A gifted jazz pianist and an intriguing thinker, Brad Mehldau has performed in a trio and as a solo artist since the mid-1990s, working as a sideman for Wayne Shorter and John Scofield, as well as recording with Charlie Haden and Lee Konitz, among others. Although he has played with the greats, Mehldau also draws inspiration from the pop-rock stylings of everyone from Paul Simon to Radiohead. The multitalented musician is as comfortable navigating jazz improvisation as he is composing classical song cycles, keeping the buzz that built up around his debut at a constant tremor.
Born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1970, Bradford Alexander Mehldau was raised in Connecticut. A musical prodigy, he studied classical repertoire from an early age and grew up on a steady diet of rock. After hearing Keith Jarrett's The Köln Concert in his early teens, Mehldau turned his sights to jazz. He played in the Hall High School jazz band in Hartford and won Best All-Around Musician at Berklee College while still in high school.
In 1988, Mehldau moved to New York City to attend the New School, studying under Fred Hersch, Junior Mance, Kenny Werner and Jimmy Cobb, who later invited Mehldau to join his band, Cobb's Mob. The pianist also worked with saxophonist Joshua Redman before releasing his debut, Introducing Brad Mehldau, in 1995. The album, which includes four original compositions, features jazz standards by John Coltrane, Duke Ellington and Cole Porter.
Around that time, he formed a trio with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy. From 1997 to 2001, they released a series of five records under the title The Art of the Trio, an inspired mix of original material, live recordings at the famed Village Vanguard, jazz standards and pop-rock classics such as Paul McCartney's Blackbird and Nick Drake's River Man.
The pianist first came to the Festival in 1997, performing with bassist Charlie Haden in the opening concert for percussionists Jacky Terrasson and Mino Cinelu. Two years later, he released his first solo piano effort, Elegiac Cycles, an album of thematic threads that tie his classical background and jazz sensibility neatly together.
A second concept album of original work, Places, appeared the following year. This time, Mehldau explored space rather than time, composing a soundtrack to his travels on the road. Largo, which played up electronic effects balanced by a lush horn section, came the following year.
In 2004, the pianist returned to the Festival, joining Joshua Redman, Ali Jackson and fellow trio member Larry Grenadier onstage as part of guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel's premiere performance at the event. That same year, Mehldau's trio released Anything Goes, a selection of standards. The follow-up, Day Is Done (2005), marked the debut of drummer Jeff Ballard, who replaced Jorge Rossy.
The pianist embarked on an ambitious project with Love Sublime, temporarily leaving the jazz realm to compose a pair of classical song cycles for famed soprano Renée Fleming in 2006. Rainer Maria Rilke's Songs from the Book of Hours: Love Poems to God serves as inspiration for the first section, while the second part draws on texts from The Blues Estuaries by American poet Louise Bogan. That same year, he collaborated with guitarist Pat Metheny on Metheny Mehldau and, later, Metheny Mehldau Quartet (2007).
In 2008, Mehldau made his seventh appearance at the Festival in just over ten years, performing solo, with his trio and as part of a duo with venerable jazz pianist Hank Jones. The same year, the pianist launched Live, a two-disc set recorded at the Village Vanguard.
The ambitious studio effort Highway Rider came out in 2010. The following year, Mehldau accompanied Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter at MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE. The pianist and the singer performed material from their collaborative effort, Love Songs. Mehldau came back shortly after to play two concerts at the Festival (including a piano solo performance).
Credited to the Brad Mehldau Trio, 2012's Ode is the first studio effort the artist has recorded with double bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard in seven years.