Fred Hersch is a veteran pianist who has won 15 Grammy Awards and was named the International Jazz Artist of the Year for 2021 by Jazz Magazine in France.
Bass player and vocalist esperanza spalding has won multiple Grammy Awards and was dubbed the “first jazz genius” of the 21st century by NPR.
Now these two jazz greats will perform together at The University of Alabama at Birmingham.
The Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center at UAB will present “An Evening with Fred Hersch and esperanza spalding” in the Jemison Concert Hall on Wednesday, Jan. 18, at 7 p.m., according to a UAB news release.
Hersch and spalding are touring to support the release of their new album, “Alive at the Village Vanguard” (Palmetto Records), which they recorded at the legendary New York City jazz venue in 2018.
With Hersch playing piano and spalding providing the vocals, the pair will present an evening of songs from the great American songbook, music from Brazil and jazz compositions, including several written by Hersch.
Hersch has a career in jazz spanning more than three decades and has worked as a composer, bandleader, recording artist and educator.
“Fred is a veteran jazz artist and his playing is in the style of the legendary jazz pianists like Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal and others,” Eric Essix told BHMSTR. Essix serves as the artist coordinator at the Alys Stephens Center and is a well-known jazz guitarist.
In 2011, spalding won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist, the first jazz artist to win in this category.
“When esperanza entered the world of jazz at only 23 years old, she took the genre by storm and energized the jazz community with her youthfulness and masterful technical proficiency of the acoustic upright bass,” Essix said. “She has also established herself as an amazing vocalist.”
In its cover story for January, Downbeat magazine reports that the friendship between the two musicians began a decade ago when the pianist first invited the singer, bassist and composer to share the stage with him during his long-standing duo series at the Jazz Standard in New York.
In 2018, Hersch reached out to spalding to ask her to perform with him for three nights at the Village Vanguard, setting the stage to record their new record.
Hersch “is the perfect artist to be paired with esperanza,” Essix said. “I feel, from listening to the record that they made together, that their individual styles complement each other.”
Essix said that “esperanza is in a constant state of reinvention and exploration and this new venture with Fred Hersch is an extension of that.”
He is referring to the fact that on the current tour, spalding – as she did during the sessions recorded at the Village Vanguard – will sing but not play her bass.
“I think it is awesome that she has chosen to put the bass down for this tour and explore the intricacies of her voice with Fred’s wonderful accompaniment,” Essix said.
The tour is “something totally new for both esperanza and Fred, and it has an energy and chemistry that is exciting and that we feel our jazz audience will enjoy,” Essix said.
He calls the event at UAB “a very rare opportunity to see two masters of their craft explore a very different type of collaboration like this in an intimate setting that happens to be perfect for the acoustics in our Jemison Concert Hall.”
Jazz is often referred to as America’s only homegrown art form and was once a very popular musical genre.
Even now, “jazz has an extremely loyal base of supporters in every community in the U.S.,” Essix said. “They may not be as large as other more popular genres of music but they are supportive of the art form.”
When the ASC presents artists like Hersch and spalding, “that loyal number of hardcore jazz fans will always come out to support their favorite artists,” Essix said.
And the ASC is one of the very few venues in Birmingham that present such “legacy jazz artists” as Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea Chris Botti and others, he said.
“This is a tour that people across the jazz world are heralding as masterful, and I encourage fans of the genre and even those who appreciate world-class musicianship to come out, enjoy and say you were in the room when this pair came to Birmingham.”
Tickets are $35, $45 and $55, with $10 student tickets. For tickets and information, call 205-975-2787 or go to alysstephens.org. Photos courtesy of UAB Media Relations.