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Brad Mehldau: Excitement and Energy

By Published: February 13, 2007
AAJ: You were part of [saxophonist] Joshua Redman's band for two years. What are your thoughts about the time spent with Redman?

BM: It was an incredible experience for me. It is probably my favorite band that I've ever been in. We were talking about the notion of a band and what that means for me. That band had to do with the way Josh was right for all of us, the way we externalized that. We really learned a lot playing with Josh. For him, it was leading things and making decisions with a certain amount of a real democratic approach, allowing us all to develop our own ways.

AAJ: Since you've played with so many people as a sideman, what are some of the philosophies you adhere to when you are a bandleader these days?

BM: I don't think it's absolutely necessary, but if somebody is a young musician and asks me, "What should I do? I'm a twenty year old pianist, what should I do to develop as a musician, how should I get my own sound, I always suggest to be a side person, because when you play in someone else's band you can find out very quickly what you like and what you don't like as a musician.

Maybe the band leader is playing something and you don't like the way it sounds or you [do] like the way it sounds. There is a whole process of working under someone else's leadership. What happens is you have an opportunity to develop your own aesthetic as a musician. It's like being an assistant for a doctor, you are working but it's not your thing. When working in a band you have to have a strong idea of who you are because you are out to discover your own identity in that context.

Brad Mehldau

AAJ: The collaboration with Renée Fleming for Love Sublime is an inspired one. How did you develop affection for classical music?

BM: Classical music has been ingrained [in me] longer than jazz. I started playing classical piano as a kid. It was the first music I tried to play. When I got into jazz as a teenager I lost interest in classical music. Then, when I was 22 or 23, for whatever reason I rediscovered classical music and started reading a lot of about the music—chamber music, symphonic works and solo piano literature. It's really in my blood and I feel that some of it has influenced my playing. And as a jazz composer, when I think about the notion of what a song is, what it means to write a song...

I finally got an opportunity to investigate that interest in a more original setting. The project with Renée Fleming was a huge project. It was the biggest thing I have ever done actually. I worked on that for two years. It was exhausting. It was really a labor of love. Eventually when Renée learned the music and we recorded it, it was beyond anything I could have hoped for because she can sing incredibly and can make the music her own. She really owns that music and she interpreted it in her own way.

AAJ: Your music has attracted people that have no interest in jazz. What do you think about today's jazz climate worldwide?

BM: There is such a big interest in jazz that sometimes I don't understand why people are not optimistic about it. It's contradictory when it seems that it attracts so many people but people tend to give pessimistic prognoses. This music will always grow.

Selected Discography

Pat Metheny/Brad Mehldau, Metheny Mehldau (Nonesuch, 2006)
Brad Mehldau, House on Hill (Nonesuch, 2006)
Brad Mehldau, Day is Done (Nonesuch, 2005)
Brad Mehldau, Live in Tokyo (Nonesuch, 2004)
Brad Mehldau, Anything Goes (Warner Bros.,2004)
Brad Mehldau, Largo (Warner Bros., 2002)
Brad Mehldau, The Art of the Trio, Vol. 5: Progression (Warner Bros., 2001)
Brad Mehldau, Places (Warner Bros., 2000)
Brad Mehldau, The Art of the Trio, Vol. 4: Back At The Vanguard (Warner Bros., 1999)
Brad Mehldau, Elegiac Cycle (Warner Bros., 1999)
Brad Mehldau, The Art of the Trio, Vol. 3: Songs (Warner Bros., 1998)
Brad Mehldau, The Art of the Trio Vol. 2: Live At The Village Vanguard (Warner Bros., 1997)
Brad Mehldau, The Art of the Trio, Vol. 1 (Warner Bros., 1997)
Brad Mehldau, Introducing Brad Mehldau (Warner Bros., 1995)

Related Articles

A Fireside Chat with Brad Mehldau (Interview, 2004)
Brad Mehldau's Opening, Middle and Endgame (Interview, 2003)
A Conversation with Brad Mehldau (Interview, 1998)

Photo Credit Tony Rodgers

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