After spending two months in an AIDS-related coma, jazz pianist Fred Hersch was determined to survive and play the piano again. Capturing the making of his most ambitious piece yet, this documentary delves into the life and work of an American master and gay rights pioneer and activist.
What if you could tell the most painful story of your life through music and lead the band? That’s what jazz pianist and composer Fred Hersch has done with his innovative artistic creation “My Coma Dreams.” Described as “jazz theater,” the piece is a musical, theatrical and visual odyssey into the vivid dreams and nightmares that haunted Hersch when he emerged from a two-month, AIDS-related coma.
Using the making of “My Coma Dreams” as the spine of a feature-length documentary film, Fred Hersch Now (working title) will chronicle the life and work of a musical genius, an educator, an AIDS and gay rights activist and one of the foremost jazz musicians of our time. The dreams, as depicted in the show, reflect significant elements of Hersch’s life, including his childhood, his relationships, his kinship with Thelonious Monk and his illness and will be used as entry points for a biographical exploration. Largely cinema verité, the film will interweave the making of “My Coma Dreams” with verité scenes of Hersch’s life and interviews that provide context and background.
In 2010, we read about Hersch in a New York Times Magazine profile written by the esteemed music writer David Hadju. The article called him a “trailblazer” and “unsung hero” of contemporary jazz and told of Hersch’s childhood as a prodigy; of coming out as gay and HIV positive in the closeted jazz world and of his miraculous recovery from the coma that would strip him of all his faculties for months. The article had all the makings of a strong narrative. Months later, on the heels of beginning rehearsals for “My Coma Dreams,” Carrie Lozano’s husband befriended Hersch on a plane ride from New York to San Francisco. The timing was serendipitous and within eight weeks we were shooting behind the scenes of “My Coma Dreams,” which premiered at Kasser Theater in Montclair, New Jersey in May.
Since January 2011, we have been filming Hersch in high definition video. We have captured rehearsals, performances and personal events in Hersch’s life, and the footage has organically revealed several strong characters. In addition to Hersch, the film will feature Herschel Garfein, the librettist and director of “My Coma Dreams;” Michael Winther, the singer-actor who plays Hersch and his partner in the show; Scott Morgan, Hersch’s partner; Hersch’s 85-year-old mother Florette and Joyce Hammann, Hersch’s lead violinist. Along the way we will meet the people that orbit Hersch’s life, from colleagues and students to fans and fellow luminaries. We have found that cinema verité best captures Hersch’s artistic process, his personality and the depth and nature of his artistic relationships. The film will also be infused with Hersch’s music, which represents an unusually broad range. Combined, it will be a compelling, poignant and often humorous portrait of an American master composing against the clock.
- To learn more about the film visit the Fred Hersch Now website.
- Visit Fred Hersch Now on Facebook and follow on Twitter.