Category: My Coma Dreams (1)
In the summer of 2008, jazz pianist Fred Hersch fell into a two-month-long coma, the result of a pneumonia. Hersch, who is an AIDS survivor now in his fifties, lingered in St. Vincent’s Hospital, withdrawn in a total dream state. Hersch has inspired an incredible array of young, genre-twisting jazzers, including Brad Mehldau and Ethan Iverson (of The Bad Plus). His experience lost in dreams at St. Vincent’s Hospital is the inspiration for My Coma Dreams, which premiered at Peak Performances on May 8 and 9.
My Coma Dreams is a particularly unusual performance to come out of the jazz world. For this collaborative piece, Hersch wrote the music, Herschel Garfein wrote the script, and Sarah Wickliffe created the animations; actor Michael Winther performed the songs and spoken-word sections, and Hersch and a ten-member band were led by conductor Gregg Kallor. The result is a multimedia experience composed of independent sections dedicated to the unique dreams that Hersch remembers. The plot lines of Hersch’s dreams range from a timed, jazz composition battle with Thelonius Monk while both pianists are confined in cages (humorously, of the two cages, Hersch’s is the smaller one) to a small boy with green eyes watching Hersch with understanding. The script, based on interviews conducted by Garfein, recounts these dream experiences, as well as the real-life experiences of Hersch’s partner and his doctor, and sets them to music, to lyrics, and to images.
At times poignant and at others humorously absurd, My Coma Dreams is a portrait of an artist pushed from his artistic practice into a total dream state. Though the piece at times falls too far into an awareness of the drama of the situation, it is a rare multimedia music theater piece to emerge out of jazz—one that, thankfully, exists outside of dreams and in real life.
Sara Wintz’s writing has appeared in The Poetry Project Newsletter, Jacket, HTMLGIANT, 6×6 and HARRIET: The Poetry Foundation Blog. She was communications assistant at Peak Performances from 2009 to 2010 and is a 2010 graduate of the MFA program in writing at Bard College.