Born in 1970 in Jacksonville, FL. Education: Studied at The New School for Social Research, New York City. Addresses: Record company--Warner Brothers Records, 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505-4694,; Management--Hopper Management, Munich, Germany Phone: (818) 846-9090.
By the end of the 1990s, jazz pianist Brad Mehldau had slowly worked his way into the musical world as a dynamic force who pulled his inspiration from influences that included rock, jazz and classical. According to Ed Enright in Down Beat magazine in June of 1999, Mehldau wanted to "jar you back to consciousness. Not in some head-banger sense.... Mehldau would rather rock your innerworldwith something much more powerful and pure: thoughtful, expressive pianism."
From the time his first album, Introducing Brad Mehldau, was released in 1995, Mehldau became a familiar name among the most ardent jazz critics. In comments included at the Jazz Online website, a review in the Chicago Tribune said that the album was "a recording that achieves its most vivid moments when Mehldau is playing original compositions. The elliptical lines, volatile rhythmic figures and unexpected bursts of color and dissonance ... prove that Mehldau writes as cleverly as he plays. The originality of these compositions is startling to behold." By 1997, when he debuted at the Village Vanguard in New York City, the long-held bastion of premiere jazz clubs, he caught the attention of the inner circle of jazz critics then, too. In his review of Brad Mehldau and his trio for the New York Times, Peter Watrous said that "Mr. Mehldau's obsessions make his music tense." He added that, "where jazz musicians traditionally are adept at doubling or halving tempos, Mr. Mehldau and the band were working every angle of time." With his roots in classical music, and a repertoire that included an array of standards, Mehldau had proven from the beginning that his music represented a deeper commitment to more than commercial popularity. He told Enright, "I know that audiences are very savvy and hip to whatever spin the media or record company marketing department puts on an artist, and they're sick of it."
Brad Mehldau was born in Jacksonville, Florida, and spent the first ten years of his life moving between Georgia, New York, and New Hampshire, before his father settled his medical practice as in Hartford, Connecticut. Mehldau began studying piano at age six and continued until he was 14. At that time, as a student at Hartford's Hall High School, he joined the school's accomplished jazz band. Through his performances with that band, he won the prestigious Berklee School of Music (Boston, Massachusetts) high school competition as Best All-Around Musician. As a student at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan, he was enrolled as part of that school's well-known jazz and contemporary music program, studying with Junior Mance, Kenny Werner, and Fred Hersch. Another instructor, long-time drummer Jimmy Cobb, brought Mehldau into his quartet.
While still a student, Mehldau began touring the United States and Europe with various groups. European jazz festivals particularly brought attention to his rising fame. It was when he joined Joshua Redman's quartet that he began to gain recognition that only heightened with the release of his first album. In 1997, Mehldau moved to Los Angeles while continuing to tour worldwide and record. He told Enright that what he liked about Los Angeles was the fact that there was "no geographical scene like you have in New York, with the West Village and the East Village and Lincoln Center Uptown." In Los Angeles he noted, the scene was "all spread out," and "you can go to a club in West Hollywood where on any given night they'll have anything from brash metal to a big band with a torch singer. It's almost like nothing is sacred."
The intensity of Mehldau's music has been compared to musicians that preceded him long before. In billing for the North Sea Jazz Festival in The Hague, Netherlands, in 1997, Mehldau's piano style was described in comments at the North Sea Jazz Festival website as having, "the power and energy of Beethoven, the improvisational richness of [legendary jazz saxophonist] John Coltrane and Miles Davis and the emotional approach of Bill Evans." Much of his style was born of his own love and inspiration from jazz piano greats such as Oscar Peterson, Wynton Kelly, McCoy Tyner, and Keith Jarrett. In his review of Mehldau's June 1999 appearance at Symphony Space in Manhattan and Mehldau's creation, "Elegiac Cycle," Adam Shatz wrote in the New York Times that the comparison of Mehldau to the legendary Bill Evans, considered one of the greatest white jazz pianists was a bit misleading, at best. "The real reason behind the Evans analogies, one suspects," wrote Shatz, had "less to do with music than with race." Yet Shatz agreed that his "eccentric sensibility" was reminiscent of Evans. "Like Evans, he is profoundly drawn to classical music, but where Evans invoked early French modernists like Debussy and Ravel, Mr. Mehldau demonstrates affinities with 19th-century German Romantics like Schubert and Brahms." Mehldau's particular fascination with German musicians and literature brought a reflection from a recent interview Shatz quoted. Mehldau said that "if there's any German ethos that attracts me, it has to do with the incredible amount of welled-up emotion that's being conveyed. There's a kind of longing that you feel in the literature and in the music of Schubert and Schumann."
In the years following his studies at the New School, Mehldau returned to his classical roots. Around the same time, he discovered German writer, Thomas Mann and his book, Doctor Faustus, an allegory about Germany's embrace of fascism under the influence of Hitler. A trip to Germany in the summer of 1998 led him to Berlin and the celebration the 50th anniversary of Mann's novel. It was there that Mehldau conceived his "Elegiac Cycle," which he says came from the song cycles of the German lieder [often songs about simple folk heroes] tradition of Schubert's "Winterreise." Shatz noted that Mehldau wrote about it in his album liner notes saying, "The process of improvisation is a kind of affirmation of mortality. Even in the moment you're creating something, it's already gone forever, and that's precisely its strength. Improvisation would seem to solve the problem of death by constantly dying as it's being born. It scoffs at loss, and revels in its own transience."
"I'm not too goal-oriented," Mehldau revealed in his discussion with Enright. "That's probably my one spiritual mantra. It's something vaguely Eastern that has to do with being right here right now, and I've probably had to reaffirm that even more because it's such a zany time we live in now," he went on to say. "I like things with permanence. They make you feel comfortable."
by Jane Spear
Brad Mehldau's Career
Began playing piano at age six; studied at The New School for Social Research with Junior Manse, Kenny Werner, Fred Hersch, and Jimmy Cobb; joined Joshua Redman's quartet, released debut solo album, Introducing Brad Mehldau, 1997.
Brad Mehldau's Awards
#1 Talent Deserving Wider Recognition, Down BeatCritics Poll, 1997.
- Selected discography
- New York Barcelona Crossing ,(with Perico Sambeat), Fresh Sound, 1993.
- The Art of the Trio ,Volume One, Warner Records, 1997.
- Introducing Brad Mehldau ,Warner Records, 1997.
- The Art of the Trio, Volume Three ,Warner Records, 1998.
- Elegiac Cycle ,Warner Records, 1998.
- Live At the Village Vanguard: The Art of the Trio, Volume Two; Warner Records, 1998.
- Art of the Trio 4: Back at the Vanguard ,Warner Records, 1999.
- "Blame It on my Youth," (written by Oscar Levant and Edward Heyman soundtrackEyes Wide Shut motion picture), Warner Sunset, 1999.
- Jazz Bakery Sessions ,(with Lee Konitz and Charlie Haden), Blue Note, 1999.
- Cook, Richard and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on Compact Disc, Penguin Books, 4th edition, 1998.
- George-Warren, Holly, editor, The Rolling Stone Jazz Guide, Random House, 1999.
- Down Beat, June 1999.
- New York Times, February 1, 1997; September 28, 1998; July 25, 1999.
- Washington Post, January 9, 1999; June 18, 1999.
- "Brad Mehldau," Jazz Online, http://www.jazzonline.com.
- "Brad Mehldau," Jazz Radio, http://jazzradio.org/brad/.htm.
- "Brad Mehldau," North Sea Jazz Festival, http://www.northseajazz.nl/northsea/97/visw/bmehldaue.html.