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Duke Arts Presents

Fred Hersch
Leaves of Grass
Featuring Kurt Elling & Kate McGarry

Saturday, April 27, 2019 | 8:00 pm

Baldwin Auditorium

Acclaimed pianist Fred Hersch was touring France in the mid-1990s when he experienced an undeniable urge: he needed to read Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman’s visionary expression of open-hearted love for all beings. Hersch rushed to a Parisian bookstore, devoured the collection, and began creating his own Leaves of Grass — an exquisite twenty-song cycle that sets Whitman’s beloved poems to a score of gliding horns, sophisticated rhythms, and elegant piano — premiering it at Carnegie Hall in 2005. While Leaves of Grass was already highly musical, Hersch skillfully amplified its cadences, sonorities, and lyrical beauty.

Since composing Leaves of Grass, Hersch has released a string of GRAMMY-nominated albums, and he was the first pianist to perform a weeklong solo residency at the Village Vanguard. He occasionally revisited his song cycle, but with recent events calling into question everything Whitman held most dear, Hersch knew it was time to take Leaves of Grass on tour. At a time when Whitman’s words sound once again like a rallying cry for freedom, Hersch — one of jazz’s few openly gay stars — has reconvened the original Leaves of Grass lineup from the 2005 recording, including the great jazz singers Kurt Elling and Durham’s own Kate McGarry.


Fred Hersch, Piano

Kurt Elling, Vocals

Kate McGarry, Vocals

Ralph Alessi, Trumpet

Bruce Williamson & Tony Malaby, Saxophones

Mike Christianson, Trombone

Erik Friedlander, Cello

Drew Gress, Bass

John Hollenbeck, Drums

Fred Hersch Trio 'Round Midnight/We See'

Fred Hersch with Kurt Elling 'Leaves of Grass: The Sleepers'

Kate McGarry 'My Funny Valentine'

“His labyrinthine transfiguration of Walt Whitman’s epic emerged as both radical and respectful, brave and vulnerable, much like ‘Leaves of Grass’ itself.”