The influential and innovative poetry of Walt Whitman inspires a performance featuring an eight-piece music ensemble led by jazz composer and pianist Fred Hersch, accompanied by renowned jazz vocalists Kurt Elling and Kate McGarry. “Leaves of Grass” comes to the Moss Arts Center on April 26 at 7:30 p.m.

The performance will be held in the center’s Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre, located within the Street and Davis Performance Hall at 190 Alumni Mall.

Premiering at Carnegie Hall in 2005, “Leaves of Grass” celebrates the life and poetry of Whitman, whose work redefined American poetry and had a significant, life-affirming impact on Hersch.

It has been more than 160 years since Whitman wrote his epic masterwork, “Song of Myself,” the centerpiece of Hersch’s “Leaves of Grass,” and its messages seemed almost alien to society at the time. Now, its promotion of unapologetic love for one’s true self, appreciation of the present, wonder at the miracle of nature, and the openhearted love of all beings is especially timely and important.

A 12-time Grammy nominee, Hersch spins this profound poetry into compositions that are performed by his ensemble with sweeping melodicism, while vocalists Elling and McGarry present Whitman’s words with grace, emotion, and lyrical sweetness.

“Is there a direct connection between Whitman and jazz? Certainly, the strange beauty of his idiosyncratic and improvisatory language, his freewheeling verse, his subject matter, and his irreverence link him directly to the American beat poets of the 1950s…” said Hersch. “For those who have not spent time with 'Leaves of Grass,' I hope this piece will make you curious to do so. For those who know and love these words already, I hope my musical interpretation will allow you to consider them in a different light.”

A select member of jazz’s piano pantheon, Hersch is an influential creative force who has shaped the music’s course over more than three decades. He has received jazz’s most prestigious awards, including recent distinctions as a 2016 Doris Duke Artist, 2016 and 2018 Jazz Pianist of the Year from the Jazz Journalists Association, and the 2017 Prix Honorem de Jazz from L’Acádemie Charles Cros for the totality of his career. His 2017 album “Open Book” was nominated for two 2018 Grammy Awards and its release coincided with the publication of Hersch’s acclaimed memoir, “Good Things Happen Slowly.”

Grammy-winning jazz vocalist Elling has enjoyed a 14-year run atop DownBeat Magazine’s critics poll, a dozen Grammy nominations, and eight Jazz Journalists Association awards for “Male Singer of the Year.” With six critically acclaimed CDs and a Grammy nomination for “Best Jazz Vocal Album,” McGarry has become recognized as a jazz artist who brings authenticity and vitality to every song regardless of genre.

While visiting Blacksburg, Hersch will conduct a workshop with Virginia Tech jazz students.


Tickets are $20-45 for general audience and $10 for students and youth 18 and under. Tickets can be purchased online; at the Moss Arts Center's box office, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; or by calling 540-231-5300 during box office hours.

While Virginia Tech students can always attend any Moss Arts Center performance for only $10, the center also offers free last-minute rush tickets for students who sign up for text notifications. To receive these notifications, text “arts” to 31996. Availability of rush tickets varies by performance and tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis while supplies last in the box office. Virginia Tech ID will be required for admission.

Parking is available in the North End Parking Garage on Turner Street. Virginia Tech faculty and staff possessing a valid Virginia Tech parking permit can enter and exit the garage free of charge. Limited street parking is also available. Parking on Alumni Mall is free on weekdays after 5 p.m. and on weekends.

If you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation, please contact Kacy McAllister at 540-231-5300 or email during regular business hours at least 10 business days prior to an event.

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