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Melford grew up right outside of Chicago — home to certain types of blues music. From a young age — right around kindergarten, by her recollection — she was taking classical piano lessons from a blues and boogie woogie piano player, who would end each lesson by teaching her how to play in those traditions. The lessons continued through the beginning of high school, when her focus shifted to other interests, as they often do at that age.
When Melford got to Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., she picked up playing the piano once again, though realized quickly that classical music was not where her heart was. That’s when she began to study jazz and improvisation.
Melford ended up in New York, playing jazz in various groups and being commissioned to compose and perform music through grants. It’s been said that California loses its best jazz musicians to New York, but after 20 years in the Big Apple, the opposite happened — Melford decided that she could combine her love of teaching with her desire for a little bit more steady income, and set about trying to find a university that would allow her to accomplish both. She ended up at U.C. Berkeley in 2004.
“I had played in some of the bigger cities in California,” says Melford. “I’d been to San Francisco and the Bay Area, and to San Diego and to L.A. and Santa Cruz, while I lived in New York, but it wasn’t until I moved out here that I started discovering that there are a lot of other great places to play, and Arcata and the Redwood Jazz Alliance is, by far, one of my favorites anywhere in the world.”
Melford has played in Arcata with Marty Ehrlich and Trio M — for a Redwood Jazz Alliance show in January 2008 — and most recently on the Van Duzer stage with Jenny Scheinman, with whom Melford collaborated for formerly local Scheinman’s “Shalagaster” album in 2004.
“It was hard for me to leave New York,” she adds, “but now I’m very, very happy to be living in some place beautiful and with so much natural beauty and a much mellower lifestyle, which is suiting me very well.”
In 2002, after returning from a Fulbright Scholarship in Calcutta, Melford formed Be Bread with core players Stomu Takeishi on acoustic bass guitar, Cuong Vu on trumpet and Brandon Ross on acoustic guitars. The group has had different incarnations over the years, and one of those changes has been the addition of clarinetist and composer Ben Goldberg, whom she met in Berkeley. Melford had also been playing with drummer Matt Wilson in Trio M, “and it just occurred to me a couple of years ago that he would sound fantastic in Be Bread, so I invited him to be in the ensemble,” she says.
The band released its first album, “The Image of Your Body,” in 2006. The title of the album, as well as the band’s name, was borrowed from a poem of the same name by 13th century Persian mystic, Rumi, which Melford says was kind of autobiographical for her, because it was about someone moving out of the city, and she had just made the move from New York to California.
THE IMAGE OF YOUR BODY“I’ve been a student of meditation and Eastern philosophy for a long time, and it just kind of captured that idea that I want to express through my music, which is to offer something nourishing and positive and uplifting to people, and at the same time, it’s that idea that we have to find that in ourselves. If we’re looking for that kind of nourishment in the world, the first place is to look within for that. So if you’ve not been fed, be that food — be bread.”
You've made it out of the city,
that image of your body, trembling with traffic
and fear slips behind.
Your face arrives in the redbud trees, and the tulips.
You're still restless.
Climb up the ladder to the roof.
You're by yourself a lot,
become the one that when you walk in,
luck shifts to the one who needs it.
If you've not been fed, be bread.
“The Whole Tree Gone” is Be Bread’s second studio record, released less than two weeks ago. The tracks for the new record were originally written for a project Melford was working on, which utilized both her skills on piano and harmonium, but when a recording session was started for those songs, it didn’t take Melford long to realize that she had too much material for one album, so the harmonium tracks were put on the back burner. “The Whole Tree Gone” features Melford playing only the piano, with her band.
Melford is on the road this week, playing CD release shows in Berkeley and Santa Cruz, and ending in Arcata, as part of the Redwood Jazz Alliance’s 2009-2010 season. She says the band’s live set will include songs from the new record, as well as older material and the harmonium pieces that didn’t make the recent record.
Myra Melford and Be Bread will play at Humboldt State University’s Fulkerson Recital Hall this Friday, Jan. 29, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 general admission and $10 for students and seniors.
Thanks for Melford for allowing Radio Radio Radio to offer this listen to "I See a Horizon,” a track from her new album, “The Whole Tree Gone.”
(Submitted photo by Valerie Trucchia)