Fred Hersch’s Memoir

“I am leaving from SoHo at 10am on August 18th for IMS. Please let me know if you need a ride.”

I’d taken advantage of the offer by Insight Meditation Society to post that I’d like a lift from NYC to Barre, MA for the retreat, and I’d received this quick response. What made the offer more intriguing was that the signature file included the driver’s website:

Well, wouldn’t you want to know who was behind the wheel for a 4-hour drive? I clicked the link only to behold that my driver would be world-class jazz pianist and beloved musical icon, Fred Hersch. Those of you who already know this amazing man, forgive my ignorance.

We met for the ride to Massachusetts at a garage downtown near Fred’s apartment, filled the car with two additional passengers and our bags, then hit the highway. I sat in the front seat and navigated even though Fred has been to IMS dozens of times. I use the WAZE app and know the Merritt and I-95 well, so could offer alternate routes knowledgably.

We talked non-stop the entire way, sharing many interests and closely matching decades on the planet. Plus, with Fred’s vast experience with meditation and us riders’ newish status, he filled us in on the particulars. “When I drop you off, go into the meditation hall and claim your seat. It will be yours throughout the entire week.”

Following his advice, I went into the empty room, chose the fourth chair against the left wall as you entered. There was a single file row of regular cushioned chairs the length of the room on either side and several rows in the back. In the center of the sanctuary were close to 100 individual cushions on the floor. I knew I would not be able to sit in the lotus position for 8-10 hours per day and was happy to plunk my shawl and back support on a seat near the front of the room.

When we all assembled there on the first of seven days, it turned out, totally coincidentally, that Fred had opted for the cushion on the floor closest to my seat. Since this was a silent retreat and we were advised to not make eye contact with anyone, we never acknowledged our proximity.

But on the final day, when silence had been broken, Fred, who had maintained a cross-legged posture on a floor cushion throughout the week, stood and came over to me and gave me a big hug. “You made it!”

Fred being interviewed by David Hajdu at McNally Jackson Bookstore

This is a big time in Fred’s professional life. His memoir, Good Things Happen Slowly, came out last week. He had told us passengers that there’d be a book signing at McNally Jackson on Monday, September 11 and that he’d be performing at Lincoln Center Jazz that weekend. I put those dates on my calendar and looked forward to a mini-reunion with my meditating companions.

I’m happy to say that I’ve read his memoir and LOVED it! The title comes from a doctor’s words when he was in ICU during a nearly two-month medically-induced coma.

I had been in a coma for about a month and was still in the ICU when Scott [Fred’s husband] asked [the doctor] when he expected to see some change in my status. “In a case like this,” Dr. Astiz said, looking down at me, “good things happen slowly.” Turning to face Scott, he added, “But bad things happen fast.”

When Fred shared his title with us in the car, I got shivers. Those words are encouraging to anyone who is experiencing a struggle, especially us creatives where it can take years, even decades, to see rewards. Good things happen slowly is optimistic, encouraging and soothing to hear. His book is full of his history, family, early musical achievements and challenges.

One bit I intend to share with my clients is what he and his manager refer to as the BAWL – our “big-ass wish list.” I used to call them Big Hairy Goals, but like his acronym better.

My boyfriend and I went to Fred’s performance on Friday night at Lincoln Center and got his CD Open Book. He was in the lobby signing copies of his book and greeting audience members between performances.

If you want to fall in love with this man, as I have, my recommendation is to begin by listening to his recent interview with NPR’s Terry Gross on Fresh Air to get an overview of this vast achievements, his kind manner and his appreciation for the world he’s been grateful to inhabit.


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