Born: Jan 5, 1957 in Glencoe, IL
Styles: Modern Creative, Avant-Garde Jazz, Post-Bop
Instruments: Piano, Composer
An ambitious composer/pianist with a taste for adventure, Melford emerged in the late '80s and early '90s as one of the more highly-acclaimed young jazz pianists of the day. Melford's early work reflected her primary musical mentors/influences: on piano, Don Pullen, whose percussive mannerisms she successively adapted; and, as a composer, Henry Threadgill, whose formal techniques she obviously studied. Melford professes an affinity to the blues styles she heard and studied as a youth in Chicago (she grew up in nearby Evanston, IL), which she incorporates into her avant-garde tinged musical sensibility. As a youth she studied boogie-woogie piano with Erwin Helfer. Melford attended college at Evergreen State in Washington State, where she studied with the pianist Art Lande and developed an interest in jazz. She went on to also attend the Cornish Institute in Seattle. In 1984 she moved to New York, where she would play in the bands of Threadgill, Leroy Jenkins, and Butch Morris, among others. She also studied privately with Pullen. In the mid- to late '80s she performed and recorded in a duo with the flutist Marion Brandis. She formed a trio with bassist Lindsay Horner and drummer Reggie Nicholson, with which she recorded a pair of now-deleted albums - Jump (1990) and Now and Now (1991) - for the rock-oriented Enemy label, which helped establish her reputation. As the '90s progressed, Melford added horns to her sound; the trumpeter Dave Douglas is a member of her Same River, Twice band, which has recorded albums for the Gramavision and Arabesque labels. She has continued to perform with bands led by Jenkins and Threadgill; she is also a member of one of Douglas' many ensembles. In 2000, Melford received a Fulbright Scholarship to study North Indian music on the harmonium with Sohanlal Sharma in Calcutta.
- Chris Kelsey (All Music Guide)
"From her first album in 1991, it was clear that this pianist and composer would stay around," the New York Times said of Myra Melford. Melford has not only stuck around, but she has flourished. She has appeared on more than 20 recordings, including nine as a leader , performed in more than 30 countries, won major awards for composition and piano performance, and worked with some of the world's most innovative musicians. Melford's staying power is the product of ceaseless musical travels; she's always going somewhere. As Francis Davis noted , "Myra Melford is the genuine article, the most gifted pianist/composer to emerge from jazz since Anthony Davis."
At the keyboard, Melford recasts the blues and boogie-woogie of her Chicago hometown, folds in elements of the music of Eastern Europe and India, and blends them with the rangy, percussive avant-garde stylings she cultivated in studies with Don Pullen and Henry Threadgill. This personal musical vocabulary is further enriched by a lush lyricism and organized by an architectural sense of composition that she derived from classical training.
Melford's remarkable breadth is ordered by a thoughtful, expressive sensibility, evocatively described by Coda Magazine: "Myra Melford is at once a dancer, a romantic and a savage suckerpuncher at the bench ... beating all hell out of the piano and making it beautiful."
In the early '90s Melford toured and recorded extensively with her acclaimed trio featuring Lindsey Horner on bass and Reggie Nicholson on drums. Their 1993 recording Alive in the House of Saints was reissued by hat Art in 2001. In the late '90s, she led a quintet, The Same River, Twice, which featured trumpeters Dave Douglas or Cuong Vu, reedist Chris Speed, cellist Erik Friedlander, and drummer Michael Sarin. They recorded two albums, their self-titled debut on Gramavision (1996) and Above Blue (Arabesque, 1999).
Melford currently leads or co-leads four groups, all of which have recorded in the past several years.
Melford's ongoing search for new sounds and new directions in her music led her to the harmonium, a small hand-pump organ traditionally used in Indian and Pakistani classical and devotional music. Melford was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study North Indian music on the instrument with Sohanlal Sharma in Calcutta, where she was in residency from September 2000 through May 2001. The fruits of her studies are heard in some of her compositions for her groups The Tent and Be Bread.
In addition to leading her own ensembles for more than 15 years, Melford appears as a special guest on Jenny Scheinman's Shaligaster (Tzadik), Joseph Jarman's Lifetime Visions and Jarman's and Leroy Jenkins' Out of the Mist (Ocean Records); Butch Morris' a Move (Sony) and Songs Out of My Trees (Soul Note); and Leroy Jenkins' Themes and Improvisations on the Blues (CRI).
Melford is also active in music education. She is currently Assistant Professor of Improvisation and Jazz in the Music Department at the University of California at Berkeley. Her course, "Current Trends in Jazz and Improvisation-based Musics-A Performance Workshop," allows students to explore the role of improvisation in contemporary jazz and creative music through performance. The course emphasizes developing the tools of an improviser as well as an aesthetic and critical knowledge of current practices. She earned a B.A. from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. She completed her studies with Art Lande and Gary Peacock at the Cornish Institute in Seattle, and in private study with Henry Threadgill and Don Pullen in New York City.
As Melford continues to turn musical corners with new instruments, inventive compositions, and further ensembles, you get the feeling that her artistry could still go anywhere. As Jazziz magazine noted, "The confidence to go so far into uncharted territory and the ability to carry listeners along-then bring them back-attest to Melford's vision." .