music: Brad Mehldau so smart so good

I love Brad Mehldau’s solo “Blackbird” the most of all the recent jazz versions, his album of Beatles is wonderful, his own work is all over the place (Jacob’s Ladder and Finding Gabriel are intense), and this interview is solid gold.

The mystery of music

At 52:56: “More modal over pedal points,.. but he’s going to put some Giant Steps in thereā€¦ it’s the blues but it’s something mixolydian”. It’s a delight to hear Brad Mehldau talk and play great John Coltrane musical phrases, but understanding what’s going on is somehow beyond me. I hear beautiful changes and evolution as he plays; I can read music notation, I know some music theory and even enjoy the physics and math behind, for example, a perfect fifth interval, I can get lost in Wikipedia articles about modal jazz and the mixolydian, I can laboriously pick out simple melodies… but I can’t grasp it. I hear the notes of achingly beautiful chords following one another, but am almost incapable of identifying them.

Instead of pitying myself, I took a basic music college course where we practiced singing simple scores and notating melodies we heard, and it was so frustrating: I could write down and sing the interval between two notes (there are cheat sheets that give examples of intervals in famous music), but my hearing of the third, fourth, fifth, … notes afterwards was so affected by what came before that I would get them wrong 80% of the time, and chords were impossible. I couldn’t believe I got an ‘A’ on the course. I suspect my brain only has one neuron available for music recognition, so notes all at once (chords) and sequences over time (melody) just overflow it. Back to pity.

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