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
Brad Mehldau House On Hill
(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
Brad Mehldau House On Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be our Shepard. 1 The hour is striking so close above me. You be our refuge from the wrath that drove us out of Paradise. Your second word was man. Then for long you were silent. 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 fear began. I know that nothing has ever been real without my beholding Page 1 . Go on writing in faces and stone what your silence means. 44 Your first word was light. My looking ripens things And they come toward me. Are you about to speak again? I don’t want your third word. 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. bradmehldau. All becoming has needed me. Macy I. but never call us ─ We can’t bear to know what’s ahead. and time began. that all my senses ring with it. which grips us still. Let all your doing be by gesture only. I. so clear and sharp.

II. There I can find. and held like a legend. I. the great homesickness we could never shake off. the forest that always surrounded us. 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. gentlest of Ways who ripened us as we wrestled with you. Haphazardly assembled bradmehldau.Brad Mehldau Writing Brad Mehldau Reneé Fleming Love Sublime (Continued) I. 5 I love the dark hours of my being. you. the song we sang in every silence. you. you dark net threading through us. Disguised since childhood. You. My mind deepens into them. Then the knowing comes: I can open to another life that’s wide and timeless. on the day you made us you created yourself. already Page 2 . and understood. 11 No one lives his life. 25 I love you. the days of my life. as in old letters. 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

they sit.” . Josh and Brian. Sam explained. the meter is a tricky. and we submit willingly to its shadow game of abstraction. on opposite ends of the circle. the melody approaches that tonic from the flatted 7th scale tone a step below the tonic. truth and beauty are equated with each other: “Beauty is truth. strangely. one could argue – if it only represents the reality that’s already around us – then it remains topical. and not just a human construct. heard in A-flat Major. immediately perceivable disharmony that’s all around us. Worthy in complexity of Bartok’s music or prog-rock. the argument goes. like those pastiche offerings that merely communicate the abundant. the time feel downshifts for this D Major bit. This is something these guys excel at – making an unconventional meter sound natural and fluid. favoring a drier sound for this section. the feel is a rollicking. so when we perceive beauty. it communicates that truth to us. Sam also uses tonal and metric relationships. another original. hidden forms of Plato and our ordinary perception. the idea is to contrast two very different moods from each other. as in “Man O’War”. and give the visible world a shape that makes sense to us. along with the overall dynamic level of the trio. It reveals truth obliquely. The idea is an old one and has appeared in various contexts over the years.that is all / Ye know on earth. the center of gravity is squarely on the tonic. comes from a poem by Keats. and the actual journey takes place throughout the rest of the performance. Appropriately. In it. truth beauty. in a very far-off. then what is truth? However unanswerable that question may be. removed kind of way. who posited idealized forms that lie behind everything. the conceit that truth and/or beauty are objective is temporarily permitted. so to Page 5 . In “Saba”. The melody reminds us. 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. The reality theme and the dreamy one have a motific resemblance: in both. We immediately sense a radical shift in mood. A listener hears this kind of underlying architecture intuitively. and we’re at half speed now. The rhythmic dynamic here is very much the domain of Sam. adeptly skipping around oncoming pedestrian traffic . If art doesn’t do this. and it gives Sam’s compositions on this record their depth. in a killing 7/4 groove. Here. hidden. D Major is furthest possible key from A-Flat Major. the moment has been prepared for us to some extent. 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 contrasted suddenly by an interlude in D Major. subject to the vagaries of our perception. Perhaps it takes its cue from Plato. to great compositional effect. It has taken a beating over the years by empiricists and relativists alike because it posits truth as something objective and outside of us. With art. funky dance. bradmehldau. The sentiment is twofold: Beauty must contain truth in order to exist. The title of the record. of the syncopated hustle-bustle of the first melody. and in both cases as well. because art for us is already bracketed out of everyday reality: Art is a bridge between those eternal. We could maybe describe them as waking reality and its antidote of daydream and fantasy. During the opening ‘reality’ theme. the idea that truth and beauty are one in the same has never completely lost currency in the realm of art. playing with that stepwise relationship. three and four.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. 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. at once stately and dreamy. showing us only its contours. punctuated by Brian’s perfectly minimal commentary as he moves away from the cymbals. Basically. these arguments rest on a rejoinder: If beauty communicates truth. and all ye need to know. which constantly shifts with historical circumstances. asymmetrical hopscotch of three. The tonality change is significant because of the tri-tone relationship between the two keys.

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

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