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Brad Mehldau: Excitement and Energy

By Published: February 13, 2007
AAJ: The title, Largo, was taken from a club with the same name.

BM: That's right, Largo is a club in Los Angeles where I first heard Jon Brion. He was there every Friday night and he was the first musician I heard in L.A.. For three years we had great communication and it influenced my approach towards music. It opened me up to many things, including rediscovering good and interesting pop music, including what Jon was doing and some other people that I heard at Largo at the time like Fiona Apple and Aimee Mann. It eventually influenced some of my writing at the time. I lived in L.A. for five years, and the sum of my musical experiences can be heard on this record.

AAJ: Another record that refers to location is Places (Warner Bros., 2000), with tracks devoted to cities like L.A. Were these tracks just a tribute to those cities or were they inspired by them?

BM: Those tracks were actually written in those cities. That was part of the idea behind the record. There was a connection between time, place and memory. It was kind of a weird idea and one of the things that I wrote about in the liner notes, referring to the actual nature of the place regardless of whether it is L.A. or Madrid. Although many people may see it as a track devoted to Madrid.

It was a time when I was touring a lot and I was never home, so I was writing a lot on the road. At first it was some sort of a joke; I gave them titles after they were written because I couldn't think of titles anyway. And then I started to develop this idea about the notion of travel, about leaving a place, how it resonates in your memory, how it changes over time and your own consciousness follows you wherever you go—you can't escape from it. This record sort of connects all that together and also develops a little more what I began on another record called Elegiac Cycle (Warner Bros., 1999). That form was cyclical, and was beginning to go around from the beginning again.

AAJ: Places and Elegiac Cycle are essentially solo piano records [there are a few trio tracks on Places] that drew some comparisons. Do you ever get bothered or fed up when people compare you with some of jazz's greats who have done something significant in the solo piano domain, like Keith Jarrett or Bill Evans?

BM: Ah those two. I would say for solo it would be hard to deny that that Keith Jarrett is definitely an inspiration because to me what he does is really change what is possible in the actual vocabulary of jazz. He can also transcend jazz, where it becomes piano solo music [laughs]. He broke a barrier in terms of expressive possibilities, not getting caught in a particular style of playing. He just drew from everything that occurred in music, and that is a bit of what I try to do when I play solo. For me he is an inspiration.

AAJ: You also did the music for the French film Ma Femme est une actrice, were part of the Million Dollar Band and some of your tracks found their way into movies such as Eyes Wide Shut. Do you enjoy this type of work, composing film music?

BM: It's something that I feel I have a limited experience in. The music I wrote for the film Ma femme est une actrice, the film was nothing huge like Lawrence of Arabia, so it didn't require a huge orchestral score. It was a perfect introduction for me because it didn't require very much music. Consequently I feel I don't have too much experience beyond that scoring for film and I would love to [do more]. There is a possibility of doing more scoring for the director of that film for other projects he plans to do in the future that might be bigger and that might require music that looks more like a film score.

AAJ: What about being part of the Million Dollar Band which recorded the soundtrack for Wenders' The Million Dollar Hotel?

BM: The funny thing about that was the recording. At the time I was doing a gig in Dublin, Ireland, and a guy pulled up with a limousine and he said, Would you like to come and record music with us? We are making a soundtrack for a Wim Wenders film. The whole thing was very strange and secretive. I said OK, a limousine waited for me and I went to the studio way out of town. It didn't look like a studio from the outside but inside there was Bono, from U2, with Daniel Lanois, the great rock producer, and other interesting guys.

By the end, the last thing I remember was Bono and Lanois getting on a rowboat and rowing away across the Liffey River, which is a famous river if you have read [James] Joyce's Ulysses. The last thing I saw was them rowing somewhere. Where the hell were they going [laughs]? Bono is an incredible singer, a great musician and a great person.

AAJ: Recently you collaborated with Lanois on his critically acclaimed Belladonna (Anti, 2005). You even worked with him when he produced a Willie Nelson record.

BM: The Willie Nelson's record is called Teatro (Island, 1998). I played on that record six years ago.

AAJ: What was it like working with Lanois, one of my favorite sonic sculptors?

BM: Mine too. He is what I think a great producer is, because you really don't know what he is doing while he is doing it. He is making several decisions at the same time that eventually lead to the great sonic world that he captures so well, that has so much air and space that allows the music to breathe. He allows for everything to happen.

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