Brad Mehldau Writing

Table of Contents:
> House on Hill > Love Sublime > Love Sublime (poem text) > Elegiac Cycle (excerpt) > Back at the Vanguard: The Art of the Trio, Volume 4 (excerpt) > Progression: Art of the Trio, Volume 5 > Places (excerpt) > Peter Bernstein: Heart’s Content > Joel Frahm: Don’t Explain > Mark Turner: In This World > Sam Yahel: Truth and Beauty

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Brad Mehldau Writing

Brad Mehldau House On Hill

I wrote the music on this record for the trio that I led for roughly a decade, from 1994 to 2004, with Larry Grenadier and Jorge Rossy. Seven of the tracks come from a two-day session in 2002, where we recorded eighteen songs. We decided to split that material into originals of mine and interpretations of existing songs, and the latter group became Anything Goes, released in 2004. The originals are presented here with two songs from a more recent recording session, “August Ending” and “Fear and Trembling.” All of the songs were written between 2000 and 2002, and they form a time capsule of my writing then, and of the way the trio was playing together. To the extent that the music was conceived specifically for the three of us, the writing and playing are tied into each other. Since the record is all original material, I thought I’d share my personal experience with jazz composition. The advantages of the idiom are the same things that make it problematic for me as a composer. The very condition that allows for expressivity implies its own limitation. The successful integration of composed and improvised material has always been a challenge for me. It warrants a discussion of form, or more specifically, the dialectic between the fixed form of the composed music and the (ideally) unfixed content of the improvised music. In a strictly formal sense, the music on this record sits well within the “theme and variations” model that has long been the dominant approach of small ensembles in jazz. Defined succinctly, it goes as follows: The theme is stated first, often referred to as the “head.” Improvisation follows, often in the form of a solo, using the opening thematic material, whose structure is repeated indefinitely—like in a classical theme and variations setting—until the soloing is concluded. Generally, the theme is reprised at the end of the composition. Period. That is an admittedly provisional definition of what takes place very often in jazz, but the approach itself has a provisional logic. In one sense, the beginning thematic material has a merely temporary role because it doesn’t develop further. The improvisation that ensues will usually constitute the bulk of the performance. On the other hand, the improvisation is bound to the initial thematic structure for its duration, repeating it over and over again. Within the bounds of functional harmony, two or more people cannot improvise the large-scale development of a theme, like we find in the exposition of a classical sonata’s allegro movement, because they cannot read each other’s mind. The bass player cannot know, for example, that the piano player wishes to modulate to another key; the piano player cannot know that the bass player wishes to stay a bit longer in the original key. So, the theme and variations approach allows the soloist to correspond with the rest of the band. The efficacy of the approach lies in its expediency: It provides a quick and clear way for the soloist to improvise with a high degree of spontaneity. The harmonic material that underpins the solo, though, with its tension and resolution, will provide a narrative backdrop—a place of origin and a destination. A balance is reached between something fixed and something open-ended. For me, this technique has always been rewarding as an improviser, but can be confining as a composer. It strongly implies a specific relationship between harmony and melody. In much of tonal music, the union of those two elements is an ideal. Harmony—simply two or more tones sounding in unison—is not so much an end in itself; rather, it is the outcome of two or more melodies taking place simultaneously. Melody has primacy always, and the relationship between two or more melodies creates harmony, which is secondary. In a Bach fugue, we can see this clearly:

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Brad Mehldau Writing
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(Continued) Fig. 1 J.S. Bach, The Art of the Fugue, Contrapunctus 1, excerpt

Looking at the score horizontally—examining the music of each part as it moves across the page—we can see how the bass part, in gray, has a dual role. It harmonically underpins all four voices, providing the foundation that we associate with the bass, yet it also stands alone as a melody. Furthermore, the phrase of the bass voice is in fact the opening theme of the fugue. The entire piece is made from the same stuff. To the extent that each part constantly reasserts the identity of the whole, the musical content, in the moment of utterance, immediately fulfills a formal role as well. Every note is ripe with implication; each voice has a multidimensional character, achieving several functions at once—melodic, harmonic, and formal. The texture of the fugue is appealingly plastic. With its four simultaneous melodies, the piece is constantly in motion. No voice is ever delegated to a mere static accompanying role. Yet within all that flux, a stringent formal economy is never forfeited. When music became less contrapuntal, the model of polyphony that reached its apex in the music of Bach came to be seen by some in prelapsarian terms, as an idealized state of grace from which composition had fallen. The viewpoint still persists. Glenn Gould, for instance, championed Bach’s keyboard works, but did not hide his disregard for whole chunks of the classical piano canon, especially composers like Mozart or Chopin, whose piano music often divided melody and harmony into a single melodic line and a chordal accompaniment. This division may contribute to the pejorative “parlor music” tag that is sometimes attached to Chopin’s piano works. The assignation of melody to the right hand and harmony to the left hand that we find in a big portion of his piano music gives it a certain stylistic homogeneity. Mainstream jazz piano playing has for the most part followed this model of melody and chordal accompaniment in the right hand and left hand respectively. Of course, this division is not in itself a bad thing, but to the extent that it becomes a fixed stylistic procedure, it at least implies an expressive limitation. (continued)

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Brad Mehldau Writing
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(Continued)

This passage of Brahms is less overtly polyphonic than the Bach: Fig. 2 Johannes Brahms, Clarinet Quintet in B Minor, Opus 115, 2nd Movement, excerpt

We hear the clarinet soaring above the other instruments; the division of melody and underlying harmony seems pronounced. Nevertheless, each voice below the clarinet has melodic integrity. The second violin and viola, both in gray, both use a three-beat rhythmic motif that ties together eighth-note triplets and eighth notes. This figure is played in tandem, canon-like. How do we hear this music? The second violin and viola make a strong case to be heard as distinctive voices. But the rhythmic motif they both use, with its alternating tied triplets and eighth notes, is destabilizing, even more so because the two voices are set in overlapping tandem. We begin to hear them as an impressionistic blur of harmony. Brahms hides the melodies of the violin and viola; they are like an undercurrent in a stream that is not visible from the surface. It’s a kind of stealth polyphony. One reason that Brahms is such a model for me is the way he straddles two epochs. He was a master of counterpoint, with its strict rules, yet his music expresses ardent, immediate emotion that we associate with the free flights of romanticism. The Sturm und Drang in his music is tempered by the rigor of its structure. He is fully a child of his time, yet reached back to an earlier epoch for inspiration. Bach’s music was the apotheosis of that epoch.

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the particular is subsumed in the universal. Each voice in the fugue can stand alone. his music still conveys its own kind of teleology in its very architecture. it speaks to us with an arresting austerity. it is also instructive to look at it vertically—to look at the harmony more as chords that sit under the melody—here reduced to a piano score: bradmehldau. and attention to contrapuntal detail. If Haydn’s greatest works epitomized symmetry and order.com Page 4 . he is like Shakespeare in that one can listen to his music and say. If Brahms is a hero of mine because he straddles different epochs. and grace in the evidence that order nevertheless prevails even if it has distanced itself from us. written around the time that Nietzsche pronounced the Death of God. this relationship had already been fractured. and almost Wagnerian harmony at times. rife with soaring melodies. heralded more than just the Romantic period of classical music that ensued. as a salve for the meaninglessness that surrounds us. especially in the church where the music was often presented. a bold gambit in which he raised the stakes for himself. the distance of time between Brahms’s own epoch and Bach’s. Often. for example. taken here simply as the condition that arises when an object is placed in an opposing context. in the form of musical practical jokes. Temperance. the emotional effect—for me at least—is a cathartic feeling of tragedy and grace: the tragic impossibility of meeting with that non-ironic orderliness again. It was nothing less than a musical response to the onset of modernity itself. nothing need follow. to the music of Bach. With all its romantic outpouring. The felt distance gives Brahms’s music a two-tiered aspect. The musical representation of structure and order is necessarily viewed from a distance. compositional economy. The teleological argument put forth in Bach’s music in his own time was a given: it posited an ultimate order to everything and answered with its own order. is still seen as a virtue. Amidst the emotional abandon of the musical content. they often contained ironic comments on that order. Yet it gives Brahms’s music its multidimensional character: The Clarinet Quintet is one of his most unapologetically romantic works.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau House On Hill (Continued) The expression of self-conscious irony in the music of Beethoven. yet is always in the service of the greater whole. as in the final passacaglia movement of his last symphony. it was an act of defiance. was no mere nostalgic Rückblick. in its formal coherency. it was a manifestation of God’s perfection and was easily understood as such in Bach’s own time. Bach’s music did not pale in comparison to his predecessors because it lacked an ironic stance. on the contrary. Brahms’s more immediate predecessor. Brahms’s music. its very structure points to an order that is immutable. this whole genre could have stopped here and would seem complete. gypsy-spirited cadenzas from the clarinet. take from someone like Brahms? If we go back to that same passage of the Clarinet Quintet. it boosts it. or the fugal sections of his German Requiem— as stylistic backpedaling. The rupture had taken place at least two musical generations earlier. The structure doesn’t take away from the emotional impact. Irony. as a condition of modernity. To follow Hegel. At the same time. By the time Brahms came along. Brahms reached back one generation further past this worldly conceit of Classicism. where there is never any question of context in each single voice. has no place in Bach’s great fugues. Some of Brahms’s critics saw the way in which he incorporated Baroque gestures—sometimes more overtly. how could one straddle two different epochs in the context of jazz composition and improvisation? What could a jazz musician. in this quintet as in so much of Brahms’s music. One could argue that it began before Romanticism in the High Classicism of a composer like Haydn.

thus the necessity of a reduction. With the exception of indicating a mode. his musical choices become more spelled out. the beautiful figuration in the inner voices is gone. much of the character of the composition. Or are they? In this piano reduction. the less room the soloist has to truly improvise. Would we not want to go back and make a more detailed account of the passage in its original form. As a hypothetical example. For example. with chord symbols that attempt to address the melodic voice-leading in the score. we’ve forfeited the chromatic descent of the viola as it dips down to an F natural on its second note. In figure three.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau House On Hill (Continued) Fig. That mere stepwise motion in the first moments of the movement adds piquancy and color to the first two bars. and with it. it would hinder a jazz soloist. and his freedom to make spontaneous musical decisions is increasingly usurped. 3 Piano reduction of fig. though. With each chord symbol. 2 The chord symbols above the staff are the kinds that are used in jazz. seen in the original score in figure two. The primary limitation of this triad-based system of harmonic nomenclature is that it does not effectively account for inner voice movement—for all that great stuff between each chord. his actions become more dictated.com Page 5 . in fact. the rich inner voice movement of the viola and second violin— Brahms’s stealth polyphony—has been swabbed away. and this is the rub: The more specified the inner voice movement becomes. take it away and we’re left with a rather pedestrian series of plagal cadences that sound more like a Lutheran hymn. which is less common. They are all a soloist would need to improvise on the music here. We quickly see why it doesn’t work: (continued) bradmehldau. It would not make for a richer improvising experience. we need only illustrate the first bar of the Brahms in unreduced form. jazz chord symbols generally designate chords that begin as triads and then expand from there. one that addresses the incompleteness of the chord symbols in the above reduction? It would offer the improviser more material to solo on. and it would be more accurate. These notes are pivots because of their strong triadic harmonic implication. and what’s left are the tones that act as “pivot points” within the figuration.

and the accompanying sounding notes that form its chord. we hear the harmony that works most effectively with these chord symbols. if it is to remain viable as a vehicle for improvisation. 2. through the years. to a whole school of piano playing that does not address voice leading—the melodic implication of each chord tone. 4 Jazz notation of fig. the necessarily vertical nature of the harmony in this system has led. There are several different ways to spell this with our chord symbols. most notably by discouraging the kind of melodic inner voice movement we see in the Brahms. as seen in the Bach. which prizes the simultaneous melodic activity of all the voices. consider the harmonic implication of the sixth chord symbol. when we make a “chart” or “lead sheet. a preexisting fugal texture. The three middle voices do convey an E diminished triad. because the music at this moment supersedes this kind of strictly triadic design. both highlighted. The upshot of that is a form of composition with several potential limitations. from one to the next. but to a tendency inherent in the method of expression. another phenomenon in jazz is the existence of a homogenized set of voicings that musicians playing chordal instruments use behind the soloist. Again. then. offers the antithesis of harmonic freedom for an improviser to the extent that everything is already mapped bradmehldau. As a jazz composer then.” we try to not fill up the page with those symbols in such a way that the chart is too dense. suspended over the cello’s tonic pedal point on the B. In general terms. In this appraisal. I don’t wish to say that these observations point to a poverty in the music itself per se. That is all well and good for the soloist. does not account for the clarinet’s melody note of D sharp that so beautifully suspends the tonic major mode over the other voices. the ideally open-ended quality of this kind of harmonic indication used in jazz paradoxically contributes to a certain stylistic homogeneity: namely.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau House On Hill (Continued) Fig. Furthermore. Secondly. yet none of them will be completely accurate. m. 1 It looks like a nightmare on the page—I’ve added arrows to show which symbol corresponds with which chord—and it is not possible to address all that information in real time. yet there is also an E minor chord when we pair two of them with the low B of the cello. and all of them will be extraneous. Finally.com Page 6 . This symbol for the E diminished triad. but by implication. or during their own solo. it restricts the composer.

but Monk the harmonist. and the notes fall across the bar line on a separate tier that is nevertheless conjoined with the actual meter. The more shorthand those chord symbols are. and it’s a useful visual metaphor in seeing how the melodic content of the solo sits apart from those chords. One of the greatest examples of this phenomenon. is a profound study in rhythmic displacement. (This is not always the case. Yet his melodies are often grounded in simple harmony. wrong-sounding places within the rhythmic meter.” for bradmehldau. This is why classical music often does not lend itself to jazz improvisation. The harmony is thought of vertically: In the jazz vernacular. a soloist is said to be “blowing over” or “on” the chords. it is more like the remaining broken shards of a melody that once existed. 5 Thelonious Monk. we realize that the melody has its own internal logic: it’s as if it’s set to a different meter than that of the existing 4/4. is Thelonious Monk. and land in what seem to be random. The melody on Monk’s “Evidence.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau House On Hill (Continued) out. of course.com Page 7 . They are sparse. more often than not. Write all the idiosyncratic melody you want for your initial melody. simple in design. they are also some of the more challenging ones to execute convincingly. another example is “Trinkle Trinkle. the more freedom the soloist and the accompanying rhythm section have to fill them out and collectively improvise together.” is a whole other subject.” which might be the most supremely difficult essay of Monk’s. Monk wrote some of the most ingeniously idiosyncratic melodies that were ever written in any genre of music. albeit in an extremely syncopated manner. but it is simplicity of a specific nature: the simplicity of the material that is used for improvisation. and one of my compositional heroes in jazz music. Songs that everyone knows and that form a loose canon of readily available vehicles for improvisation in a variety of contexts become standards because they lend themselves to this format most readily. then.” for example. Here are the first eight bars: Fig. and the chords that are provided have a shorthand nature.” excerpt Indeed. “Evidence. but if the harmony that lies under it is simple enough. Trying to use a preexisting contrapuntal format as a vehicle for improvisation is like serving a steak with a big scoop of ice cream on top of it. But after hearing the melody a few times. Jazz improvisation that involves harmony. It is redundant and ineffective to write out jazz chord symbols for such music. we almost need another name than melody here. you’ll never alienate the other people who play your tune when it comes time to improvise. To say that a jazz composition is simple is by no means pejorative. on tunes like “Pannonica” or “Monk’s Mood. “Evidence” is a particularly tricky head in terms of its rhythm. it is adding to something that is already effectively complete. on the contrary.) The harmony of “Evidence. simplicity is treasured. on its own platform. and within the jazz canon. They are. often favors a chordal texture.

After everyone gets through the tricky head and breathes a collective sigh of relief. But how? It’s hard to be original as a composer in jazz. This might seem obvious and not worthy of mention. This is already taking place in the initial written melody before Monk even solos. Although the melody is unique to Monk. and what they know comes from an arbitrary variety of musical sources. Or are we? Let’s say that “Evidence” is played at a jam session. for instance. making us forget about the whole question of context in the first place. played out in a typical problematic scenario in jazz. to varying extents. after all. each playing his or her own bag. the success of an improvisation depends not on how well it fits into the given context of the composition—after all. removing himself from the original object. So we’re on common ground once the improvisation starts. To me.com Page 8 . That shouldn’t suggest that one should address a given style in jazz in one’s solos—that you should play like Johnny Hodges if you’re an alto saxophonist playing a Duke Ellington composition. The question is whether this might constitute an aesthetic flaw. Monk was onto something else. The aesthetic poverty of many jam sessions rests on a kind of weak irony: The players are completely out of context with each other. That will rest ultimately on the fantasy and originality of the individual soloist. whether or not it sounds good does not rest on the chords themselves. but that’s not by design.” a popular song with facile harmony. It’s instructive to look at the way Monk fused his writing and his improvising together. the chords that are blown over are well within the normative range of jazz—any musician with an understanding of functional harmony will be able to play something that corresponds with them. I mean that the musical content unfolds with a narrative logic. once we get to the improvisation. It would be troubling if it did.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau House On Hill (Continued) instance. each idea springs from the previous one. we don’t necessarily want to hear someone try to imitate Monk when playing a Monk tune. it’s just because they’re all playing what they already know. and. It all works.” but a Monk tune seems to ask more of the soloist. maybe it’s even harder to be an original soloist. looking at it from a distance. To hold such a strategy up as a rule is to essentially give up improvising. and it involves the actual development of themes during his solo. The content of his melodies became fodder for his own solos. By development. written by Jesse Greer in the 1930s. though. like in the first eight bars of the melody in “I Mean You”: (continued) bradmehldau. is derived from “Just You. The pianist follows with a mix of Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner. The tenor saxophonist follows with a Wayne Shortercirca-1963 thing. Just Me. the trumpet player takes the first solo and does a Miles Davis-circa-1958 approach. but Monk’s music brings up a common dilemma in jazz: How much should the improviser address the tune? Is it okay to just get through the melody and then start playing your own grab bag of licks once the soloing starts? That approach may work well enough on a jazz standard like “Autumn Leaves. The success depends more on how much the solo transcends the context of the tune. his solo vocabulary was not derived from fundamentally different stuff than that of his compositions. because what has just taken place on the head is so striking and full of meaning. riffing on the melody is one way in which jazz improvisation began to flower in its early stages. Here we’ve come back to the question of irony again. because you could argue that there is an ironic aspect to the whole phenomenon of normative jazz improvisation: When a player blows on a tune. So the way to escape the problem of context is to create your own context. he or she is commenting on that tune. The various styles that the soloists call on in that hypothetical Monk situation seem to step outside of the context of the composition.

The way in which this organic development continues during Monk’s solo suggests that when a song has a deeply embedded architecture like that of “I Mean You. instead of the more typical approach of using punctuated chords. and the looseness of his feel kept the whole thing from sounding fusion-like in a bad way. They act like a tail that has been cut off and changes its shape.com Page 9 . This thick texture of the piano part runs the risk of usurping the role of the drums. it is more architectural in nature. of playing on them. as is the case here. by incorporating the thematic material of my tunes into my solos in a variety of ways.” it will lend itself to formally richer solos. It is traditionally the drums that will provide a constant stream of rhythm within a band. 6 Thelonious Monk. The most immediate method of resolving the vagaries of context that I’ve discussed above is to have your own band. I imagined them playing the music here as I was writing it. Jorge found a way of merging with what I was doing that gave these kind of tunes their particular shape and buoyancy. Playing with Larry Grenadier and Jorge Rossy gave me a strong yet malleable context in which to write this music. For instance. Jorge always managed to play free from a fixed bradmehldau. and a note is added. completely unique to him. On these tunes. Whenever something is added. the whole “tail” shifts upward a half step. and one interval is diminished. “August Ending” or “Backyard” were viable for me because of a way that Jorge had. The two become one fused entity: The musical content of the initial melody becomes formal when it is used throughout the duration of the solo. but only if the soloist is aware of the architecture and wishes to comment on it. “I Mean You. and I’d like to close with a few comments about that. I make a lot out of this because Monk pointed a way for me through the challenge I mentioned at the beginning of these notes—the integration of composed and improvised material. Monk set the bar for an approach to improvisation in which form itself becomes an expressive means. D. In bar three. like Bach in his time. Monk has created his own context and there is no discrepancy between the composition and the improvisation. I take my cue from his method throughout this record to varying degrees. and C—respectively. the order of the three notes is changed.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau House On Hill (Continued) Fig. as a jazz musician playing your own tunes. When the composer is also the improviser. the rhythm is changed. yet there I am already playing eighth notes all the time. from which so much intervallic material is derived throughout the course of the melody. it always expands directly from what has preceded it. In fact. managed to break through that dialectic of musical form and content. I state the harmony under my melody as a constant stream of eighth notes. In this way. and the character of this music is determined to a large extent by their approach. it’s a done deal. His drumming gave a flow to the music and kept the piano part from sounding too much like an opaque blanket that covered the whole sound by locking it into a fixed schema.” excerpt The last three notes of the opening phrase are immediately developed before Monk goes any further. In bar four. It is no mere performative utterance. this three-note motif that seems to spring from the last part of the opening phrase already has an earlier origin: the very first three notes of the tune—F. Monk. continuing the thread of chromatic alteration. and was an incredibly rewarding experience.

In these notes. the most immediately felt presence of Larry and Jorge as we played together for several years. that also appears at the ending coda section of “Waiting for Eden. Jorge. I’ve tried to demonstrate some of the currents of thought that shaped the music here. 7 Brad Mehldau. in part because the music was written with them in mind. here are the first few bars: Fig. and this allowed me to write more than I would in a comparatively generic jazz format. This relates to one of the big challenges in jazz composition for me that I mentioned earlier: to not write too much. Finally. Another example of this “over-writing” is in the piano part of “Boomer. Western classical music. blowing over it. as a rule. of course. and. March 2006 bradmehldau. It calls for a different strategy on each tune—on “Bealtine” or “Fear and Trembling. where a provisional balance between the written material and the improvised sections is reached. that’s the approach we take here. yet has a melodic flow in the stepwise movement of the sixteenth notes. informed by jazz heroes of mine like Thelonious Monk. I opted to keep the written left-hand figure as part of the solo section for roughly the first six or seven bars. and I achieved together as a band. As we played this tune and it developed in performance. consequently. In my view.” is my attempt at that stealth polyphony of Brahms in a jazz improvisational context: it supplies the harmonic information that underpins the melodic content of the right hand. This became less of an issue from playing with Larry and Jorge for a long period of time: They both found ways to express themselves fully in the music. where several streams of influence coalesced into a broadly identifiable style that I would cautiously call my own. it also represents for me the apex of what Larry.” for example. there is less actual written material than in “August Ending” or “Boomer”. Throughout the record.” excerpt This kind of figuration in the left hand. or not write in such a way that there is no longer room to improvise fluently. the approach that the three of us collectively take is less idiosyncratic. The more that is written out. before moving to a more chordal approach in the left hand for the remainder of the chorus. “Boomer. yet still with a deeply felt sense of the architecture of whatever tune we were playing.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau House On Hill (Continued) repeated pattern. there are compromises of this sort. the more idiosyncratic the approach becomes. – Brad Mehldau. it represents a point that I reached with regard to composition.com Page 10 . I hope that the listener enjoys this record as a time capsule of sorts.” The head of the tune was written out fairly explicitly.

with its idea that our judging. as in. but that word. The gnosis itself becomes the Godhead for the poet at these points: a moment of grace. and he chides God for it. He is not afraid of confronting his own pain in that solitude. suggest Gnosticism. These poems came shortly after Rilke’s return from a Russian monastery. Rilke alludes to a kind of gnosis—a grasping of some deeper truth that is not available to us in everyday reality.” by contrast. but is he in fact speaking to a deity. and we feel his aloneness in these poems. the problem is people and what they do with God’s words: they “only half hear them. God is spoken about in the third person. and they speak to the ambivalence that many of us experience as we question and formulate our beliefs. fatherly God is in fact an impostor. In that holy moment. bradmehldau. Throughout these poems.” he explains. opposing impulses in these poems. At times. The Book of Hours can impart a feeling of inner strife and unresolved conflict. In “The hour is striking so close above me. Rilke sometimes hovers around the periphery of that experience. with its extremes of ecstasy and turmoil. he suggests. for Rilke.” the mere potentiality of gnosis is the subject. maybe only fleeting. He is hopelessly far away. Rilke struggles to reconcile two strong. In contrast. Rilke doesn’t trust the “Word” of God. In that poem. “I love the dark hours of my being. rather. Again. A Gnostic strain can be felt throughout The Book of Hours. Rilke has abandoned the dualism of himself and a God that stands apart from him. He clearly cherished the solitude. On the one hand. difficult nature of Rilke’s meditation. and the striving intensity of his experience. where he had been for some weeks. a majestic resignation or a sense of having overcome some great struggle.” God is viewed in yet another light here.” There. Rilke is seeking out a relationship with God. because of what that dark period yields when he surrenders to it: “Then the knowing comes: I can open / to another life that’s wide and timeless. who has used that Word to justify all sorts of folly? In “His caring is a nightmare to us. But this particular young person eventually wrote poems that in all their wisdom and grace impart an almost sacred authority. fittingly. “God. The original title of The Book of Hours was simply Gebete—prayers. as is the sense of foreboding he conveys. or is he addressing man. the familiarity with which the poet addresses his omnipotent Creator is striking. These poems are the testament of a young person’s evolving spirituality.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau Reneé Fleming A Love Sublime The Book of Hours: Love Poems to God is a set of early poems written by Rainer Maria Rilke in his early twenties that. Rilke expresses his ambiguity by varying the way he addresses God throughout these poems.” God’s third-person status here. he speaks directly to Him as one would to another person. “…there’s a power in me / to grasp and give shape to my world. In a later set of poems like The Duino Elegies. we form God within ourselves in a perpetual act of creativity. speak with a younger voice than does his mature work. there is a deep desire for an authentic religious experience. So we listen closely to Rilke’s youthful voice. “Your first word was light. The seven poems that I have selected hone in on the questioning. at times.” signifies anguish and folly—manmade folly—for him at the same time. there is a profound enmity toward the dogmatic. and that our prayers to him are in vain. he welcomes it. a knowledge that he is granted by simply being ready and unafraid.” which I chose to begin the set. and on the other hand. patriarchal entity that is often bound with that same experience. sketching its contours for us.com Page 1 . there is. and Rilke cannot reach Him at all. and the distance and misunderstanding between Him and us that Rilke conveys. in fact.

In “Extinguish my eyes. The subjective immediacy and emotional ambivalence of the narrator in a poem like “Tears in Sleep” are unmistakably modern.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau Reneé Fleming A Love Sublime (Continued) In spite of his deep humanism and his palpable distrust of organized religion and its accompanying dogma. One starting point for finding the rhythm of the vocal phrases in both sets of songs was to imagine them being spoken. or.” for example. I chose this poem to come last because it directly expresses the passion that lies within all of these poems. following the contours of the heroic sonnet form of the poem. Renée Fleming introduced me to the 20th-century American poet Louise Bogan. My deep love of the genre of art song informs everything I wrote here. suggests song. one in which he will lose himself completely. In their partially improvised performances. Translating an improvisatory style of singing to paper was appealing to me. precisely because I’ve left nothing to chance and there is no improvisation involved. favoring the lower register of the instrument. yet Bogan’s mastery of meter and rhyme and the formal economy of her poems reveal a deep grasp of tradition. and brief piano interludes comment on each stanza. metrically “correct” place in time.” there’s no trace of ambivalence in Rilke’s devotion. Even on its own.” I split the poem into three-line sections. Other sources of inspiration. unfold. the free verse of Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy’s simply rendered Rilke translations has a conversational aspect. I was able to take advantage of the written-out aspect of a full-scale composition to elaborate with a fair degree of specificity on some of the vocal styles I grew up listening to. “A Tale” alters and develops the material of the opening stanza throughout the song and is the most expansive of the three. much of their style is determined by rhythmic displacement—by the way a particular singer’s phrases begin. Likewise. I have made the piano part dense. he is ready for anything. speaking them myself. performances where the melody was never so specifically written out. giving the rhythmic placement of the individual syllabic sounds greater significance. that is. Often. This gives the songs a strophic aspect—“Memory” being the most literally strophic with three verses and a coda. even if it means his own immolation. Often in these pieces. That passion is nothing less than a thirst for God. “Tears in Sleep” in particular illustrates this constant divergence in sound and sentiment that marks her style. specifically for the rhythmic phrasing of the vocal line. but the austere beauty of the meter and the word choice make the complexity poignant. The strict economy of Bogan’s language is sharply contrasted by the dense amount of actual content that is communicated. applying the rhythms of natural speech to the vocal line. I “talked out” all the poems before and during the composition. The three poems from Bogan that I have set come from The Blue Estuaries. Each has a short piano introduction before the vocal entrance. her poetry seems musical to me: simply reading the lilting iambic tetrameter of “A Tale. Bogan favors words with only one syllable. Rilke never shies away from a genuinely religious experience. In particular. bradmehldau. my musical settings are unified by traditional formal gestures. The poems are full of finely wrought ideas and emotions that may be multilayered and full of contradictions.com Page 2 . came from singers that I admire who are not beholden to a literal interpretation of a music text. Writing in the lower register of the piano appealed to me sonically because of the way the high soprano voice and the piano then cover such a broad range: for example. the distance between voice and piano is exploited on “Extinguish My Eyes” to convey the extremity of Rilke’s words. I’ll go on seeing you. and end ahead or behind the expected. a collection she compiled herself toward the end of her life as a retrospective of her strongest work from 1923 to 1968. in the case of “Tears in Sleep. with its “break” between the third and fourth stanzas.

Having said that.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau Reneé Fleming A Love Sublime (Continued) “Love Sublime.com Page 3 . “Love Sublime” takes its cue more from 19th-century music. and we used a chart. lyrics and chord symbols are given. wears its influences most overtly. to say that my piano part here was simply off the cuff: particularly in my solo passage that restates the melody. under the original title of “Paris. where the melody. I’m roughly following an arrangement that has been under my fingers for a few years now.) This song originally had no words and appeared on a record of mine called Places. though. more commonly found in jazz or pop music. Here. the singer and lyricist Fleurine. or lead sheet. It is my tribute of sorts to art song as a genre.” is the one exception. (It would be disingenuous.” My wife. her ease in this kind of setting is a testament to her experience with jazz singing. and out of all the songs here. and the rest is fleshed out in the performance. – Brad Mehldau bradmehldau. wrote the lyrics here and gave the song new meaning for me. the rhythmic looseness of Renée’s phrasing is all her own. and to everything that I’ve absorbed and love about that mode of musical expression.

but never call us ─ We can’t bear to know what’s ahead.com Page 1 . 1 The hour is striking so close above me. You be our refuge from the wrath that drove us out of Paradise. so clear and sharp. Go on writing in faces and stone what your silence means. Are you about to speak again? I don’t want your third word. Then for long you were silent. Your second word was man. My looking ripens things And they come toward me. Macy I. 44 Your first word was light. Let all your doing be by gesture only. All becoming has needed me. Sometimes I pray: Please don’t talk. I feel it now: there’s a power in me to grasp and give shape to my world. and fear began. that all my senses ring with it. Be our Shepard. bradmehldau. to meet and be met.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau Reneé Fleming Love Sublime Seven Songs from Rainer Maria Rilke’s “The Book of Hours: Love Poems to God” English translation by Anita Barrows and Joanna R. and time began. I know that nothing has ever been real without my beholding it. I. which grips us still.

the song we sang in every silence. you. Then the knowing comes: I can open to another life that’s wide and timeless. as in old letters. and understood. You. Disguised since childhood. you. So I am sometimes like a tree rustling over a gravesite and making real the dream of the one its living roots embrace: a dream once lost among sorrows and songs.com Page 2 . 11 No one lives his life. 5 I love the dark hours of my being. the great homesickness we could never shake off. and we grew sturdy in your sunlight… Let your hand rest on the rim of Heaven now And mutely bear the darkness we bring over you. 25 I love you. My mind deepens into them. the forest that always surrounded us. on the day you made us you created yourself. and held like a legend. II. I. Haphazardly assembled bradmehldau. gentlest of Ways who ripened us as we wrestled with you.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau Reneé Fleming Love Sublime (Continued) I. There I can find. you dark net threading through us. already lived. the days of my life.

Maybe all paths lead there. 6 His caring is a nightmare to us. to the repository of unlived things. bradmehldau. Seal my ears. II. Our true face never speaks. And without feet I can make my way to you. We watch his lips moving. And if you consume my brain with fire. II. 7 Extinguish my eyes. The big drama between us Makes too much noise for us to understand each other. shaping sounds that die away.com Page 3 . I’ll take hold of you with my heart as with a hand. We feel endlessly distant. I’ll go on seeing you. Only when we notice that he is dying do we know he lived. and his voice a stone.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau Reneé Fleming Love Sublime (Continued) From voices and fears and little pleasures. We come of age as masks. Somewhere there must be storehouses where all these lives are laid away like suits of armor or old carriages or clothes hanging limply on the walls. I’ll go on hearing you. without a mouth I can swear your name. We would like to heed his words. Break off my arms. and my brain will start to beat. I’ll feel you burn in every drop of my blood. but we only half hear them. though we are endlessly bound by love. Stop my heart.

Memory Do not guard this as rich stuff without mark Closed in a cedarn dark. Nor let it be as eggs under the wings Of helpless. The tripping racket of a clock. He goes to see what suns can make From soil more indurate and strange.com Page 4 . A Tale This youth too long has heard the break Of waters in a land of change. And I. startled things. A labor of tears. And pain’s derisive hand had given me rest From the night giving off flames. like shards and straw upon coarse ground. Nor lay it down with tragic masks and greaves. false grief in my happy bed. Shed tears. on a stranger’s breast. I clung to the bars of the dream and they were said. That any spade may strike. under a moon like day. Of little worth when found. I had tears to say. He cuts what holds his days together And shuts him in. in the cage of sleep. and the dark renewing.– Rubble in gardens. nor any glory Perverse and transitory. Rather. Nor encompassed by songs. like a task not to be put away – In the false light. set against joy’s undoing. it and stones alike. I would not wake at your word. Licked by the tongues of leaves. bradmehldau. as lock on lock: The arrowed vane announcing weather.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau Reneé Fleming Love Sublime (Continued) Three Songs from Louise Bogan’s “The Blue Estuaries” Tears in Sleep All night the cocks crew.

– A land with hills like rocky gates Where no sea leaps upon itself.com Page 5 . torn fire glares On beautry with a rusted mouth. I’ll fly with you.. Die close to you. I think.. south Of hidden deserts. You will find no tomorrow there nor a yesterday.Words by Fleurine Take me by the hand. But he will find that nothing dares To be enduring. Words by FleurineII. we’ll go – into dreamlike space.– Where something dreadful and another Look quietly upon each other. We’re in our secret place… Weightlessly I’ll dance with you the oldest dance – Love sublime.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau Reneé Fleming Love Sublime (Continued) Seeking. No one else will find us there. a light that waits Still as a lamp upon a shelf. 11 bradmehldau. Love Sublime . Free from time we’ll spread our wings and lit with love. save where.

There are the deaths of loved ones. no truth or goodness realized by man ever dies. in the sense that its essence is invisible. maybe. no matter how unappealing it might be. Another Thomas. literature. and give it a facelift or two. Because of this commonality. objectified. there is a fear of our own end. from the most profound to the most prosaic death of them all ..” But there are so many works that aren’t elegies proper. an overlap of sentiments. only so is he in a position. throwing away your favorite shoes that have had it. a painting. has no taste. it was always a confirmation of something shared between myself and its creator. But a novel. or can die.com Page 1 . using all the trickery and witchcraft of its medium.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau Elegiac Cylce Vita Brevis Ars Longa One of the qualities of art that attracted me initially was its seemingly mystical ability to raise up the everyday experience of life and transfigure it. Being exposed to new music. lamenting the death of a cultural epoch: Thomas Mann’s Gustav Aschenbach symbolically mourns the death of romanticism in ‘Death In Venice’. The very gift of style.” There are concrete examples that clearly mourn the loss of a person or people: Musical compositions like Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.” Laments-lamenting the loss of springtime and youth. that paradoxically drives us to live and create. Elegies I’ve always been attracted to elegiac works of art. give it beauty. Tonio Kröger. art was the first evidence I had of something spiritual. say what you like. extra-human.when you’ve got to part with something you love because it’s the very thing that’s killing you. we find an elegiac strain in the late period of any artist’s output: the poignancy of Bill Evans’ 1977 rendition of “You Must Believe in Spring” or Chet Baker’s achingly ironic late take on “Blame It On My Youth. willful deaths .end of a relationship. one that I carry in a world where nothing around me seems permanent. Often. Again. for example. In literature as well.” Evidence of the indestructible quality of “truth or goodness” in art is more than a matter of posterity. would go one step further. Or. to present it.” Thus an acknowledgment.. ungraspable. an elegiac strain is often apparent. and kinship.. the historian Carlyle.at once a sacrament and a celebration. yet are elegiac in character. Death is a metaphor . losing a job. to portray it to good effect. taken away without our consent. there was a mystical feeling to all of this for me: I got to partake in a communion with someone who might have been dead for centuries! To use a vague catch-word. and the like was never a discovery for me. It’s a comforting knowledge. if you will. that mourn so many kinds of loss.. “This is what you are. This process is explained by Thomas Mann’s character. said: “Nothing that was worthy in the past departs. a breaking of bread takes place between artist and beholder . and in his ‘Doctor Faustus’. inner level.to represent it. the protagonist/composer Adrian Leverkühn loses his soul to the devil in order to create modern music – bradmehldau. Perhaps the most commonplace everyday experience of life is: death. On a deep. Human Condition 101. he must stand in a queer aloof relationship to our humanity.” Art seems to say to its recipient. who gives us a rather fatalistic dictum: “The artist must be unhuman.what the French aptly call “la petite mort. I understand. giving a garage sale. On the contrary. a crucial step: It would nurture and embrace this sentiment. Worst of all. Much of Brahms’ late music.” or John Coltrane’s “Alabama. is the death of hope: resignation. leaving a city you lived in for years. non-perishable: eternal. from a tender age. in all its manifestations. For sound natural feeling. of form and expression is nothing more than this cool and fastidious attitude towards humanity . a piece of music.

the devil gives the composer Leverkühn these words of sarcastic wisdom: “Convince yourself that the tedious has become interesting because the interesting has become tedious. We’ve seen the advent of sampling: Take a funky beat from a ‘70s LP. blow some licks over it. And they mourned . Jack Kerouac.” we say with irony (alas..” To be a Master you must do one or more of the following: A. It hard-sells us a bill of goods and cynically pre-writes our emotional response. The ever shorter and shorter life span of each trend perpetuates a sentiment that’s characteristic of some of our jazz critics these days: a fetishistic obsession with “Masters. art followed suit.. nothing more. there’s a defeatist ring to all this . To speak of creating anything “timeless” today has a whiff of ludicrous naiveté. Allen Ginsberg. in artistic matters it seems to be just this: a kind of sickness of our endless commentary within the work.America’s loss of naiveté. self-conscious irony layered on top of irony in a movie that knows it’s a movie that knows it’s a movie. Often.. So count me out of “The Information Age. throwbackism? If that’s the case. Parody. But our perception of it has perhaps been blurred by all the commodities at our disposal.. with grim humor. Romantic Irony becomes a twisted off-spring of itself.” Observing this autonomy. Why bother to get a real drummer who can lay down a groove? Every groove is at our disposal already. Bad faith like that is easy to understand. This dupes us into buying the next flavor of the week. our trickster-moralist who told us that it’s all about 15 minutes of fame. “We’ll do the commenting for you. When folks became enlightened. It says. bradmehldau. We’ve grown weary of our ironies.bygone days. just stay nice and dumbed-down.. and the sum of these events will shape our understanding of the world. pastiche.. It didn’t take long to figure out that Acid Jazz was just bad Funk. and called this phenomenon Romantic Irony. Beethoven’s contemporaries Frederich Schlegel and Novalis noted that now art had the ability to comment on itself. that’s a false personification of something which is truly immortal. giving an illusory sense of closure. I’m not alone. Did we catch his irony? What arises often is a kind of phony immortality.) Imply..”Enough!” Immortality? Has music “suffered”? By my definition. “Experience” implies that the event will stay in our memory. I’m a child of my time . No longer at the service of church or state. When our experiences become commodified. that you are nothing short of a Messiah.” Andy Warhol is our Oscar Wilde.. To be sure. Used for the hard sell like this. But this is all about forgetting. Whatever Postmodernism may be. ruler of an icy Cold-War hell.obsession on the past.these are the tools we use to represent the world around us. The phony immortality that the media presents us with is impermanent in the worst sense.fetishism. and you’ve got Acid Jazz.. music itself can’t “suffer”..) Rise from prolonged.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau Elegiac Cylce (Continued) a metaphoric elegy on Germany’s loss of innocence as a nation after the second World War. B. on the work.) Have a good portion of your work recorded before 1965. they’re gone with the blink of an eye.. unexplainable obscurity. writers like Henry Miller.. a parody on the very idea. with the help of Yes-Men.com Page 2 .us Gen-Xers glom onto the cheddary residue of our recent past with a glee that’s more than a little suspect. In post-war America.” This potentially defeatist outlook on any current creative enterprise is to me nothing more than the legacy of Romanticism.. “Gone but not forgotten. denying.. always with irony).. The problem with all these hybrids is that they’re so impermanent: Like the technology that spawns them. We always return to the original. in a profound sense we’re no longer experiencing anything at all..to a corporate Mephistopheles.at times ecstatically .” To deify information is to pray to a legless stump . C. All well and good as long as we don’t miss the joke in all that. and William Burroughs discerned that America had sold her soul as well . Beethoven created Wilde’s “Art for Art’s Sake. A typically frightening example of this kind of tyranny is soundtrack music on real-world news events being reported.” And the comment is interchangeable whether it’s Desert Storm or flavored coffee.Romanticism.) Die. Sick Of Irony Elegies. D.“What’s left? Why bother? Who cares?” In Mann’s Doctor Faustus. “are the days of disco.

faith.com Page 3 . What’s the feeling? That tingling in your stomach.. and the comfort of something ineluctable that always returns despite our own transience. – Brad Mehldau. the closest models for my elegiac effort are the memory-music of late Beethoven and Schumann. tragic effect: It distracts us from our mortality. until it comes back to us. It says: Whatever feeling you may have that something’s ending forever is illusory. Dying. works that are cyclical. Improvisation would seem to solve the problem of death by constantly dying as it’s being born. A theme that appears in the beginning is referred to and developed through time. and the listener experiences that passing. being remembered. to play on our memory.. showing us how intimate we can be with death. it moves through time. It clings to an image of the young while at the same time leaving a trap-door close by.. Rilke told us in one of his elegies that our perception of beauty is just the beginning of terror. art can still mirror the part of life that’s about hope. And when the wind is knocked out of you. It scoffs at loss. something great takes place: You get to feel your own mortality. Mortality! Alas . it’s already gone forever. The role of time is crucial.life is short. that sweet ache in your gut. What we gain is two-fold: the experience that time grants us. that tickly weakness that creeps over the body when you’re pulled into the music? It’s a kind of death-feeling. And what we gain each time through propels us towards the Manifestation of God. Music doesn’t just represent time. The process of improvisation is a kind of affirmation of mortality: Even in the moment you’re creating something. In matters of form. Everything has an expiration date and the spin doctors have us channel-surfing in a bleary haze of memory loss. transfigured. Everything cycles around again and again . All this can have a sad. art is long. So an elegy can have this purpose: To celebrate those very things that make us mortal. within a millennium. beautifying the “everyday” loss around us. 1999 bradmehldau. Whether music is improvised or written. and revels in its own transience. within a cultural epoch. it has the ability. in a place where ecstasy and mortality-fear overlap. Great music packs a primordial punch. in its time-bound fashion.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau Elegiac Cylce (Continued) The media has manufactured a demented cult of youth.within a single day. Amidst all its fractured ironies. music sings an elegy to itself. staging festivals of bad faith that culminate in sacrificial killings. and that’s precisely its strength.

It wins a phony victory in the very act of its failure. implying as well that an ending had taken place. and with their head in these gray clouds. They feel that they missed an event that’s no longer possible. if not in its present state (which hardly matters). with its shifting perspectives. A person with this kind of backward longing is blind to their own irony. Someone came along after a point in time and lumped it all under one term. has often proved to be capable of staying power. perhaps took place. It’s an irony of history. and a ‘renaissance’ of record sales. in its commitment to bradmehldau. The American artistic ethos I would identify in jazz was. Much of what we call classical was conceived in a subversive spirit. brazenely. and still is. A seemingly innocent term. Language’s precondition is its own hierarchic relation to whatever it’s attempting to name. an unableness to reveal any timeless truths. America’s anti-legacy is pop. and less to the content. ‘Classical’ and ‘pop’ refer more to the supposed life expectancy. oblivious to the music taking place in front of him. If we look under that assertion just a bit. that you’re already defeated. pragmatically speaking. miss the present event. not so disposable. that classical music so often denotes a dominating. ‘pop’ implies a disposable aspect. especially that of music. Its shaky legitimacy depends on a dreary nostaliga for a time when distinctions between the high arts and everything else were more clear. and freedom from a history. ‘Classical’ is a term ripe for deconstruction: It defines itself by a symbiotic Other that belatedly doesn’t rise to its stature. as a precondition. serving us a metaphor that’s limited at best. making a rebirth unnecessary. what was conceived as pop cheats its origins and wins the bid for immortality.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau Trio Back At The Vanguard: Art Of The Trio (Volume 4) I have a built in wariness towards the term ‘Renaissance’ applied to jazz music being played and recorded in recent years. arriving too late. rule-making presence. Classical music. ‘America’s classical music’ doesn’t work either. and. The highbrow tells us that pop’s non-profundity comes from a lack of autonomy in the criteria for its creationintegrity is sacrificed to make a buck. They are often failed prophecies: What was initially called classic reveals itself as a pop anachronism. was often the pop music of its own day. of the actual music. Classical wasn’t called classical when it was being created. Classical and pop as terms tell us nothing definitive about the aesthetic success or failure of the music they refer to. moves beyond their limitations. Understanding music as a kind of utopian language is. with all its old-age authority. This lover of classics will always miss his art object in frustration. but it has everything to do with not being classical. Words have a peculiar penchant for deflating the sentiment out of any cognition. there’s a darker suggestion: That classical music. as high art. It wasn’t as much concerned with autonomy from less noble interests of money and fame as it was freedom from the idea of any moral function in art at all. alas. since it earned its own term.com Page 1 . It involves a perpetual newness. Jazz inherits the Grand Narrative gestures of the classical legacy. contingent on its very rules. always quite removed from all that historical gloom. whining about how jazz will never be like it was in the days when Coltrane played here. that. A resurgence of interest. Music is often understood as a way of speaking in the abstract. It’s nobody’s fault. But should we really paste on a normative historical term to a music that evades the burden of history? The act of improvisation is a perpetual birthing. having the best of both worlds as it were. tells you that you’ll never be as great as it was. and it can initially alienate the listener from the work. This in turn implied that anything after that wasn’t valid. I suspect that the attraction of jazz is that it ideally seeks to inhabit the best part of both of these worlds. Pop. I identify an American ethos in the inception of jazz. because art can’t achieve high or classical sainthood until at least a couple generations of posterity-testing. has a moral authority over its subject. A dubious claim to jazz’s legitimacy is its own watery-eyed parody of this species: the drunk at the bar who talks through the set. Many of us buy into this trope in spite of ourselves. another trope of language.

As a jazz musician of my generation . The Fall myth is usually less about art than it is a stapled on projection. We’re now in a swamp of relativism artwise. to be felt here and now. I locate my personal aesthetic for jazz in that strength: It basks in the human capability to grab at the transcendental with immediacy. and re-animating the stylistic garment into something transfigured. They don’t aspire to a lineage that will play itself out. Music texts are the Prospero’s Books of classical music. which takes place in the improvisation. Thankfully. Hegel prophesized a death of art. The prelapsarian myth of art as a fallen thing from some earlier grace-state is a vestige of high art criticism that jazz need not willfully inherit. Jazz. Yet it out-pops pop in its quick-willed active creation. is the seventies. Again. This dark ages subtext perpetuates another misreading of jazz’s short-lived history in the making: That acoustic music simply stopped until its supposed renaissance. and willed its own critical death. “Can anything still be done with piano trio?” False hope leads to its flipside. free of the usual trial and error of art. and again revealed the essentially media-hyped nature of jazz’s phony renaissance. which differentiates it from the interperative art of classical erformance. a time when jazz succumbed to ‘lower’ influences like rock’n’roll. Pop engages in a kind of harmless nihilism when it offers up a reconstituted nothingness that dies as quickly as a mosquito (if it was ever alive). and infected itself with electric instruments. than of the general fetishistic feeding frenzy of the media on Youth. that smells of bad faith. they don’t want to interpret how someone else did it. To me.which is fine with me. bradmehldau. which presumably is taking place now. Jazz improvisation isn’t born out of any previous text. less indicative of musical quality. in favor of a hit or miss attempt at a kind of quick-fix transcendance. it seems like we’re emerging from this condition. If we’re in a Renaissance. Perhaps it’s an American self-conscious attempt to ascribe a European legitimacy on jazz. fear of one’s own mortality. with a kind of Faustian inevitability. and be told they’re wrong. while curator-musicians guide them through specific corridors of jazz history. a misplaced anxiety about the mortality of the culture in which that art is created. so a redemption isn’t necessary. Part of the brazen quality of a music that puts improvisation at its center is that it simply did not care enough to write a text. the legitimacy of something already dead and enshrined under glass. the organic integrity of its shape and form. Nothing could be less true. Lineage as an idea played itself out. but this falsehood created a sort of lost generation of musicians. peanut-sized parody of the entire western tradition in art. and I wouldn’t ever attempt to answer to either sentiment. The Renaissance misconception is limiting to jazz because it suggests that it already played itself out. It’s a flippping-the-bird at the whole notion of mortality.’ which is what so much concert programming feels like these days. in his old-school terms. which is in itself another evasion.com Page 2 . in its most inspired moments. The same American attitude made two radically different genres possible. Jazz never lost itself. for the first (and maybe last) time. They insure a certain immortality. makes a kind of exalted fuck you to mortality in the flux of its improvisations. until it can be redeemed. Jazz musicians want to make the earth move now. of course. A Renaissance means we already have to go to the museum to witness jazz’s ‘Antiquity. the commodity. There’s the familiar defeatist implication that the music degenerates over time. The listener is treated like a tourist. because the critical focus can be placed on the aesthetic. Maybe that’s partially the no-fear attitude of a young culture. by the force of its composition and improvisation. Coltrane and the Spice Girls start after that end in open-ended regions that have come to be called postmodern. What jazz in fact was doing was what it always had done: Taking leads from the pop music of its day. when exactly were the Dark Ages? The unspoken implication. An endgame attitude towards jazz gives us a premature. because it’s piano trio. I have no pretense that the music presented here is part of some ‘return’ to the real shit. a gleeful egg-tossing at the entire rule-list of Occidental music.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau Trio Back At The Vanguard: Art Of The Trio (Volume 4) (Continued) giving the listener an experience that will enrich their lives permanently through the rigour of its craft. because it’s acoustic music. It gives rise to a tired question like. a backlash of cynicism. and that not caring became its strength. there’s something initially American in that project: After a thorough ransacking.This is what I love about jazz more than anythingthe spirit in which it’s created. that are certainly no longer exclusively American: really bad pop and really great jazz. One could easily have had the impression that jazz was a music played exclusively by the very young and very old.

But jazz knew something from its beginning: Don’t depend on a text! I am quite sure that the precondition of the Coltrane Quartet of the sixties is that they absolutely could not have written out as inspiring a performance. 1999 bradmehldau.” It’s a retrospective feeling. We know this from biographical accounts. “Not one note could be changed. To close I offer a scenario: If all the written music in the world suddenly burned up in a flash. But what’s kept Beethoven’s music in circulation is the compositions he commited to pen.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau Trio Back At The Vanguard: Art Of The Trio (Volume 4) (Continued) Often. But it does help to know that there is a form there. This is an important distinction for an understanding of jazz. it gives jazz its grandeur. “Not one note could be changed. were you guys just more or less ‘jamming out’?” A listener doesn’t need to know what chords. purposely limited texts that tell how and where to jump off. what structure.com Page 3 . Nevertheless. That’s born out of a simple ignorance. one that leads to a question often asked after the gig: “So like. of cutting contests between Beethoven and Hummel. when I listen to Miles on ‘Kind of Blue. because no one’s going to change it. but won’t rise up to. for instance. ahead of time.’I say. and not his improvisation. Jazz’s canon is its recorded legacy. but first we need to unpack a stigma from improvisation: that it won’t yield something as formally profound as a written work. One might point out that classical music originally had its great improvisers. It’s critically useless. There are lead-sheets. a written composition. regardless? – Brad Mehldau. so much of which is improvised. Improvisatory creation is not a medium that half-heartedly tries. to dig the music.” To figure out why a person feels that is a good project for jazz criticism. any more than they have to understand sonata-allegro form when they listen to a symphony. note for note. on the contrary. we’re blowing over. a comment on the music’s rich formal power. which is a potential to eclipse written music in its preformance. who could do a gig the same night . one says of a work by Beethoven.

When I grasp my own desire for that kind of permanence and strip it down. and insure that its process will continue. music seems to already be there. specifically. A shared musical experience denotes a very different kind of paradox than democratic discourse: The solidarity that listeners experience together is a strangely anti‑social form of sociality. I’m satisfied by the mere knowledge that music pushes your buttons like it does mine. It would be nice if I had no one to answer to. If we spend a lot of time on back and forth discourse that never reaches its goal anyway. The consensus that people often reach is that they can’t reach a consensus — in words at least — on what they just experienced. because there is always a better future that can be imagined. They are its fodder. all discussion about it is always already completed — permanently. after all. The speaker who utters these words is.” I don’t know what you know. giving a kind of explanation. then a consensus can never be reached with absolute finality. but that’s not important.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau Trio Progression: Art Of The Trio (Volume 5) Music and Language The truism that “The essence of music is unexplainable in words” is self‑contradictory. A basic tenet of a democracy is that no discussion should be deemed pointless ahead of time. The task of this truism is often to blow the whistle on a discussion that has grown futile. In this appraisal. If the truth‑value of a proposition is historically contingent. There is something in the world out there that correlates with both of us immediately. As an (ideally) emancipative politics. but simultaneously forces a resolution. Nor should it be. a resounding “I know that you know. but then I couldn’t really include myself in society. That solidarity suggests that music gains a communicative advantage over words precisely because of its non‑linguistic character. with no outside (linguistic) authority hovering around. like so many kinds of desire. The underlying desire for self‑sufficiency. In one sense we have a symbol of freedom. and music waits on the other side. The statement seems to acknowledge the irresolvable aspect that’s always inherent in an understanding of music. has an anti‑social aspect. then likewise.com Page 1 . is often the precondition of a deep solidarity that its listeners experience amongst each other. we had better take heed.” Discourse reaches the finish line. admonishing us that it is pointless. If the “complete‑unto‑itself” aspect of music is a given. Our very muteness towards music. When someone claims to be having the last word on some matter. is crippled from the outset. The philosopher Michel Foucault spoke of an “endless need for discourse” among members of a democratic society. aimed at reaching a consensus on any given topic. It involves a preternatural kind of group knowledge. fear of endlessness. Music could be viewed as a model of complete self‑sufficiency. protecting its fortress against any future linguistic predator. There is a non‑stop pro‑ cess among its members. The implication is that there is indeed an “exit from language. or to call one off ahead of time. music has a dead bolt lock built into its design. Speech‑language. albeit in different ways. it traces back to fear. as Foucault (following Nietzsche) maintained it was. democracy operates on a paradox in the sense that it thrives on endlessly unresolved problems. My claim at truth is posited into a yet unforeseeable future that never arrives. generating itself out of itself. It’sunsettling to honestly ponder the idea of your own consciousness lasting for an eter‑ bradmehldau. though. a waterlogged form of communication. Music is cherished in part because it supersedes the need for discourse ahead of time. wordlessly beckoning us. by comparison. That last word might fossilize into something like dogma and remain on the scene long after it’s bereft of any positive social utility.

is the more elemental desire to exit from temporality altogether. Life. Freedom from discourse doesn’t hold up so well outside of its musical model. Each craving plays on the other. but also points outward to something that (magnificently) never finds an end. coercive form of domination is this picture of freedom it uses as ideological bait: You are free from ever having to ask any more questions. avoiding the infinite. fearless permanence. An idealistic view of music as “better” than language yields up an unsettling vision — a sort of fascist wet dream of democracy. but does that matter? Presumably whatever fascist tendencies one perceives at. to regard discourse itself with such across‑the-board disdain is squarely fascist. though. the solipsistic nightmare is that my own consciousness will end. Why is it so taboo to die in my own dream? I don’t fear for the world that will lose me.com Page 2 . Freedom abounds. though. To speak of music is a folly. should be more than just slinking between two cliffs. by finding some kind of permanent resolution. Being forever beyond discourse. and the way in which they normalize each other makes life bearable. for example. but only within a necessarily speechless realm. in its forever non‑discursive state. that fear can be politicized into a form of hope: One hopes in a democracy that no voice is ever permanently silenced. music can momentarily quell the need for that permanence that I also fear. There I am. Likewise. It is possible. deep fear of the final end — the flip side of a fear of endlessness. because they’ve been delegated to a purely aesthetic realm. we also solicit it in a number of ways. The only way to really withold free speech is to repress it — possibly with brutal farce. Music promises something more emancipative. happily mute and excited about what I’m going to tell you all at once. from this very idea of a “pure” aesthetics. As long as that end is ungraspable. music offers what Freud called “repose” — a momentary closure that mitigates that overwhelming aspect of temporality. That’s what keeps us talking. I have no way of resuming it. to cut all that back and forth talk in favor of a more bradmehldau. A permanent end to one’s consciousness is at least as disturbing as no end. a futile attempt to break through its wordless fortress. All questions are permanently answered. The subtext of a desire to exit from language. somewhat darkly perhaps. In this suspended. then. a miniature end played out within the life‑pro‑ cess. Fascism takes its cue. Again. Need and fear are the false apparatus of a duality that has been temporarily dismantled. pre‑discursive state. We get a taste of something permanent far just a moment. For in order to really maintain a condition of sublime. it’s disturbing to think that a democracy’s woes might never be resolved — that there might he something built into society itself that keeps us forever short of a utopia. From a democratic point of view. What makes fascism such a potent. beyond the finishing line of discourse. nothing more can be said.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau Trio Progression: Art Of The Trio (Volume 5) (Continued) nity. This musical model of autonomy is as dialectical as the desire it mirrors. In the space that’s cleared. “Nothing can be said of music” is more accurately “Nothing is allowed to be said of music. it supplies a preliminary. I am offered an inverse mirror image of democratic freedom when I go to a concert to listen to one of my favorite performers: the freedom to relinquish that endless discourse. Once it ends. It would be the basic. and it’s strangely sweet. An unceasing impulse to talk things through runs contrary to an equally primal thirst for resolution. immediate resolution. a rock concert. so to speak. to understand that initial “endless need for discourse” as being brought on by fear as well. are largely neutered of any real destructive potential. The door is closed to further inquiry or potential complaints from an oppressed party. Music.” Speech becomes an act of rebellion against an iron law that prohibits discourse. promises to answer that desire. Music repeatedly suggests that while we run from death. in its sheer incomprehensibility. there will always be a conversation about music that sublimely never gets off the ground. The State itself fictively resembles a piece of music: It is there with music. though.

can potentially become dogma ‑ we are not free to question them. but potentially an act of complicity. as he rapes and murders.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau Trio Progression: Art Of The Trio (Volume 5) (Continued) visceral. The criteria for a good politics is now based solely on how aesthetically pleasing it is. is no longer viable. written in stone. Can music fell me why. Faust cannot accept that “In the beginning was the Word.” For him. I just want to listen to Coltrane!” Music is an ideological whore.e. At its worst. lazy libertarianism: “I don’t care what they’re marching about on the streets. In this environment. Words that we perceive as having existed before us. It becomes difficult be separate the wordless appeal of music from the linguistic rhetoric of politics. though. politics will celebrate its freedom to create. When Pavlovian therapy is administered in the second part of the film. whether I like it or not. and although Goethe had the Church in mind. they can (literally) get away with murder. says Faust. Wholesale rebellion against linguistic dogma can mean rebellion against the specificity of language: rebellion against the notion that the speaker should specify his or her actual intentions. That desire for music to remain autonomous from political discourse.” he writes. its temporary freedom from the specificity of language. my fellow music‑worshippers and I shouldn’t go and oppress some other people? What does music look like to the fascist who stares bask at me from the other side of the mirror — the same? The great essayist Isaiah Berlin explains how the rhetoric of Romanticism privileged art above politics for the first time. As an artist he merely creates.” What is accepted as “moral” for a group of people must be established through some form of consensus. i.com Page 3 . As previously mentioned. the dogmatic language expresses itself tyrannically. Usually there will be an appeal to a discourse or text concerning morality that already exists. She will play for any team. the State. immediate shared experience. The creative act is anterior to whatever text it may bring forth. Bracketing out politics from music is not just foolish idealism. Alex. There was an act of creation prior to that Word. with text from Schiller — is the soundtrack that accompanies the sociopath protagonist of the story. Whether that experience has any analogue in the real world is unclear. on their ability to transport their listeners. but the permanent end to discourse that music provisionally supplies spells out fascism in the realm of politics. regulating role as a “social morality. then at least a precondition for politics that are solely aesthetically driven. Like art. inadvertently implies a political stance — a kind of leave‑me‑alone. If that pre‑existing law is ignored. than it instantly loses it emancipative thrust for me.” or any such jargon of autonomy. If the speaker is longer accountable for his intentions. “Art for art’s sake. if not a political stance. there is now the potential for a whole other kind of tyranny. Politics becomes just another whim of the fertile imagination — a form of art. Politicians are not accountable for their actual policy. because the very desire for that separation implies.” We have had it backwards all along. “— and politics so far as it is a social morality — is a creative process: The new romantic model is art. My immediate reaction is. thenhe is not responsible for their consequences. So he proclaims: “In the beginning was the Deed. scandalously altering the opening text of the Bible.. then. but are judged more as artists — judged on their rhetorical finesse. he might have included its sister institution. “No way!” If I’m somehow politically accountable when I listen to music. however dogmatic it may be. Placing Deed above the Word means privileging art above politics. independently of any antecedent linguistic authority. as Burgess/Kubrick showed so well in A Clockwork Orange: The famous “Ode to Joy” theme from the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony — that paragon of Enlightenment ideals. how exciting and alluring it sounds and feels. I now face the disconcerting prospect that my very enjoyment of music is always charged with political implications. it is not the Word of God that has primacy. “Morality. The danger in this new climate is that politics can lose its normalizing.” Goethe’s Faust character sets the stage. he cannot bradmehldau. for example. the desire for this artistic autonomy includes the fictive dream of something temporally closed.

So a non‑object necessarily becomes a kind of object. That otherness is twofold: If language privileges music in one sense by assigning it a transcendental status above and beyond itself. I enter into complicity with him. But music made it possible for me to enter into that wordless complicity with Alex for just a moment. But we both celebrate. Maybe music can be construed as an opening only. Language wants to have it both ways: It wants to posit judgments on music. it also suggests its own failure as a mode of communication. As an opening. The opening is not fixable to any particular locus that I can map with language. and “art for art’s sake” becomes appropriate again: Art seems to win a victory here.” as an uttered word. as an idealized kind of non‑object. can be used to celebrate death and destruction for someone else. and his mates are his army. yet keep it in a transcendent realm where these judgments are useless. nothing more. an object that could possess or lack that autonomy — like an eggshell or a sealed envelope. For in order to begin speculating on the relative autonomy of music. that music and language share a distinctive characteristic with each other. So there I am. regardless. Despite my own horror of this character. This is the case with my complicity with the character of Alex. one that celebrates so much that is good for me. it is not an object at all. we share one thing in common — the simple. is a particularly strong trope existing within language that speaks of language’s never-ending failure to meet its object directly. music simply is — it exists independently of whatever propositions are made about it. an object with something inside of if that is shut but might have an opening somewhere. “The essence of music is unexplainable in words” avoids a more disturbing question: Truly. The mirror is Beethoven’s music. There is only bradmehldau. and the strange matriarchal symbolism. I always feel pity for Alex at this point. it collapses into an object again. instantaneously. However evil his actions. there is nothing I can predicate about it. the brutal pornographic images. Does language “need” music? “Music. One could argue. If I understand it this way. or else I will never be able to finish a sentence about it. Alex is the dictator. If language reaches a descriptive wall when confronted with music. This is the pickle that Kant got himself into: How can we begin to talk about any object at all. nonetheless. Without language to describe it. then music likewise cannot appeal to language to vindicate itself. unfettered joy that comes from listening to that Beethoven. Only then does it take on a numinous aura of otherness. This whole idealistic picture of music paradoxically hinges on the language that it’s “free” from. Once one starts using spacio‑temporal terms to describe music.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau Trio Progression: Art Of The Trio (Volume 5) (Continued) listen to the Beethoven without becoming violently ill. That complicity cannot step out of the musical locus it inhabits. without taking space and time into account? Surely one reason why language always seems to fail in an account of music is that. Kubrick’s vision grimly parodies the characteristic pageantry of fascism — the campish sadomasochism of their repressive military outfits. It is a kind of über‑ metaphor that symbolizes our very need to create metaphors in the first place. I’m already viewing music as some kind of object. so in a sense one fails by assigning the quality of “space” to music. I must concede that Beethoven’s music has no fixed moral stance in and of itself. No one really cares about music’s unexplainable aspect until they start trying to explain it. mindlessly following him and assisting him on his rampages. Perhaps I’ve been taking the wrong approach all along. music is the clear space that I cross over to achieve that solidarity with someone else. Yet they both try. how well can words explain the essence of anything? Theupshot is that in trying to talk about music one winds up talking about language. Disturbingly. reclaiming its autonomy.com Page 4 . Thus the elitist subtext behind the jargon of autonomy: Music does not need languagein order for us to comprehend it. then. staring at the fascist in the mirror. Such a beautiful piece of music. and one is not particularly privileged over the other.

throwsthat possibility into relief — that aforementioned incomprehensible duality of finality and endlessness. this kind of paradox was inherent in the act of reasoning itself. It is this failure of music to cross over into language that makes my complicity with Alex possible. We posited them in the first place. what we do. The force. maybe we’ll fight for democracy together.com Page 5 . it addresses it negatively. but when language diagnoses a non‑identity. there is the possibility of some other form of solidarity. involves isolating possibility from the specificity of its outcome. reveal something obliquely. It finds a paradox. conceive that all things must begin at some point? One lesson from him is that even though we cannot grasp endlessness or finality in a direct. if we do anything. that opening that is the music carries no force. and at the same time. We are communicating with each other. The Beethoven will point to infinite possibilities between us: Maybe we’ll just sit and listen. bradmehldau. nothing is fixed. How could we conceive. certain. head‑on sort of way. in itself. mutely referring back to itself.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau Trio Progression: Art Of The Trio (Volume 5) (Continued) Beethoven’s music. We will decide where we go together. maybe we’ll go beat someone to a pulp. that time has no beginning or end. But in and of itself. when he is a fascist. something that must be resolvedbut cannot. it reaches a dead‑end paradox. he and I. for example. Language does that as well. and I am not? Music and language thus share a certain idealism: They both posit exactly beyond what they can master. will come from us. then. It is not a grounded object that’s revealed — nothing is predicated. we should not dogmatically deny their possibility. precisely in its lack of identify. An idealistic form of communication. Music. In this case I look at Alex directly through the music. For Kant. or completed: “Idealism” here addresses the whole realm of possibility.If there is this solidarity in the music. but in that failed attempt. Then I am allowed to look at something more directly for a moment. if there is one. The paradox takes the form of an unanswerable question:How can he and I share this joy together. no gravitational pull. Our joyful solidarity in the Beethoven cannot fix itself to any reasoned statement.

and confrontation with strangeness. “This smell reminds me of that place. waiting. What seems to be a dislocation or disorientation is also a kind of recognition-of-being. while our soul thirsts for the comfort that slipped away.” – from The Sorrows of Young Werther.’ touch upon a paradox: The uncanny is so disturbing and weird because of its unexplainable familiarity. everything is as it was before. The feeling is dreamlike: It’s like the heavenly music you dream that fades from your memory as soon as you wake up. Examples for me have been bug spray or deodorant. because the potential is always within us. You can not recollect the nature of this feeling or recreate it. is it God? Then why the recognition? Those experiences that Freud called unheimlich or uncanny. or maybe the possibility of being. A place can only reveal itself in your consciousness with such allure when you’re far from it. (It doesn’t have to be a beautiful scent. there’s the scent of an object that’s been brought home from somewhere far away. but only in order to receive a different kind of clarity. Memory can make the place more ‘real’ than it ever was in reality. It becomes a mystery. You’re dislocated from your surroundings. Perhaps a part of myself is being revealed a part that’s always there. and we always get caught. Two events must happen to have this experience: spatial distance and the passage of time. My past events and future potential are tangible and real. In fact you couldn’t have. immortal divinity. the fear comes about when a person observes an object that is incomprehensible or immeasurable in its greatness. we’re cheating. spatially and temporally. it brings up a feeling that’s profound and unique — something like nostalgia and acute yearning all at once.com Page 1 . To say. and you can only wait until the next time that you’re granted that experience. Schopenhauer mentioned fear in association with the Sublime. but also in dreams. That’s disturbing. though. she can experience the Sublime: an elevated form of consciousness that quietly stares into the abyss. It comes in different ways . You are allowed a glimpse of something essential to that place. after some time has passed. For me. our narrowness. It’s a temporary unveiling. it is the same with the distance as with the future! A vast. If there is a deity out there. As he speculated. and fear comes from a loss of what I’m familiar with. If that’s true. and we long to surrender our entire being and let ourselves sink into one great well of blissful feeling.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau Trio Places Brad Mehldau Trio: Places Oh. then who did He steal the keys from? Whoever or whatbradmehldau. our emotions lose themselves in it as do our eyes. thrown back into a time-bound world. it’s probably the one who always snatches the infinite away from us. because I’ve been cut loose from the usual trap of time and space. because it suggests that some of our most authentic experiences have very little to do with the apparent reality that surrounds us. poetry. But we can cheat again. I feel the totality of my being. its potentiality. a will that is hostile to the threatening object. After half a minute or less it passes and you’re back in the everyday world that now seems more banal than ever. when we approach. For instance. This kind of consciousness is usually reserved for an all-seeing. The strangeness is that you never had the dreamlike feeling when you were there. if you don’t like that language. When we experience the Sublime. But is it some object ‘out there’ that I’m being shown? Or. when There has become Here. I understand it as ‘sublime’ in the Romantic sense. the ones we refer to as ‘Kafkaesque. and we are left with our poverty.through the senses. Goethe It seems like the grandeur of a place only reveals itself after you’ve left it. those experiences aren’t just brain farts. twilit whole lies before our soul. Something usually hidden is shown to me. Alas. non-constricted. A place thousands of miles away can be felt with immediacy. But if the person is able to break free from her will. and music.) When you smell it again at home.” doesn’t tell anything. following Kant before him.

in this case it teaches us always to assume – and dismiss. and safely never gets off the ground. even now. one minute? And then what do I do — be in the next moment? That’s a hell of a lot of moments to be in! Perhaps this is a Western misreading of an Eastern idea.” . a unity that was shattered. now it’s all dualities. I’m into a kind of bad faith that can be pure folly.” – Rilke. ‘Romantic’ for me is always after. enclosed. Good old-fashioned irony involves the awareness that a truth or truism has a hole or flaw in it. filled with lateness.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau Trio Places (Continued) ever it was. that the past and future are illusions.” If I could truly be in the moment. not some measurable moment one can sit in. one in which irony is deflated of its purpose. He’s right. irony is an impotent affair. because his ‘now’ acknowledges its role. and resignation — despair. it would teach us never to assume. It’s a world full of mortality — everything is dying.com Page 2 . Freud drearily surmised that there was indeed a ‘death-drive. Arriving too late. everywhere. bradmehldau. disillusionment. a vapid lack of real sentiment. One is the type in currency today that’s so familiar. running on its own fumes in a self-reflexive spinning of wheels. It assumes that sincerity is a posture to divert our attention from an ulterior motive. The problem is that we care. Letters to a Young Poet It’s important to distinguish between two types of irony. It’s a folly that leads to heartbreak. the romantic finds everything in pieces. we have a trace of it. We’ve been thrown into a world of time with no choice. because it tells about time. The problem isn’t so much that reality in itself. At one point there was a unity to everything.Joyce.” — What a crock! How can I be in something like that? How long is this moment? Is it one millisecond. through which all future plunges to the Past. Where there was oneness. it’s almost omnipresent. Irony of this sort plays it safe. or your partner. On the other hand. a catalogue of boredom with the world that quickly collapses into what it really is: the ironist’s boredom with herself. Maybe both sentiments are just two ways of expressing the same thing: our inability to catch time. irony. there’s always paradox. and sing about the brokenness. But the rub (lest we forget) must include an initial belief in that truth to some extent. whether it’s a singer-songwriter. If there’s no hope in the first place. Near his own end. It runs like this: If someone appears sincere. albeit the most difficult at times. or else it will grow strong. the Here. Ulysses “Be in the moment. That same person who tells me to be in the moment says I’m ‘romanticizing’ when I remember a place from the past with longing. Nothing is ever clear-cut. That’s not just a semantic query. whether it’s Wordsworth or Kurt Cobain.’ that so many of our activities were aimed towards achieving “…the death-like repose of the organic world. When I mistakenly believe that I can capture time. the most honest one. and become a serious tool and take its place among the instruments which you can form your art with. “Hold to the Now. politician. it’s quite the opposite: The notion of a present moment that I could somehow be ‘in’ is pure fiction. The key words there are ‘safe’ and ‘assume’. “Irony: Don’t let yourself be controlled by it…Under the influence of serious Things it will either fall away from you. through which time is being siphoned. Whereas in its original meaning. holding to the Now is the best game in town. All you can do is make music from the remains. is a blanket used to cover up a hollow nothingness. That’s a cop-out. death. Our being is marked by what Heidegger called Geworfenheit — ‘thrown-ness’. an awareness that opens up a whole other set of implications. or worse yet. or at least wanting to believe. All I know is that for myself. to grab a hold of it. it’s a convincing one. it would be safe to assume they’re full of shit. it would mean just that — death-like repose. Is that all a necessary fiction dreamed up by the human imagination to tell sad stories? If so. Now is only an open vessel. and the result is a dismaying reversal. Joyce’s ‘Hold to the Now…’ works better for me.

The tyranny would come from the anteriority of the text. is nothing in itself. we’re nothing. This kind of dissatisfaction with the Now is not uniquely postmodern. If a story or song is good enough.com Page 3 . For me. which leaves an imprint on your memory precisely because of its ephemeral immediacy. in itself a divine attribute? If that’s a fiction played out in art. Casting blame comes out of a nostalgia that relies on a fiction. for fear of being dismissed as derivative. Where does that dismissal stem from? It’s in no small part due to a large case of information indigestion. or the longed for prelapsarian grace. I should say. beneath it. “In the beginning was the deed. smiling through tears that cloud your vision of the world around you. (That includes music texts!) Goethe hit on something that’s at the heart of Romanticism. the text has an authoritative power. and (argghh!!!) even irony itself. It takes the edge off mortality. behind it. a kind of surface irony. In a time when everything appears derivative. and can be placed back where it belongs: at the core of our being. So. and proclaim. We still answer that call within ourselves. It came before us. The trick is to remember that it’s only a dream. it will reach the Sublime. are all part of ourselves. or the Divine. They both grow out of a bad faith in information. Along the same lines. It prompts the reader. or a defeatist dismissal of the possibility of it. willful attempt at ironic ‘objectivity’. horrific level when its fiction drives a political ideology – the evil afterbirth of Romanticism. a grip that Goethe identified as potentially tyrannical. are two sides of the same coin. The Sublime is experiential. escaping it for a flicker. we’re the ones who dreamed them up in the first place. making a covenant. a blocking device. He identified the human power of imagination as anterior to the text. although the outside props have changed. It is not a self-conscious. the viewer. which can be such a bitch sometimes. Hell. or the ones and zeros on a C. It gives us contact (if not comfort) with infinitude. then what the hell is real? Where does art get off and life resume?” Amidst those queries. irony is retrieved from banal finitude. A longing for lost authenticity. manipulated. of afterness. It’s not enough to sit on the rocking chair and muse over bygone days. and that’s exactly what the Sublime reveals. which is only a starting point. integrity. which means this: It transcends that state of pining for authenticity.” Information inherits the tendency to grip us that a text can. nor can it involve a self-conscious. The experience is a here-and-now affair. a broader one starts to take shape: “How do I find meaning – or not find meaning – in my life?” That hopelessly bandied question can’t be answered. That reversal is no less relevant today than it was 200 years ago. bad faith meaning: a false belief in the power of information.D.. has already been used. because it gives the comforting reassurance of constancy amidst our own transience. The supposed importance — or dangerous unreliability — of the text is an old. It can block our ability to see and feel the Sublime.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau Trio Places (Continued) without inquiry. people as cripplingly ‘savvy’ as you are. It’s the continuation of a romantic legacy – the legacy of belatedness. the one that dreams for the Divine. it can teach that a dream of authenticity is just that – a dream – and without dreams. a self-propelled thrust that steps out of history. We submit to it. snuffed out by the plethora of information that names everything into a reduction. Or. Written in stone. Nostalgia like that has and still can turn sour on a grand. When we look at the information matrix. and the listener. willful attempt to ‘be in the moment’. to ask: “To what extent is my imaginative faculty. It doesn’t give closure. however much one may or may not buy into it. it seems. constant dialectic in western thought. it’s important to remember what any creative act is: a leap. Every single sentiment. art can still be thought of in those terms. switching the chicken and the egg. We realize that the ‘Other’. we see bradmehldau. A text. In this new formulation. Blaming or condemning information in itself is pointless and potentially dangerous. from Socrates’ dialogues to Derrida’s deconstructions. or any information. or co-opted – passion. It led a Proto-Romantic like Goethe to turn Scripture on its head. mainly that an authenticity has been sacrificed. the active creation of the text takes primacy over the end result. a one-dimensional Xerox of the original. often there’s an understandable reluctance to offer up anything with sincerity. Information can act as a kind of matrix. right? Now. and having your heartfelt creation pissed on by other people. and a denial of one’s own cognizance of anything beyond or outside of it.

2000 bradmehldau. If time is seen as movement.” – Emerson. embark on the sea and at last wake up in Naples. you can only hold to the Now. because on some level he initially gave an authority to information. He has acted in bad faith though. Once more. I can be intoxicated with beauty and lose my sadness. they are more representative of something constant throughout all that traveling — ‘My giant goes with me wherever I go.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau Trio Places (Continued) the outward form of textual anteriority. that seems to come about from our relationship with time. it often means the first place. When he repeatedly draws blanks from the formulated mediocrity rampant in pop culture. I experienced a longing for the feeling I had on my first visit. Returning home. the sad self. asymptotically chasing its own tail. Self-Reliance What happens when you come back to a place that you’ve longed for. we recognized the infinite from within ourselves. (Or. But home only reveals itself sublimely when you’re far away from it. and continued to exploit those melodic and harmonic relations. but several times? Such is the case with Perugia for me. Home is truly what we’re always longing for. He didn’t look any further. for the annual jazz festival. I identified this same kind of achy yen. therefore. Sehnsucht is a sublime recognition of our own infinite longing. having none of the imaginative vigor or spiritual resonance that made a text like the Bible canonical in the first place. his bad faith is confirmed and reinforced. that I fled from…My giant goes with me wherever I go. I pack my trunk. When four or five of them were done. and he thinks that’s all there is. The idea for this record started inadvertently. A collection of originals was building up. embrace my friends. As a place. the one that we’re always trying to get back to in our state of afterness. The tunes. not just once. The second time I was there. It’s telling that Freud’s unheimlich frames the word ‘heim’ as its root word — home. contingent on our mortality. I started naming them after wherever they were written. – Brad Mehldau. but at a distance. But again. Thus. It’s perpetually unrequited. ancient town sequestered in the mountains of the Umbria region of Italy. I was already yearning after something. I was longing for the longing itself. are not programmatic pictures of where they were written. It’s all there. a falling towards death. You can’t save or grab on to anything that’s flying through that funnel — least of all your own transient existence. with a brief trip back in the middle.com Page 4 . But so much of it is filler. It’s an idyllic. and we’re still left with our longing.) “At home I dream that at Naples. and there beside me is the stern fact. I’ve gone there four summers now. It’s the first thing he saw. recorded already. forever just short of reaching what it dreams for. We are born into a state of longing. Elegiac Cycle. on the contrary. paraphrased: The Nineties. unrelenting. then mortality is downward movement. Is that something to despair over? Crying out at our mortality. similar to the approach on a previous record. at Rome. for me. Thrown into time. we long — for the infinite. Longing for longing — it’s what the Germans call Sehnsucht. Always at a loss for song titles. During the next two trips. I realized that they were thematically related. There has become Here. but I realised that now. What we get appears as parody. many of them written on the road during some heavy touring the last year or so. It comes back once more at the end.” Los Angeles is home for me and frames the set. The first time I was there. the opening Los Angeles theme is heard throughout the set.

’ But it wasn’t just serious for the sake of being serious. Pete was the first musician I met who would make periodic pilgrimages to the New York Public Library to get the original sheet music for. and eventually would form the heaviest. playing on a medium-slow blues. most original organ trio jazz has seen in the last two decades. which means playing phrases that have a shape to them and not just running licks. one that intersects gracefully between an unapologetic affection for the original song. an Irving Berlin tune. “That’s Pete. His playing was informed by what I can only describe as a profound love for music. With me in the audience were several musical peers. That was one of many valuable lessons that I got from Pete early on. He always seems to create a definitive version of a tune. in this case specifically the blues. That in turn implies a healthy distrust of arbitrariness in general. for example. Solo after solo ensued. it’s more like a collection of deeply felt sentiments about jazz music that form the basis for a broad range of possible styles. he brought tears to our eyes. if anything. They include the way he phrases the melody. with Pete on guitar and Bill Stewart. which is so prevalent in Pete’s music. who joins Pete on this record. I felt like he was telling me something about myself that day. including Larry Goldings. In a solo guitar setting. you don’t fudge on learning the melody. Larry was just starting to play the organ in addition to piano. full of well-intentioned but vapid testifying and shrieking from horn players and scat-singers. your arrangement of it will speak authentically as your own take on that song. I think that’s why whenever I hear Pete play a standard. That ethos doesn’t form one specific style of playing. Many people would have different ideas about what might constitute a ‘New York’ sound. ‘Blood Count’. It was like he had discovered something beautiful. he bradmehldau. instead of being your version of Miles Davis’ version. say. is a case in point. (You can hear Larry Goldings on Pete’s 1996 Criss-Cross date.com Page 1 . I left that day shaken.Brad Mehldau Writing Peter Bernstein Heart’s Content Brad Mehldau: Peter Bernstein: Heart’s Content I met Peter Bernstein soon after I arrived in New York City in 1988. If you go to the original source to learn a tune. his improvisation.) The blues had been going on for almost half an hour and everyone’s interest had peaked after about 4 minutes. Pete began to solo. Those musical sentiments would include the importance of melody at all times in whatever you’re expressing. and I always feel that way when I hear him. ‘Brain Dance’. The first time I heard Peter Bernstein was at a jam session. on drums. and his own personal musical choices for his arrangement. Listen to how he lovingly treats the melody – it sounds like this is his own song. it never sounds arbitrary. this is serious. Pete’s reading on this record of Strayhorn’s masterpiece. A serious love that urgently needs to be shared with other people _ it all translates into something that you might call the humanity in Pete’s music. and he wanted urgently to share it with all of us. there was a gravity to what he was doing emotionally that just drew me in _ ‘Dude. What was it in his playing? To start with.” ‘Dedicated to You’ on this record is a perfect example. He basically annihilated everything that had preceded him and left all of us just shaking our heads in awe. We were emotionally reduced to jelly. Just when it was getting painful. I would call it more of an ethos that Pete came to personify for me. and a host of other factors that make you smile as a listener and say. one that I still associate with my favorite players who reside in New York. If you’re going play a tune.

Pete’s feel on this sort of tempo has always been devastatingly good _ he sits a little behind the beat and gets you into this slow-burn state. almost cry out for an overtly expressive. He always had this incredible sense of pacing in his playing. but more often than not. though. That was one of the things that always struck me and other musicians who were playing with Pete early on in our own development. with its exotic chord tones and glissandos. he never rushes inadvertently. then as you slip away. or the strong. The effect on me as a listener is that I get more from it.’ That quality of Pete’s is probably both innate and absorbed. The melody.Brad Mehldau Writing Peter Bernstein Heart’s Content (Continued) gives it to us stripped down. That quiet authority of his. Incidentally. But Pete gives you a bittersweet kind of recompense: If you’re just hanging on in this music. It’s kind of uncanny. It has what I usually associate with the song – a raw feeling of mortality. already had his own identity _ he sounded like Peter Bernstein in whatever situation he was in. it doesn’t need to be magnified. but if you don’t have it to begin with. I’ve only had that experience playing with a few other musicians.’ It’s a medium-slow groove. It’s a question of temperament. not less. This is the kind of tempo that inspires the cliché. That’s why this tune is so difficult to play – if you give into that temptation it can easily become sentimental. He coaxes the emotion out of the tune instead of loudly stating it. from the first time I heard him at least in 1988. Pete’s approach is to let the sentiment in the tune speak for itself – it’s already there. like in bradmehldau. That just blew us away. It’s what they mean when they say someone has a ‘big beat. or a few years back when he turned me onto the music of Donny Hathaway. Many other musicians would be tempted to milk this song much more. and then in his solo later. It can be developed and refined. theatrical reading. You start with that temperament already. losing your grasp. This version of ‘Blood Count’ has a wonderful twofold quality. and the fragrant Strayhorn harmony that underpins it. a sort of patience rhythmically. ‘separates the men from the boys. there are certain qualities central to his music that he had from the gate. Even when he plays the piano. Over the years I’ve seen how he assimilates them into his own playing and writing – like early on in our friendship when he got really deep into Billie Holiday.com Page 2 . he’s more concerned with purely musical matters. Here we were absorbing all these influences at once. Particularly in his writing. you’re finally able to see how beautiful everything really is. His swing feel – that ‘big beat’ that he has – is something you associate more with a horn player than a guitar player. He never veers into sentimentality. A good example on this record is his own ‘Simple as That’. I’ve noticed how horn players influence Pete. not on his own axe. sounding like a different musician depending on what context we were playing in. his lines are relaxed and poised all at once. and Pete can wax in this vein like nobody’s business. like someone hanging on. But Pete doesn’t push the point. that relaxed kind of rhythmic authority might be informed by tenor players that I know he loves – the built-in backbeat of Gene Ammons. He has his guitar heroes for sure. Nevertheless. I’ve come to believe that the sort of ‘maturity’ that Pete displays on ‘Blood Count’ is the kind of musical attribute that’s more innate than acquired. In the opening melody. But Pete. swinging logic of Sonny Rollins’ phrases. it can’t really be learned. and he has a real thirst for new musical discoveries. But it goes further than feel. he still has a harmonic concept that’s completely specific to him and no one else. and allows the pathos to speak for itself by giving us a reading that’s devoid of affectation. So. and nothing is ever the slightest bit unclear in what he’s communicating. That brings up another thing about Pete that sets him apart for me: I‘ve always thought of him less as a guitarist and more as a musician. the behind-the-beat long eighth-note lines of Dexter Gordon. Pete is a competent piano player. The naked desolation of the tune speaks all the more clearly. One important quality of Pete’s is his rhythmic authority. But I definitely remember checking out who he was checking out and seeing what kinds of players in jazz pointed the way for him. and less with guitar stuff. When I’m playing behind him on a tune like this. Pete’s no slouch. his mixture of relaxed swing and total clarity has the effect of pulling me into his musical statement completely. comes from the consistency in his line: He never gets away from his ideas.

Before he got as well known as he is now. a collective effort that included Pete and I. That definitely doesn’t happen all the time. He recorded with Pete previously on ‘Consenting Adults‘. One of my most cherished experiences has been getting to work with the great drummer Jimmy Cobb over the years. ‘Somethin’s Burnin’. responding to the flux. mainly Thelonious Monk and Wayne Shorter. informally titled ‘Cobb’s Mob’. mainly John Scofield and Pat Metheny. but at the same time are emotionally anchored by the melody. I often catch more things in Larry’s playing when I listen back to the recording than I do when I’m actually playing with him. and Larry and I commented to each other that the date had a certain effortless quality about it. there’s so much compositional logic to them. The bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Bill Stewart have a serious groove together. I also played on Pete’s next Criss Cross release from 1995. Once that’s established. and that’s his first priority. Two predecessors for that sort of jazz compositional approach might come to mind. Bill is another musician like Pete who already had his own approach back then. is a beauty.Brad Mehldau Writing Peter Bernstein Heart’s Content (Continued) the way he voices chords. I’ve noticed that Pete often begins writing a tune of his own by getting an initial idea at the piano – a progression or a little voice leading figure – and then moves over to the guitar to continue writing. A lot of Pete’s tunes operate on this principle of placing a largely diatonic. often dense chords that move a fair amount. has been playing drums with Pete and Larry Goldings in that trio for several years. it sort of compels you to do so. Check out the simplicity and economy of the melody. Part of the fun was that everyone had shared some of their most important musical history with at least one other musician there. And Pete is never very far away from that melody in his solo statement. Bill Stewart. I’ve had the privilege of playing with Pete on and off since 1991 or so. there was an immediate empathy between the four musicians. He has a consistency that you can hear on every track on this record. and that’s been in a band that Pete assembled. They’ve put in a lot of time together in the bands of two other guitar players. Except on the brief bridge and the coda. I’ve always felt that Larry is one of the most versatile and underrated bass players out there. the melody is a constant. If you simply paste your own licks onto one of Pete’s tunes. His paired-down. There’s something more about Pete that he has in common with those two jazz composers. distinctive style has already been an influence on a younger generation of drummers. he puts his own personality into the music. ‘Signs of Life’. On this recording. simple melody over some advanced. Pete’s first Criss Cross release from 1993. features that band. You have to address the tune in some way in your improvisations. The effect on the listener is a great kind of give and take. but it’s pervasive – it affects everything in a positive way. 12 or so years ago. the melody always stays wonderfully in one minor scale. the bluesy melancholy it gives off acts as a binder for all the harmonic activity. a Criss Cross date from 1994. ‘Heart’s Content’. He does it in a subtle way. outlining a specific shape and building off of it. Bill has a wonderful economy to his playing. Sometimes he affects my musical choices without my realizing it in the moment of playing together. tenor saxophonist Mark Turner and drummer Leon Parker. I know that Pete has absorbed their music a lot. or the progressions he comes up with when he’s just noodling. You get pushed along with the movement of the harmony. one that gives the other musicians total support without ever being obtrusive.com Page 3 . It’s got some quintessential Peter Bernstein things going on. His tunes are stitched together so well. I think his no-nonsense policy musically is one big reason that Pete feels so comfortable bradmehldau. He grasps what the music calls for very quickly in any situation. He’s a very selfless kind of player. Larry’s also been the bass player in my trio for eight years. The groove that he establishes at the beginning of each tune never wavers for a second. that you can’t just willy-nilly superimpose your own vocabulary when it comes time to solo. as mentioned. like an unwanted dinner guest. While the chords under it are moving and shifting a fair amount. you run the risk of sounding strangely irrelevant. and we’d go here him with Larry’s organ trio in New York when they were just starting out. the title track of the record. Bill had sort of a cult status among us musicians.

His notes sustain and ring out. you’ll wind up telling the truth to anyone who has ears enough to hear it – that you’re up there on the bandstand. and then loved into being. or discover it for the first time.Brad Mehldau Writing Peter Bernstein Heart’s Content (Continued) with him. But at his core. March 2003 bradmehldau. like they don’t want to disappear. there’s a deep integrity and honesty – that’s why he’s not simple. the late great pianist Jaki Byard. I remember Pete telling me what one of his teachers. at the same time expressing something more in the forefront that’s vital and urgent. One thing he specializes in is communicating an underlying melancholy that tugs at you steadily. With Pete. That really carries over into his playing. shared with him about playing jazz: “You can’t lie. The emotions Pete conveys are often wonderfully mixed.com Page 4 . Brad Mehldau. just trying to lie. Like Pete. I always immediately get drawn into the sound he gets from his instrument. that quality comes naturally to him. and you’re not fooling anyone in the long run. It’s a fat tone at the same time. It’s a beautiful world unto itself. because he doesn’t look for easy answers that don’t ring true in the long run. The music that he offers the listener is always something that he’s carried within himself first. earthy and satisfying. Pete can fuse together those sentiments so effortlessly. I think. Peter Bernstein has a rare honesty about him as a musician. and has many layers.” I suspect what Jaki Byard meant is that even if you try to lie as a player. and ‘Heart’s Content’ is a good place to either continue enjoying that world. not down in the dumps at all. Quite simply. because he has nothing to lose by being honest. He’s not simple by a long stretch. That voice he has on his instrument compels me to listen. The hardest thing to express is how someone’s music moves you. he has very little affectation in what he plays. because they have to do with who he is in real life. He has this crying tone on his guitar. He’s emoting with each note he plays.

had us all chanting the ‘Three B’s’ – Bach. Finally. Joel absorbed a lot of different tenor players and I’d say it was around his 21st or 22nd year that he started to put together his own sound. was played non-stop for a while. You can hear it particularly well here on ‘Don’t Explain’ – no winking or nudging going on here. We discovered Miles Davis together – the fifties band with Coltrane all the way through to his 80’s albums like ‘Decoy’ and ‘Tutu’. Booker Ervin and Johnny Griffin. on and off. It’s cool and a little uncanny. an easy grace to his eighth notes that you can hear on a tune like ‘Oleo’ on this date. He worked toward that for a number of years. We went nuts over tenor players like Clifford Jordan. in one context or another over the years. We went through a lot of stages together. 2003 bradmehldau. The effect on the listener is to put you at ease in that kind of swinging context. He’s not beating around the bush as far as that goes. Hopefully that informs what we got to on this duo record. you resume the dialogue right where you left off. from the first note. A beautiful sound on the instrument is something he obviously values. immediately. and the vocabulary of be-bop slowly entered our playing around the same time. building on the experiences you’ve gathered since the last time you came together. and made pilgrimages to a used record shop in Wethersfield. I’m really proud to be on this record and was grateful that Joel decided to do it in a duo context – that was a special treat. which were favorites of ours. I think of his sound on the tenor. When I think of Joel.com Page 1 . We discovered Bird together. in everything he plays. It has the same effect on me playing with him – the ideas come out more easily for me when I comp behind him than they do in a number of other situations. Brecker and Beethoven. with all its sadness and resignation. – Brad Mehldau. just getting to the heart of the song. and now it’s just there. the tenor saxophonist and composer Pat Zimmerli. I hear everything that he and I discovered and absorbed together from the time we were just getting started. but when you come together. big and generous. What Joel had from pretty early on was a certain fluidity in his line. There’s a rapport we have together musically that’s not unlike certain friendships that you’re lucky enough to have that begin at an early age and last throughout your life: You don’t see each other on a regular day to day basis. because I hear my own influences and history as a player through him. There was a heavy Michael Brecker stage – one of our older classmates. very warm and comfortable. ‘Three Quartets’. Joel and I were vinyl junkies throughout high school. So when I hear his playing.Brad Mehldau Writing Joel Frahm Don’t Explain Joel and I have known each other since we were 15 and have been playing together. near where we lived. one thing I always hear in Joel’s playing is an unapologetic emotional outpouring. Hope you enjoy. CT. absorbing jazz from different time periods. the classic Chick Corea record with Brecker on it.

respectively.a calling card of sentiment. Brian Blade is someone we all admire for his ability to transcend his instrument through his constantly compositional approach. as is the case with Mark’s personnel choice for this recording. suffused longing. but melodic and rhythmic empathy exists in a band that improvises collectively.B.com Page 1 . is perceived on an objective level . unchanging faith that Mark has in the creative process itself. of supplying a churning pedal point. Here was someone on intimate terms with music.” Over a pedal point of B we hear the saxophonist and piano play the melody in unison. and develop a unique musical language together. and Jorge Rossy as well. and casting a mixolydian blur on the dominant seventh chord with the added fourth. an inspired improvisation we say “could have been a whole new song. Kurt. and it’s something that’s often in place at the gate. Take the opening track. Melody.” Less talked about. so appropriate for Mark’s compositions. and his textures on “Bo Brussels. it is on a deep. in 1992.Brad Mehldau Writing Mark Turner In This World Brad Mehldau: Mark Turner: In This World My first reaction on hearing Mark Turner was gratitude. Not once is he just marking time. and they were in place when I first heard him. I heard someone who had assimilated a wealth of information. She Said” (he’s checked out his Ringo!). It’s a timeless set of elements containing the potential for infinite variants. He has the ability. and the result is a harmonic landscape throughout this “Mesa” that is very much Mark: opting for mediant relationships instead of dominant-tonic. He possessed an enviable equanimity regarding improvisation. Instead. he spontaneously builds a bradmehldau. it’s the rhythmic and melodic qualities that draw us in: phrases that stagger “behind the beat”. When we are “moved” in this way. but was already looking inward to express himself. These kinds of musical assets probably have to do with a basic.” and their closely linked improvisatory approach in this setting. and still does. he conjures a world of half-lights and shadows. allowing the ideas to take shape on their own. the gravitating force that brings musicians together initially. What a musician keeps and throws away within all that is what gives him a subjective voice . “Mesa. filled with achy. Not just harmonic. There was nothing strident about his playing. perhaps because the terminology becomes more specialized. and their rapport is evident: witness the uncanny fluidity in the unison melody they play on “Bo Brussels. players cultivate this. because of its monophonic simplicity. the experience becomes fragmented as each listener finds empathy with the harmonic implications of a particular body of work. So it was Mark Turner the harmonist that moved me initially. out of time.” Larry Grenadier and I started playing with Mark a couple years later. met Mark in their school days at Berklee in 1990. coyly giving the impression of mystery.a “good” melody is gauged on its universality. His own compositions communicate this most immediately. With perseverance. E flat and G. The twelve-tone scale is always compelling to us. innerlevel. Check out Jorge’s wonderfully lopey rhythmic addition on “She Said. This beginning only appears artless. are exploited. is the specific harmonic imprint a player can leave. Functioning less as melody. Larry’s role here is characteristic: a foundation that is strong yet elastic in matters of rhythm. Kurt Rosenwinkel and Mark have played together in bands that both of them have led for several years. and the crunchy impressionism of the major third and fourth of each row grinding together. What is it that gives a musician his or her personal “style”? Often. The relationship between three tonal areas a major third apart from each other. these parallel note-groups serve as a harmonic blueprint for the rest of the tune. Three tonal centers are spelled out . while simultaneously catching wisps and shards of harmony that the soloist is implying. But when these tones mix together. taking up space.

Mark seems to have already moved beyond this in many ways.” Mark Turner’s sound on the horn is unmistakable: warm. he is often a sort of guide through Mark’s compositions. plotting courses through different sections. To close on a different note. occasionally putting a firecracker under our collective ass when appropriate. He uses his technical command of the altissimo register as a means to an expressive end. a little about Mark Turner. that. He doesn’t court the theatrics often associated with his instrument. capable of profound gentleness.Brad Mehldau Writing Mark Turner In This World (Continued) drum part with its own organic logic. Comforting. – Brad Mehldau.com Page 2 . Listen to the way he steers the ship through Scylla and Charybdis with Odyssean cunning on mark’s “In This World. In these upper limits of the tenor saxophone.” or a reading of Duke Pearson’s beautiful ballad. it’s a recipe for seduction. he often plays with an easy affability. never saccharine. the person: it’s been my observation that this graceful straightforwardness is something Mark carries into affairs outside of music. Musicians in our age group (myself included) frequently employ these sentiments to add flux to the plot of their musical storytelling. This juxtaposition of extremity and grace conveys an alluring kind of emotional baldness. In matters of form. 1998 bradmehldau. not distorted or harsh. there is a unique lack of need to represent irony or unexpectedness in his playing.” Whether it’s the up-tempo treatment of Mancini’s “Days of Wine and Roses. playing with a direct candor usually reserved for older players. Mark’s output involves very little affectation. “You Know I Care. Disarming in its sincerity.

to varying degrees. which is arguably his strongest recording as a leader thus far. where he can retain his own preferred approach in a given playing situation. never content to rest on what he already has mastered. and an inherent ability to quickly absorb that knowledge and assimilate it. he has worked with Joshua Redman. though.” That is no small distinction. where do you look to for a model? How do you develop your own style? There are thousands of recordings from which to draw guidance. and bandleader. comes through very clearly on the present recording.Brad Mehldau Writing Sam Yahel Truth And Beauty Brad Mehldau: Sam Yahel: Truth And Beauty Sam Yahel’s musical identity can be seen as a reflection of his general character. and again. leave his mark on other people’s projects. we can say that he “has his own sound. Already then. and has kept him busy. it’s a question of integrity. Sam has been the consummate sideman. Sam’s versatility has been an advantage for him throughout his career thus far. composer. depending on how dictatorial the leader is. the more opportunity you have to find out what works for you as a leader and what doesn’t. this is not usually tragic. but it becomes much more interesting when you really start to excel at what you do: Your identity starts to smash against that of the leader. each with a very distinctive identity. In this case. Everything that he has gathered over the years presents itself in a cohesive statement. I’ve admired that trait from the beginning of his development. the music here strikes me as the fruition of a lot of labor and love. taken as a whole. and his creative decisions along the way have reflected that stance. Many people rush to form their own bands and record their own records as quickly as possible. If you want to lead a band in the jazz world. deeply pleasurable listening experience. As a result. and Madeleine Peryroux – three fascinating musicians. bradmehldau. it points to certain character traits of his. As a musician. for quite some time. More recently. while still honoring the vision of the other players around. The soundness of this apprenticeship approach seems obvious enough. Practically from the beginning. and while a certain amount of friction can be exciting. many musicians never find their own sound. As a listener who has followed Sam’s playing for quite some time now. Sam had a wide-ranging curiosity about a broad range of knowledge. I’ve known him since 1990 when he came to New York City. He is always probing deeper as a musician. watching how he created his own sound. When you are a sideman. when the time comes. When a musician masters this ability to retain his identity in a variety of situations. because the identity isn’t there so much yet. you are submitting yourself to his or her vision. Sam’s ability to move with ease among such company is a testament to his versatility. and could be seen as a summation of sorts. and makes for a rewarding. there have always been people who want to play with him. And the more disparate your various tenures are. you are momentarily relinquishing your own identity. and it’s the path that Sam has followed throughout his development. Sam is in it for the long run. Sam’s own voice as an improviser. but nothing can replace being a sideman in someone else’s band and learning through that experience. Bill Frisell. Truth And Beauty. and what they will then perhaps lack down the road is a valuable way of gauging their own output. Not everyone jazz musician necessarily adheres to this approach.com Page 1 . and meanwhile. his phone was ringing. and as long as I’ve known him. One such decision has been to pace himself in terms of his own output as a leader. As a younger musician. and still give the leader what he or she wants. for example. bringing it into the context of whatever he was doing. usually an excellent sideman will try to find a compromise.

and I had the opportunity to watch Sam develop his own sound.com Page 2 . For “postmodern” often implies a pastiche of styles: the disparate elements of a given piece of music. The three of them share this ability to assert their own musical principles without relinquishing a spirit of flexibility. and irony for its own sake is not what Sam. the other two musicians on this recording. for instance – exploits the natural strengths of all three musicians.Brad Mehldau Writing Sam Yahel Truth And Beauty (Continued) I came to New York in 1988 and Sam arrived two years later.. and also. and perhaps the younger jazz musicians coming up now. an overlooked gem of Paul Simon’s. That manifests itself in the way he shapes the music – in his own writing on the six originals here. There are many styles that we have latched onto. But in fact they sit alongside each other in terms of mood. The effective and imaginative way that Sam allows form to follow function throughout this record bradmehldau. In terms of their genres – pop and free jazz – these two tunes look like they’re on opposite poles of this record. will not necessarily gel into a cohesive whole. All of us who began sharing our music with the public in earnest in the early 1990’s. This implies a necessarily ironic stance.) On the contrary. Musicians like Sam. Josh and Brian are up to here. Sam’s approach helped to define the sound behind both of these projects. and both have a rhythmic ease – “Check Up”. or the darker minor key hues of “Man O’War” and “Bend the Leaves”. They are two of the warmest. often there is no discernible transition. in our 20’s. Consider the juxtaposition of two tracks here: “Night Game”. have a strange distinction: We are the first generation in jazz that has no distinguishing playing style to speak of. (One could level a critique against that ethos of pastiche that permeated in the 90’s and inevitably entered into the jazz scene through mostly Gen-X adherents: many of its offerings were crippled by a lack of sincerity. I believe that this flexibility is a hallmark of ‘Gen X’ players. modal jazz. etc. importantly. hard bop. and fusion did at various other times. classically informed composition. Indeed. but that absence of identity also implies an absence of constraint. It might be tempting to refer to this playing ethos as “postmodern”. you may recognize the original source and smile at that. eclipses the choice of material. Josh and Brian share – a certain healthy malleability – as at least partially informed by the climate in which they developed their respective voices. Sam. in the way he has arranged and paced each performance. and some of us have made the rare leap into originality. so we really “grew up” musically together. Without one strong identity. but there is not one form of playing jazz that takes precedence over others for us. and effectively buffer the up-tempo animation of tunes like “Truth and Beauty” and “Saba”. This characteristic of our generation is typically expressed in negative terms. While it is risky business to write historically while the history is still unfolding. funk. The idea is then to exploit this lack of unity and revel in the incongruity of the material. and as the leader here. most placid tracks on the record. we can immediately hear his empathy for the other musicians. while free of a fixed meter. but ultimately you’ll be moved by the strength of the present performance itself. modal playing. There are perhaps several valid ways of defining what constitutes having one’s own sound. and also to Joshua Redman and Brian Blade. be-bop. and the collectively led Yaya 3. pop harmony – in such a way that the transitions are organic. free playing. we are without a playbook. Both are in major key signatures. on paper at least. but that would be misleading. artwork. Josh and Brian have initiated a way of wandering around various disciplines – hard bop. and are free to wander between various disciplines. it’s nonetheless possible to identify this common attribute that Sam. the way. as the absence of something. there is simply this wealth of disparate influences that coalesces into their own vision. and Ornette Coleman’s essay. for instance. The architecture of the songs – which soloist is featured where. nevertheless communicates a wonderful laxness. The music on Truth And Beauty can be seen in this light. Josh and Brian have so far played and recorded together in two different settings: the Joshua Redman Elastic Band. but the above definition applies to Sam. “Check-Up”. the strong identity of this trio. and the way Sam has arranged the music here. As a listener.

which is all about emotional release from what has thus far taken place. like his great virtuosity on the instrument. One such principle is voice-leading – the notion that each voice in a chord moves with logic and integrity. Sam began with the piano and discovered the organ later. Some of those settings are more directly informed by the history of the instrument and its chief practitioners. Individual voice-leading often takes a back seat in this approach when the left hand plays fixed chords that have been worked out ahead of time. between the right and left hand respectively. more often than not. Sam has absorbed certain musical principles from that oeuvre and assimilated them into his writing for the organ trio. his plaintive reading of the melody adds to this verklemmpt feeling. woody sound that works great with Brian’s hand drumming at the beginning of the tune. because of the way he carefully calibrates his tone with what’s already going on. and Sam has honed in on several specific arrangements of those drawbars to develop his own sound palette. The tendency in jazz is often to split the music into a single note melody and a chordal accompaniment. this track shows how Sam. When Josh enters. Sam favors a dark. Josh and Brian are always intuitively orchestrating for each other. Just listening to the way Josh blends with his surroundings on Sam’s melodies is a pleasure in itself. he thins his sound slightly. and holds back. yet it’s an important component in his own recordings. In addition to absorbing lots of jazz piano. and the timber change highlights the dramatic effect of this section. Sam’s shift of a few drawbars. For the majority of the song. to understand him as a musician. Especially in the alto register of his horn. On this record. and is definitely put to use throughout Truth and Beauty.” It takes place during the poignant transitional material that occurs after the main theme and between the solos. bradmehldau. Cross-pollination between the world of Bach and Chopin and the world of Jimmy Smith and Larry Young doesn’t sound immediately obvious. Sam does just that in a myriad of ways on this record. and it plays an important part in Sam’s musical expression on the organ as well. not unleashing everything. Josh displays an important strength he has as a horn player: although he has a large sound and a lot of reserve power on the horn. An organist has a further challenge. rather. It’s a minimalist approach in the best sense of the word – he gets the most out of a few notes by finding just the right notes to play. but it’s not so much a stylistic influence from classical music that you hear. It’s all about making everyone shine. but one particular way that he gives the listener melody and harmony on this record shows up several times. while others are more idiosyncratic. because the left hand is already busy playing a bass line. This ability of Josh’s isn’t mentioned as much as other more obvious attributes of his. and more generally.Brad Mehldau Writing Sam Yahel Truth And Beauty (Continued) is probably another trait that he has garnered from his sideman experience over the years. It’s a subtle masterstroke.com Page 3 . and it’s where his ear for voice-leading comes into play. One way to answer this challenge is to have the right hand supply the melody and harmony both. he also studied classically for several years. it helps to consider the way he has balanced his musical output between the organ and the piano throughout his career. and his improvisatory approach as well. Although Sam’s means of expression here is the organ. A higher drawbar is employed in such a way that the organ suddenly shimmers slightly. the listener can hear how Sam’s choices in this regard always fit a given context. and therefore will not necessarily have any melodic integrity in the way they move between each other. creating a mood of muted sorrow. Here. and corresponds with the other notes. His sonic gambit on “Bend The Leaves” is particularly effective. though. and for a jazz pianist that division takes place. is the secret weapon on “Bend The Leaves. There are countless sonic options that a player has on the Hammond B-3 organ through use of the drawbars on the instrument. he is always so attentive to how he blends with the instruments around him.

inventive manner. or Wayne Shorter.” The word ‘tune’ suggests something casual and offhand. Again. until the bridge section arrives. and in the way he arranges the ensemble. when Josh enters on the melody. Next. A mere pair. In both of those tunes. Thematic development within the genre of jazz composition is a particular challenge. At this moment.” After the bridge. beginning on E major. The second time through the same material. because of the logical way it has developed thus far. Each one is miniature story. Setting these tonal centers adjacent to each other spurred the imagination of composers like Brahms. the mysterious organ introduction establishes a link between two very distant keys – the tonic C Minor and E major. The strategy of keeping Josh on deck for the initial thematic statement. deepening the hue of the tune and developing the plot of the story we are hearing thus far. due in no small part to Brian’s constant invention on the drum kit. “Truth and Beauty. they nevertheless sound orchestrally complete. “I wrote a new tune. the whole thematic statement has a gravity and wonderful inevitability about it. He gives any particular composition added heft as soon as he starts playing. The word a musician uses to describe a particular piece of music is telling: He or she will say. We hear its opening motif. and curves back downward. we can see an example of the first of those two strategies. while E Major is all light and joy. period – is his ability to shape a song and give it glue in such a rich. Sam plays it in single notes. the narrative aspect of Sam’s vision strikes me. The first time through. Here it must be said that one factor that sets apart Brian Blade as a drummer – and I would even say one of the most important musicians of his generation on any instrument. was in fact a thesis-like. It is a way of telling what bradmehldau. as if to say. where the melody is heard first played by Sam in single notes in a casual. most of the time jazz tunes try to stay relatively compact so they can provide a fluid and concise format for the improvisation that will ensue. this kind of self-effacing description belies the deeper meaning that can reveal itself within an admittedly shorthand genre.Brad Mehldau Writing Sam Yahel Truth And Beauty (Continued) Take the opening title track. Just listening to Brian’s drums alone on the initial duo statement of the melody in “Man O’War” – the way he begins minimally. and bringing him in a little ways into the tune. using more drums. but also because we’ve been prepped for the moment – we realize that the introductory material of “Man O’War”. we are clearly in a minor-keyed world for a stretch of time. varying the rhythm and building dynamically – is a lesson in thematic development. because it allows the listener to initially hone in on the melody. swinging fashion. Sam often develops the plot by casting the initial material of a given composition in a different light. at a softer dynamic. his storytelling comes through in two concrete ways: in the song itself. Sam gives us the same melody with an added note below it. It strikes me that Sam’s writing on this record has reached a new level. though.” After the brief introduction that establishes the simmering groove between Sam and Brian. Bob Dylan. “Now listen more closely this time. condensed statement of the entire song. punctuated by funky chords that give us a sketch of the harmony. is simple but very effective: First. with its mystery and uncertainty. In its chordal movement. with only the bass line under it. the way it arches outward and develops. “Man O’War”. On “Man O’War”. the listener is drawn into how much two musicians like Sam and Brian Blade can do together. I’m revealing more. His tunes here are not just great vehicles for improvising. It could be a composition of Sam. When the “head” of the tune proper starts. making a succinct opening paragraph for us. effectively enriches the harmonic implication of what we heard the first time. one that is completely diatonic. Sam harmonizes the melody. and then progressively spreads out. with its chromatic movement.com Page 4 . They are opposite in mood – C Minor is dark and tends toward somber. immediately moving in contrary motion with its own melodic logic. and phrases it more deliberately – it’s a great effect. to mention a few other musicians and songwriters who have sought him out over the years. The simplicity is just right. The second voice. A similar strategy is used on the haunting waltz. In the best examples of jazz composition. but also of Joni Mitchell. we here the melody on the organ. the heraldic effect on the listener comes in part because of the freshness of the harmonic change. in his first symphony or first piano quartet.

is contrasted suddenly by an interlude in D Major. the idea is to contrast two very different moods from each other. then what is truth? However unanswerable that question may be. so when we perceive beauty. of the syncopated hustle-bustle of the first melody. Appropriately. It only becomes tricky when you try to count it! This A-Flat major section – I kind of picture a jaunt through midtown Manhattan during rush hour.com Page 5 . The tonality change is significant because of the tri-tone relationship between the two keys. and we’re at half speed now. Worthy in complexity of Bartok’s music or prog-rock. A listener hears this kind of underlying architecture intuitively. adeptly skipping around oncoming pedestrian traffic . punctuated by Brian’s perfectly minimal commentary as he moves away from the cymbals. and in both cases as well. and the actual journey takes place throughout the rest of the performance. the meter is a tricky. the idea that truth and beauty are one in the same has never completely lost currency in the realm of art. and not just a human construct. and all ye need to know. strangely. and give the visible world a shape that makes sense to us. so to speak. at once stately and dreamy. who posited idealized forms that lie behind everything. in a killing 7/4 groove. Basically. the conceit that truth and/or beauty are objective is temporarily permitted. which constantly shifts with historical circumstances. Here. Although this interlude is radically different than what preceded it – we’re now perhaps in the daydream of that virtuosic pedestrian after he or she has boarded the subway and sat down – it’s nevertheless possible to discern that. In “Saba”. We could maybe describe them as waking reality and its antidote of daydream and fantasy.Brad Mehldau Writing Sam Yahel Truth And Beauty (Continued) the song is “about”: the distance between these two tonal centers is conveyed in the introduction. D Major is furthest possible key from A-Flat Major. We immediately sense a radical shift in mood. The sentiment is twofold: Beauty must contain truth in order to exist. because art for us is already bracketed out of everyday reality: Art is a bridge between those eternal. This is something these guys excel at – making an unconventional meter sound natural and fluid. the argument goes. subject to the vagaries of our perception. Perhaps it takes its cue from Plato. on opposite ends of the circle. playing with that stepwise relationship. these arguments rest on a rejoinder: If beauty communicates truth. removed kind of way. funky dance. along with the overall dynamic level of the trio. hidden forms of Plato and our ordinary perception. heard in A-flat Major. the time feel downshifts for this D Major bit. The rhythmic dynamic here is very much the domain of Sam. With art. in a very far-off. the center of gravity is squarely on the tonic. The reality theme and the dreamy one have a motific resemblance: in both. The title of the record.that is all / Ye know on earth. showing us only its contours. immediately perceivable disharmony that’s all around us. the feel is a rollicking. to great compositional effect. In it. the melody approaches that tonic from the flatted 7th scale tone a step below the tonic. The melody reminds us. and it gives Sam’s compositions on this record their depth. Sam explained. If art doesn’t do this.” . The idea is an old one and has appeared in various contexts over the years. Sam also uses tonal and metric relationships. they sit. truth and beauty are equated with each other: “Beauty is truth. During the opening ‘reality’ theme. as a way of explaining the mysterious rightness of a particular artwork – the way it pleases a large group of people immediately and without explanation or effort. as in “Man O’War”. like those pastiche offerings that merely communicate the abundant. It has taken a beating over the years by empiricists and relativists alike because it posits truth as something objective and outside of us. asymmetrical hopscotch of three. hidden. It reveals truth obliquely. three and four. bradmehldau. Josh and Brian. truth beauty. comes from a poem by Keats. and we submit willingly to its shadow game of abstraction. one could argue – if it only represents the reality that’s already around us – then it remains topical. it communicates that truth to us. the moment has been prepared for us to some extent. favoring a drier sound for this section. another original.

he saw that when this more ego-driven desire was absent. He examined his own motives as a musician. and found that they were not always “true”. he reflected that his playing was at times too involved in a quest to excel and be the best.com Page 6 . comes from honesty about the nature of one’s motivation as a musician. For example.Brad Mehldau Writing Sam Yahel Truth And Beauty (Continued) Sam’s gloss on the poem is to locate truth in the intent of the musician. the music was more beautiful. this process of self-examination is ultimately rewarding for the musician and the listener alike. Furthermore. and this secure alignment of intent and actual creation – of truth and beauty – contributes to its aesthetic success. and that this desire obscured the potential beauty of the music-making experience for him. Brad Mehldau bradmehldau. Sam explained that the title of the record points to a realization that gestated for years. Although it can be uncomfortable to confront the more ego-related aspects of one’s musical persona. then. and crystallized relatively recently. The beauty. Far from being a self-evident proclamation. The music here is not trying to be anything other than what it is.

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