’ve been coming to Paris for years, since I was a teenager. My very first European tour, we spent a lot of time in Paris in 1979. So I’ve been trying to make Paris a place to play. It’s interesting,  I’ve gotten a lot of awards, Grand Prix du disque etc. But there are so many French pianists that it’s very hard to get in to France. But I think I have some big festivals coming up, Coutance [Jazz sous les Pommiers], and maybe Nice and some other ones that will come next week. So I think my visibility is starting to go up a little bit, so that’s good.

Do you prepare your sets?

No. I just get up there and play.

Do you remember a specific jazz record that was the first one to click for you ?

Yeah, I heard some jazz in high school. I mean I was a piano player so I had a Dave Brubeck album and a Ramsey Lewis album, some albums I picked at yard sales for 25c. But once I started playing I thought ‘ok this is something maybe I can do’ and started inching my way into being a jazz pianist. The records that really sold me, there were three of them : one was Miles Davis’ Friday and Saturday night at the Blackhawk.  Wynton [Kelly]’s playing is so great, the way he plays with Miles… And I love the sound of the album, you feel like you’re in the club and it’s very nice. Then there was a Mingus album, Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus, with orchestrations and everything that is just so remarkable. And then an album by Ellington called Ellington Uptown. But particularly the Miles record really made me wanna say ‘okay, I can do this. I know I can do this. I’m gonna commit myself.’ I dropped out of school, started playing in clubs and really went for it. After I heard that.

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