You have to watch this youtube video:
To me Fred Hersch’s version of “Both Sides Now” is profoundly beautiful and touching. It clearly stands out compared to the millions of stimuli that I get on a day to day basis. When I say stimuli I mean everything ranging from music, photography, writing, management presentations, engineering solutions, mathematical equations to coffee table discussions. In my quest to understanding “Life, the Universe & Everything” I can’t resist to ask: “Why?”.
To tell you the truth, I don’t think I have a way to test my answers (hypotheses) in a “true-or-false” manner. However my intuition at the moment tells me this:
- Technique. You have to be in control of your fingers to be one of the top piano players in the world. Interestingly I don’t think you have to be in total control, as in all points in the four dimensional “what finger, what key, what intensity, what time” space. You just have to cover a big-enough, interesting-enough subspace, which is a challenge already.
- References. “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell is considered a master piece in its own right. Not only has it proven to capture people’s minds, but for those who know it already, it will most likely trigger positive emotions instantaneously. Similarly Fred Hersch’s interpretation is firmly rooted in the tradition of Jazz, which provides another huge set of references.
- Story Telling. From the first note to the last Fred Hersch takes you on a journey that is logical from one note/one phrase to the next and that is holistically consistent in a way that it captures your imagination throughout the piece.
- Personality. Both what he plays and how he plays it screams “Fred Hersch”. Even if you would transcribe his music and have it played by some random, classically trained pianist, it would probably lack some important characteristics.
For lack of scientific methods, I can’t be sure that this list is correct or exhaustive. But what I can say is that I find all of these qualities in Fred Hersch’s “Both Sides Now” and that I should certainly make sure they are in the random coffee table discussion to make it just as beautiful and touching.