Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What I got from Brad Mehldau

I was watching Brad Mehldau last night, the first time as a trio. I've seen him in his orchestral performance on Highway Rider and I was disappointed in that because so little of it was piano. This time, it was focused on piano and drum solos and bass solos only occurred on  a couple of tunes.

Each time I watch these World Class performers, I look for something to learn. First of all, even with Chick's performance last week, I noticed that I was playing longer phrases than these two greats. Even when Chick played his fast lines, he still kept each phrase short and varied them a lot rhythmically. So once again, I tell myself "KEEP YOUR PHRASES SHORT".

Now there are players that have long phrases (Keith Jarrett for one), but he knows what he's doing. I don't so I better stick to the program.

I made a statement before my last gig that I would leave more space. Well it was one of the worst days for space yet. Playing jazz requires such deep concentration while playing and at my last gig a few days ago, it was very hard to hear the bass and the drums from the audience noise. So I was distracted.

Comparing Brad and Chick for a moment,  Brad was more definitive about connecting each phrase. In a majority of his phrases, it would always link to the one before. Seldom would a single idea stand out without a connection to something else.

This to me is something I've strived to do in practice. I even do a frequent practice strategy of creating  a phrase from a prior one. Brad Mehldau specifically stated this as his approach (the building of ideas as a prior one unfolds) in the program notes.

So I don't know why this always fails for me a gig. After listening to the sax soloist in my band, by the time its my turn to play, I'm trying to sound similar and I realize now that I'm playing too busily. I know this after the fact since I listen to the recordings of all my gigs. This last gig I did was one of the worst. I was filling in with a bunch of crap, to be honest.

In addition to Brad's melodic structures (of connecting phrases), he is also very recognizable with his syncopated rhythm and his is very specific. Some of it I hear in Fred Hersch (his teacher), and some clearly developed further to something recognizable as his. I clearly copy these little things he does, at least in practice.

Some of the things that I do I pick up subtley from influences from Brad, Herbie and Bill Evans. Those are probably the top three. I haven't seen Herbie yet in a Trio playing straight ahead though I've seen many of his concerts on DVD.

There's something different about seeing these guys live. Maybe because I know I'm paying a dollar a minute to watch them so it makes me really try to pick out something useful from each performance.

Even when I go back to listening to the records, I seem to get a better sense of what's happening from having watched their fingers.

Suprisingly, a lot of Brad and Chick's fast lines are two handed. Just seems awfully fast but would seem like moderate work for each hand. Looks like I've been working too hard.

Now that I've got a chance to really watch him play, I realize that Brad has a lot of jazz vocabulary that guides what he plays. I would have thought that because he's such a unique voice that nothing pulls from the past. I was wrong. I can hear the bebop structures that he can pull out at will (though he rarely is that predictable).

Clearly his source for his improvisation is way big. It's rare to find him with something cliche.  The good news is that Brad is only 42. There will be many years still to watch him grow even further.

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