Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Mehldau, Brad (Bradford Alexander)
Pianist Brad Mehldau's style blends classical music, rock, and jazz to create a sound with a commanding execution of harmonic concepts and free use of melodic ideas. Mehldau borrows freely from pop and rock, infusing jazz compositions with ideas from these genres and vice versa.
Bradford Alexander Mehldau was born on August 23rd, 1970 in Jacksonville, Florida. Mehldau began playing piano at age six. He started playing classical music, and improvised from an early age as well. Before his teens, Mehldau and his family had lived in Florida, New Hampshire, and Georgia before settling in Hartford, Connecticut.
As a teenager, Mehldau immersed himself in the works of Herbie Hancock, Charlie Parker, and Brahms. Like many musicians of his generation, he was also influenced by the popular music groups such as Steely Dan, the Grateful Dead, and Jimi Hendrix. Upon graduation from high school, Mehldau moved to New York City to attend the New School in Manhattan.
When he arrived in New York 1988, he studied with drummer Jimmy Cobb and pianist Junior Mance. While still a student, he began playing with Cobb's band. Mehldau also worked with guitarist Peter Bernstein, and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1992.
One of Mehldau’s first recordings was on tenor saxophonist Christopher Hollyday’s 1991 album The Natural Moment. Mehldau followed this with an appearance on guitarist Peter Bernstein’s 1993 album Somethin’ Burnin’, which also featured Jimmy Cobb on drums.
Jazz music enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the early nineties, as Mehldau was starting his career, and along with other musicians of his generation he rode this wave. Mehldau joined saxophonist Joshua Redman’s quartet, along with drummer Brian Blade and bassist Christian McBride. Mehldau made his first record with Redman entitled Moodswing, which was released in 1994. Also released in 1994, Captured Live documented the quartet in various live venues.
Mehldau released his first album as a leader, Introducing Brad Mehldau, on Warner Brothers Records in 1995. It featured bassist Larry Grenadier and Christian McBride and drummers Brian Blade and Jorge Rossy. Key songs from the album include Mehldau’s captivating performance of Richard Roger’s "It Might As Well Be Spring."
In 1996, Mehldau released The Art of the Trio Volume 1, once again with Rossy and Grenadier. Noted songs from this album include "I Fall In Love Too Easily" and "I Didn’t Know What Time It Was." Mehldau also foreshadowed his willingness to ‘jazz’ up pop songs with the Beatles’ song “Blackbird.”
Mehldau continued to record and release albums, both as a soloist and as a sideman during the late 1990s. Important sideman appearances from this period include saxophonist Chris Potter’s 1996 album Moving In with Billy Hart on drums and Joshua Redman’s 1998 release Timeless Tales (For Changing Times), which reunited Mehldau, Blade, and McBride. A key selection from Redman’s album is "Summertime." In 1999, Mehldau recorded with tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd on the album Hyperion with Higgins, which featured Grenadier on bass, Billy Higgins on drums, and John Abercrombie on guitar. Mehldau’s harmonic ideas both drove the rhythm section on this album and complement Lloyd’s playing, reminding the listener of his days when Keith Jarrett comped behind Lloyd's solos.
In 1997, Mehldau recorded his sets between the dates of July 29th and August 1st at the Village Vanguard in New York City. These recordings became his third release as a leader, The Art of the Trio Volume 2. Captured in this recording is Mehldau’s stunning ability at improvising themes of a song into completely different themes as is heard on his rendition of Thelonious Monk’s "Monk’s Dream." In 1998, The Art of the Trio Volume III was released, and it featured Mehldau’s working trio of Grenadier on bass and Jorge Rossy on drums.
Mehldau coped with heroin addiction during much of the 1990s, but was able to regroup and come back sounding better each time. He released two albums in 1999, Elegiac Cycle and the live album Art of the Trio Volume IV, which found the trio of Mehldau, Grenadier, and Rossy at the Village Vanguard once again.
In 2000, Mehldau appeared on guitarist John Scofield’s album Works for Me, saxophonist Walt Weiskopf’s 2002 release Man of Many Colors, and bassist Charlie Haden’s album American Dreams, which featured Michael Brecker on saxophone and Brian Blade on drums. Mehldau released Places on Warner Brothers in 2000. He continued to work towards more original compositions on this album, on tracks such as "Los Angeles II."
Also in 2000, Mehldau's trio returned to the Village Vanguard in Manhattan to record their live sets for Art of the Trio Volume V. Once again, his dazzling ability to reharmonize is on display in his interpretation of the Gershwin song "How Long Has This Been Going On." In 2001, Mehldau released Largo, which up to that year ended up being his most experimental and extended release as it featured a brass section as well as many original compositions. His original composition "When It Rains" is a strong selection from this album.
Mehldau's productivity as a musician has accelerated, releasing the albums Anything Goes and Live In Tokyo. Notable songs from these selections include his interpretations of "Still Crazy After All These Years" and "River Man." In 2005, Mehldau released Day Is Done, but replaced Jorge Rossy with Jeff Ballard on drums. Notable songs from the album include "Martha My Dear" and "Alfie."
In 2006, Mehldau released House on Hill, a release with Renee Fleming entitled Love Sublime in 2007, and The Complete Friday Night Sets.
Mehldau also made an album with guitarist Pat Metheny called Metheny Mehldau Quartet. Key songs from the album include "“A Night Away," a co-composition by the two artists. Mehldau also played on saxophonist Michael Brecker’s last album Pilgrimage, which also featured Herbie Hancock on piano, Jack DeJohnette on drums, and John Patitucci on bass.
Mehldau has lived in New York City and Los Angeles off and on over the last decade.
Select Discography As Brad Mehldau
As Brad Mehldau
Introducing Brad Mehldau (Warner, 1995)
The Art of the Trio I (Warner, 1996)
The Art of the Trio II (Warner, 1997)
The Art of the Trio III (Warner, 1998)
Elegiac Cycle (Warner, 1999)
Places (Warner, 2000)
Largo (Warner, 2001)
With Joshua Redman
Moodswing (Warner, 1994)
Captured Live (Jazz Door, 1994)
Timeless Tales (For Changing Times) (Warner, 1998)
With Pat Metheny
Metheny Mehldau Quartet (Nonesuch, 2007)
Contributor: Jared Pauley
In Conversation with Brad Mehldau by Ted Panken
Assessing Brad Mehldau at Mid-Career by Ted Gioia
The Dozens: Twelve Essential Brad Mehldau Performances by Ted Gioia