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As an innovative and constantly inventive jazz pianist, Brad Mehldau has attracted a sizable following over the years, one that has grown to expect a singular, intense experience from his performances. With Formation, Brad seeks to extend that experience to the page, by sharing some of the deeply personal elements of his life, and how these came together for him to become the musician and person that he is today. He offers an in-depth look at how he came to understand his adoption, being sexually groomed in high school, and overcoming heroin addiction in his twenties. The book creates a vibrantly written portrait of the jazz world in New York in the late 1980s and early 1990s, showing how a generation of musicians met and sparked off one another to take the music in new directions, drawing on a wealth of influences but also keeping sight of tradition, including those rooted in both the jazz and classical worlds. The atmosphere of the clubs, the creative scene in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and Brad’s early experiences of touring are brilliantly brought to life. The formation of the MoodSwing quartet with Joshua Redman is described, as is the growth of Brad’s own groups, leading to his acclaimed Art of the Trio series of recordings with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy. Also covered is the trio’s later life with Jeff Ballard joining in place of Rossy, along with Brad’s solo ventures and his explorations of other areas of music. Brad’s period of addiction – both his painful decline and ultimate redemption – makes for compelling and often distressing reading. Yet, throughout the book, his own reading and listening are a constant frame of reference and often inspiration, from the works of James Joyce and Thomas Mann to the sounds of prog rock and Bob Dylan, not to mention critics such as Harold Bloom and Terry Eagleton. The book can be read as a Bildungsroman, but this coming-of-age is no novel: it is vividly lived personal experience. Intimate, vulnerable, and profound, Formation is a rare look inside the mind of an artist at the top of his field, in his own words.
Published: Mar 15, 2023
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This is incredible writing. It’s loose, specific and sharp as a knife. Brad writes words like he plays piano – with delicate strength and a gift for accessing memories and turning them into thick emotions.
I feel lucky to be around while Brad is here with us. He seems to have access to wells of memories and emotions that few people do. I love his writing as much as I love his music.
It’s hard to go backwards and access memories like Brad does here. They are dark, funny, inspiring and moving. Its details are what makes it special – the kind of things that only happen when you open yourself.
Paul Thomas Anderson
Brad Mehldau’s elegant clarity and lyrical interiority, hallmarks of his artistry as a jazz pianist, also stamp every page of this brilliant and affecting memoir — rooted in a fearless, radical candor. Rarely has an artist revealed themselves so fully as a prism onto the meaning of their art, and a chronicle of a dynamic moment in time.
Nate Chinen, author of Playing Changes: Jazz For the New Century
Brad Mehldau is our jazz generation’s Conjurer-In-Chief. His music is nothing short of magic — an impossible wonder of ecstatic and empathic creative communion, to which I myself have borne witness, time and time again. Now, in this probing and provocative memoir, Brad finally shares with us some of the secrets (or at least the stories) behind the casting of his innumerable spells. A worthy read for anyone intrigued by the genesis of genius.
Few jazz biographies are this personal, and this raw, but then few are so good.
Mehldau's writing style reflects both his musical character and his persona; juxtaposing deep philosophical insight with intensely personal experiences described in straight-talking, graphic detail. He is equally eloquent writing about Harold Bloom's and Terry Eagleton's views on ideology in art as he is writing about shooting up heroin in a run-down building, needing to call an ambulance, and getting arrested.
Throughout the book, Mehldau keeps the reader engaged in a compelling account of a twisted life which threatened to derail the music and the musician but in which, thankfully, the music prevailed.
London Jazz News
An eloquent, sometimes jarring, often riveting, mix of erudition and self-revelation.
An unflinching account of his turbulent first quarter-century, recounting and intersectionally contextualizing, in searing, transparent detail, the circumstances that framed the establishment of the musical relationships and tonal personality that he has elaborated and refined ever since.
An overwhelming book. Incredibly honestly and honestly written, this is a biography of a kind you really don't read very often. A book in which you feel, in everything it contains, that he had to write it and did not want to hold anything back. A book is a great purging of the past and a very deep dive into his life.
Written in Music
Mr. Mehldau explores his formation as a musician and a man in this memoir covering the first 26 years of his life; a sequel is in the works. Now 52, the winner of a Grammy Award, a noted composer, a bandleader, sideman and solo player on a string of acclaimed recordings, Mr. Mehldau is one of the top pianists in all of jazz. He is also a vivid writer with a compelling story to tell, one of pain and suffering—one, too, of persistence, hope and faith.
The Wall Street Journal