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Formation

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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. For the first time, he offers an in-depth look at how he came to understand his adoption, survive sexual abuse, and overcome heroin addiction.

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 “Mood Swing” 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. The trio’s later life with Jeff Ballard joining in place of Rossy; Brad’s solo ventures; and his explorations of other areas of music, are also covered.

There is no holding back when it comes to Brad’s period of heroin addiction – his painful personal decline and ultimate redemption make 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 from Harold Bloom to 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 1, 2023

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