About this Artist
Grammy Award–winning jazz pianist Brad Mehldau has recorded and performed extensively since the early 1990s. Mehldau’s most consistent output over the years has taken place in the trio format. In 1996, his group released a series of five records on Warner Bros. entitled The Art of the Trio (repackaged and re-released as a five-disc box set by Nonesuch in late 2011). During that same period, Mehldau also released a solo piano recording entitled Elegiac Cycle and a record called Places that included both solo piano and trio songs. Elegiac Cycle and Places might be called “concept” albums made up exclusively of original material with central themes that hover over the compositions. Other Mehldau recordings include Largo, a collaborative effort with the innovative musician and producer Jon Brion, and Anything Goes—a trio outing with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy.
Mehldau’s musical personality forms a dichotomy. He is first and foremost an improviser and greatly cherishes the surprise and wonder that can occur from a spontaneous musical idea that is expressed directly, in real time. But he also has a deep fascination for the formal architecture of music, and it informs everything he plays. In his most inspired playing, the actual structure of his musical thought serves as an expressive device. As he plays, he listens to how ideas unwind and the order in which they reveal themselves. Each tune has a strongly felt narrative arc, whether it expresses itself in a beginning, an end, or something left intentionally open-ended. The two sides of Mehldau’s personality—the improviser and the formalist—play off each other, and the effect is often something like controlled chaos.
Mehldau was appointed curator of an annual four-concert jazz series at London’s prestigious Wigmore Hall during its 2009–10 and 2010–11 seasons, appearing in at least two of the four annual concerts. At Carnegie Hall he served a season-long residency in 2010–11 as holder of the Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair—the first jazz artist to hold that position since it was established in 1995.
As one of the most admired, accomplished bassists working in jazz today, Larry Grenadier has been praised as “a deeply intuitive” musician by The New York Times and as an instrumentalist with a “fluid sense of melody” by Bass Player Magazine. Over a performing and recording career that now spans three decades, it has been not only Grenadier’s instrumental virtuosity and instantly recognizable tone that have made him such an in-demand collaborator but also his uncommon artistic sensitivity, imagination, and curiosity.
In February 2019, ECM Records released Grenadier’s first album of solo bass. Titled The Gleaners, it presents a brace of originals by the bassist alongside pieces by George Gershwin, John Coltrane, and Paul Motian, as well as a pair of pieces written especially for Grenadier by guitarist and fellow ECM artist Wolfgang Muthspiel. Grenadier also includes an instrumental interpretation of a song by his wife and frequent collaborator, the singer-songwriter Rebecca Martin. “The process for making this record began with a look inward, an excavation into the core elements of who I am as a bass player. It was a search for a center of sound and timbre, for the threads of harmony and rhythm that formulate the crux of a musical identity,” says Grenadier.
Of his performance style, Grenadier has observed: “I’m hyper-aware of the balance between a studied approach to music and a more primal, instinctual understanding of the way music works. Having access to technique is useful in being able to communicate and express yourself musically. But music is about intuition and emotion. Compassion, strength, flexibility, and stamina are all important qualities in playing music. But the most important thing is the ability to listen.” Despite his veteran status, “playing music is still a learning experience for me,” he said. “I’m always working on the technical aspects of my playing, but at the same time, I know that what happens on stage between musicians isn’t about that. The level of telepathy and intuition that exists in music, especially in jazz, is a constant reminder of what we’re capable of, both inside and outside of music.”
As a child, drummer Jeff Ballard would lie in bed and listen to the music his father would play: Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Sérgio Mendes, Oscar Peterson, and Milton Nascimento. “I remember feeling the power of a Basie big band shout chorus, which would then suddenly disappear into some quiet dancing riff,” said Ballard, a native of Santa Cruz, CA. “It was the swing in it that excited me the most. I also remember how it felt traveling through sounds of the jungle in a Milton Nascimento record. The drums, percussion, and voice would sound as if they either came from the earth or were made of water. And I was so happy to hear the joy of Ella and Louis singing and playing together. I think that that early exposure has made me part of what I am today, especially in regard to my love for sound.”
At the age of 25, Ballard began an educational journey no college could match. He went on the road for eight months annually from 1988 to 1990 with Ray Charles, backing one of music’s biggest stars, perfecting his time feels and tempos from playing with Charles nightly on the bandstand for three years. In 1990, Ballard moved to New York and jumped into the transformative scene that was developing there. He began collaborating with Kurt Rosenwinkel, Brad Mehldau, Mark Turner, Joshua Redman, and Ben Allison, among others who were mixing jazz tradition with their own influences, ranging from Middle Eastern rhythms to electronica and modern hip-hop.
Ballard also has performed and toured with Eddie Harris, Bobby Hutcherson, Buddy Montgomery, Lou Donaldson, Mike Stern, Joshua Redman, Pat Metheny, and Danilo Pérez. He joined the late Chick Corea in 1999. His present work continues with the Brad Mehldau Trio, as co-leader of collective group FLY (featuring Mark Turner, Ballard, and Larry Grenadier) and with his own groups The Jeff Ballard Trio and Jeff Ballard Fairgrounds.