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 ambitious 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, The Fred Hersch Film 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.
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 great story. Months later, on the heels of beginning rehearsals for “My Coma Dreams,” Carrie Lozano’s husband Don Loeb befriended Hersch on a plane ride from New York to San Francisco. The timing and meeting were 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 2011.
The dreams, as depicted in the show, clearly reflect significant elements of Hersch’s life, including his childhood, his relationship with his longtime partner, his kinship with Thelonious Monk and his illness. The film will interweave the making of “My Coma Dreams” with verité scenes of Hersch’s life and interviews that occur in the context of actual events.