The Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) and Caffè Lena are jazzing up Saratoga’s second annual Freihofer’s Jazz Festival Friday. The two have teamed up to host a pair of intimate performances by 14-time Grammy nominee, composer and pianist Fred Hersch. The special performances, entitled “An Evening with Fred Hersch: 50 Years After The Stonewall Riots,” were originally slated to take place at Caffè Lena on Friday, June 28, but, due to health reasons, have been rescheduled for Sunday, December 22. Though happening later than anticipated, the December shows will still pay homage to the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City, which sparked the modern gay liberation and LGBTQ rights movements in the United States. The award-winning composer will perform both originals and jazz standards, in addition to speaking about how the Stonewall Riots affected him and his development as one of jazz’s most formidable and original pianists.
“Fred Hersch will be sharing his elegant lyricism on the piano along with his deeply personal story as the first openly gay, HIV-positive jazz player,” President and CEO of SPAC Elizabeth Sobol tells saratoga living. “We are privileged to be partnering with Caffè Lena to pay musical tribute to the historical importance of The Stonewall Riots.”
Hersch is one of jazz’s preeminent creative forces. In a career spanning more than three decades as an improviser, composer, performer, educator, bandleader and recording artist, Hersh has earned a panoply of distinctions and awards. In addition to those 14 Grammy nominations, Hersch has been awarded a Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship and grants from the National Endowment of the Arts, as well as France’s highest accolade for a recording, the Grand Prix du Disque, for his 2012 album Alive at the Vanguard. Hersch has had great success as an author, too. His memoir, Good Things Happen Slowly, was named one of “2017’s Five Best Memoirs” by both The New York Times and The Washington Post. For his two shows at Caffè Lena, Hersch will be drawing on stories from his memoir, recounting what it was like being openly gay and HIV-positive while performing and composing contemporary jazz music.
“These kinds of extraordinary, one-time events are as exciting for us as they are for the audience,” Caffè Lena’s Executive Director Sarah Craig tells saratoga living. “SPAC wanted to mark the Stonewall anniversary, and Caffè Lena was launching its new LGBTQ monthly series. That led us to brainstorm ways to pull the jazz and civil rights themes together, and when Chris Shiley from SPAC suggested Fred Hersch, we all just had this big endorphin explosion.” Caffè Lena is carting in a grand piano for Hersch’s two performances, the first time an instrument of that size has graced the venue’s stage.
Before the date change, “An Evening with Fred Hersch” was intended to serve as a special highlight to Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Fest Friday on June 28. Started last year as a way to draw more business into Downtown Saratoga, Jazz Fest Friday serves as the official kickoff to Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Fest, June 29-30, and will feature live musical events, themed dining and social dances at a range of participating locations throughout the Spa City. Tickets to “An Evening with Fred Hersch” are available online at caffelena.org and range from $20 to $40. For tickets to this year’s Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Fest, with headliners that include multiple Grammy winners Norah Jones and George Benson, check out spac.org.