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Wilmington Music: Fred Hersch Invokes Walt Whitman

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Poetry and jazz combine in one memorable night of performance as the Fred Hersch Ensemble performs Leaves of Grass! For this Wilmington music and poetry fusion performance, Hersch and an ensemble of 12 musicians including Kurt Elling and Kate McGarry reprise Fred Hersch’s iconic album Leaves of Grass, setting the poetry of Walt Whitman to jazz.

Leaves of Grass is a poetry collection by Walt Whitman, a 19th century poet who many consider to be the father of free verse and a cornerstone of modern American poetry. With its long, rhythmical lines of poetry, and exultant verse, Leaves of Grass is a courageous celebration of individuality, the human body, and love. Experience some of Whitman’s poetry before the show by visiting the Poetry Foundation online.

Walt-Whitman-Wilmington-MusicWalt Whitman published this collection in 1855 out of his own pocket, only able to initially afford 795 copies.  Although it is now considered a landmark in American literature, at the time of its publishing, Leaves of Grass was controversial in both its content and treatment of the poetic line. The first edition of Leaves of Grass contained 12 poems, but Whitman kept revising and adding, expanding the collection to include some 300 poems and a handful of editions during Whitman’s lifetime.

Whitman was the second of eight children born to financially unstable parents. At age 11, Whitman was taken out of grammar school to help with household income, eventually finding employment in the printing business, where he learned to love language through the arduous process of setting type.

Although more than a century separates them, Fred Hersch and Walt Whitman have a lot in common. Fred Hersch is a creative force in jazz’s piano pantheon and a twelve-time Grammy nominee. Vanity Fair has called him “the most arrestingly innovative pianist in jazz over the last decade.” The first openly gay, HIV-positive jazz musician, Fred Hersch combines his inventive musical talents with his passion for raising awareness and fundraising for AIDS services and education agencies. In this powerful NPR interview with Terry Gross, Hersch said, "I didn't expect to be 40. I didn't expect to be 50. I didn't expect to be 60. And actually, since I've recovered from the coma, I feel like my playing is, in every possible way, better. I think it's deeper."

In the same way Walt Whitman pioneered American Literature and poetry, Fred Hersch continues to innovate and trailblaze for jazz. See the Fred Hersch Ensemble’s Leaves of Grass in Kenan Auditorium Thursday, April 25th! Tickets are available online or at the UNCW Arts Ticket Office Monday through Friday from 12-4 p.m. 

-Lindsay Lake