(LENOX, Mass.) – Brad Mehldau, widely regarded as the most innovative and virtuosic jazz pianist of his generation, performs solo at Tanglewood’s Ozawa Hall on Thursday, August 25, at 8 p.m. Mehldau, who turned 41 on Tuesday this week and who grew up in nearby West Hartford, Conn., is considered one of the rare jazz pianists, such as Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea, whose work merits solo concert-length performances, such as that captured on Live in Marciac, a two-CD plus DVD set released earlier this year.
What’s more, Mehldau is in the forefront of a growing movement among straight-ahead jazz musicians to incorporate songs from the rock era alongside pre-rock standards; Mehldau’s performances and recordings include renditions of compositions by Radiohead, Soundgarden, Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, the Beatles, and Paul Simon, as well as tunes by composers more familiar to jazz audiences including Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael.
In addition to his solo work, Mehldau is noted for his performances and recording leading a piano trio, another format that time seems to have passed by, but into which Mehldau has breathed new life in concerts and in his ongoing Art of the Trio series of recordings, which now is up to five volumes. Mehldau also frequently works with pop-rock producer Jon Brion (Aimee Mann) and saxophonist Joshua Redman and superstar rock drummer Matt Chamberlain, whose credits include Pearl Jam, Wallflowers, Tori Amos, Peter Gabriel, Fiona Apple, Elvis Costello, David Bowie, Keith Urban, Sean Lennon, and Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians.
Mehldau is also a composer, and his tunes appear on a number of his recordings, including Largo, as well as on collaborations with guitarist Pat Metheny and on a duo album, Love Sublime, with soprano Renee Fleming consisting of a cycle of original art songs in the tradition of his classical music idol, Brahms. He has also recorded Love Songs, a duet album with Anne Sofie Von Otter, a two-CD set featuring one side of original compositions using poems by ee cummings, Philip Larkin, and Sara Teasdale as texts, and another side featuring renditions of songs by Joni Mitchell, Paul McCartney, Leonard Bernstein, Richard Rodgers and French songwriters including Jacques Brel, Leo Ferré, Barbara, and Michel Legrand.
Jazz pianist Brad Mehldau has recorded and performed extensively since the early 1990s. Mehldau’s most consistent output over the years has taken place in the trio format. Starting in 1996, his group released a series of five records on Warner Bros. entitled The Art of the Trio. Mehldau also has a solo piano recording entitled Elegiac Cycle, and a record called Places that includes both solo piano and trio songs. Elegiac Cycle and Places might be called “concept” albums. They are made up exclusively of original material and have central themes that hover over the compositions. Other Mehldau recordings include Largo, a collaborative effort with the innovative musician and producer Jon Brion, and Anything Goes — a trio outing with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy.
His first record for Nonesuch, Brad Mehldau Live in Tokyo, was released in September 2004. After ten rewarding years with Rossy playing in Mehldau’s regular trio, drummer Jeff Ballard joined the band in 2005. The label released its first album from the Brad Mehldau Trio — Day is Done — on September 27, 2005. The critically acclaimed double live trio recording entitled Brad Mehldau Trio Live was released on March 25th, 2008 (Nonesuch).
Mehldau’s musical personality forms a dichotomy. He is first and foremost an improviser, and greatly cherishes the surprise and wonder that can occur from a spontaneous musical idea that is expressed directly, in real time. But he also has a deep fascination for the formal architecture of music, and it informs everything he plays. In his most inspired playing, the actual structure of his musical thought serves as an expressive device. As he plays, he listens to how ideas unwind, and the order in which they reveal themselves. Each tune has a strongly felt narrative arch, whether it expresses itself in a beginning, an end, or something left intentionally open-ended. The two sides of Mehldau’s personality — the improviser and the formalist — play off each other, and the effect is often something like controlled chaos.
Mehldau has performed around the world at a steady pace since the mid-1990s, with his trio and as a solo pianist. His performances convey a wide range of expression. There is often an intellectual rigor to the continuous process of abstraction that may take place on a given tune, and a certain density of information. That could be followed by a stripped down, emotionally direct ballad. Mehldau favors juxtaposing extremes. He has attracted a sizeable following over the years, one that has grown to expect a singular, intense experience in his performance.
In addition to his trio and solo projects, Mehldau has worked with a number of great jazz musicians, including a rewarding gig with saxophonist Joshua Redman’s band for two years, recordings and concerts with Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden and Lee Konitz, and recording as a sideman with the likes of the late Michael Brecker, Wayne Shorter, John Scofield, and Charles Lloyd. For more than a decade, he has collaborated with several musicians and peers whom he respects greatly, including the guitarists Peter Bernstein and Kurt Rosenwinkel and tenor saxophonist Mark Turner. Mehldau also has played on a number of recordings outside of the jazz idiom, like Willie Nelson’s Teatro and singer-songwriter Joe Henry’s Scar. His music has appeared in several movies, including Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and Wim Wender’s Million Dollar Hotel. He also composed an original soundtrack for the French film, Ma Femme Est Une Actrice.
Mehldau recently composed two new works commissioned by Carnegie Hall for voice and piano, The Blue Estuaries and The Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, which were performed in the spring of 2005 with the acclaimed classical soprano, Renee Fleming. These songs were recorded with Fleming and released in 2006 on the Love Sublime record; simultaneously, Nonesuch released an album of Mehldau’s jazz compositions for trio entitled House on Hill. In March 2007 Mehldau debuted the piano concerto “The Brady Bunch Variations for piano and orchestra” at Theatre du Chatelet in Paris with Orchestre national d’Ile-de-France. In early 2008 London’s Wigmore Hall announced that Brad Mehldau will curate an annual four-concert jazz series at the prestigious hall during its 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, with Mehldau appearing in at least two of the four annual concerts.