This interview with Brad Mehldau is by the leading French jazz critic Bruno Pfeiffer. It appeared in French in Liberation, where it received a tide of positive reader comment. It appears for the first time in the original English here, by kind permission of Bruno Pfeiffer.
Bruno Pfeiffer: How do you combine the different influences -jazz, classical, pop ?
Brad Mehldau: I don’t make a distinction between genres – I just write and play what I’m feeling. Music in itself doesn’t have genres – it’s just 12 different tones, and how you arrange them in a given point in time.
BP: Your solos are perfectly constructed. Are you inspired by subjects other than jazz (philosophy, mathematics, logic?)
BM: Narratives, in general – a novel, a play, a movie, a symphony. They all have structure when they tell us a story – even crazy modern works like Joyce’s Ulysses are very involved in a form. There is a beginning somewhere and an end somewhere, and the story passes through time. We reflect on our own transient quality to some extent when we experience that story – whether it is through music or some other artistic medium.
BP: What do you answer to those who say you are just a jazz musician?
BM: No one has ever said that to me. What a strange question! : )
BP: How do you define beauty in music?
BM: Beauty is the quality that makes the listener lose his or her self-possession.
The listener relinquishes his own will power for a moment, as he faces something that is greater and better than himself. Beauty – in music or anything – is always better than us, it is different and separate from us.
BP: In “Highway Rider”, (Nonesuch, 2010) which I like a lot, sometimes you are swinging, sometimes deeply classical: did you intend to provide a sample of your various worlds?
BM: The record has a variety of texture, like you mention, and then it also has this continuity, that comes from the thematic unity – I use one idea to generate all the music. So there is a dichotomy between the textural variety and the thematic unity, I suppose.
BP: Improvisations often end up in simple nice sentences. Is that premeditated on your part, in your mind when you start a solo?
BM: There should be a story there, and stories often work well with sentences – and paragraphs, and chapters also. But again – if you look at Joyce – it is possible to forget about periods and commas and sentences and still tell a good story.
BP: The more concentrated you are, the more astounding your concerts tend to be: how do you prepare?
BP: What difference between playing in Salle Pleyel, for instance, and at a festival?
BM: Every night, there is a different audience, every night, there is a new opportunity for something to happen that has not happened before.
BP: What is the nature of your relationship with the public?
BM: Absolute gratitude – my gratitude that they want to listen to me. This
gratitude does not lessen as a get older – on the contrary, it grows. So I
feel a responsibility to the listening public – I really don’t want to waste
BP: How important is the influence of rock groups in your , RADIOHEAD for example??
BM: Life would be more grey without rock’n’roll!
BP: I found much tenderness in “Highway Rider” : is that how you are at the moment?
BM: I can stay tender for about 5 minutes – then that’s enough! : )
BP: Did you compose with Joshua’s playing in mind?
BM: I definitely did compose with Joshua’s playing, and his sound, in mind. Joshua is like my musical brother – I feel so close to him.
BP: What instructions do you provide to your rhythm section?
BM: I try to not give them too much instruction – we talk about specific things for a new piece of music when I bring it in, and after that, after we’ve rehearsed it, hopefully, we don’t need to talk too much.
Thanks again, M. Pfeiffer, and all the best,
Follow this link for the interview in Liberation in French., a curtain-raiser to Mehldau’s appearance at the Jazz Sous Les Pommiers festival in Coutances, France
Brad Mehldau is at the Wigmore Hall in June.