|Joel Frahm’s path to jazz seems somewhat destined. Born in Wisconsin, he studied classical piano and even played the bassoon before switching to the tenor saxophone around age 14 at the urging of a friend. When his family moved to Hartford, Connecticut, Joel found himself in a school with a great jazz program. Soon he was listening to more jazz than pop, having discovered Herbie Hancock’s hip-hop edged music which featured Wayne Shorter. During this period, Joel met his classmate, pianist Brad Mehldau.
Joel comments: Being at that school and meeting Brad was a great twist of fate. It was exhilarating for me to be around him during this important period of musical development. The music coming out of him seemed inevitable and organic, but I didn't realize until I moved to New York that Brad was more advanced than most players on the scene. I was really blessed to work with him.
While only 17, Joel and Brad started playing a weekly gig at a club in Hartford. For the next two years, they maintained their gig and ventured occasionally into New York City, eventually moving there permanently for college and to build their professional careers as musicians. After graduating from The Manhattan School of Music, Joel was soon playing blues and jazz gigs in the City and meeting musicians like Matt Wilson and David Berkman, who would both become important collaborators. Joel was accepted into Betty Carter’s intensive Jazz Ahead workshop and began working with Maynard Ferguson, The Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, and Larry Goldings. After placing as a semi-finalist in the 1996 Thelonious Monk competition, Joel released his debut CD, Sorry, No Decaf (in homage to his day job at Starbucks when music gigs were tough to come by) on Palmetto Records in 1999, which was followed by The Navigator in 2000. Currently Joel tours the world with vocalist Jane Monheit.
Meanwhile Brad was developing his distinctive style while working alongside Joshua Redman, Peter Bernstein, Mark Turner, Leon Parker, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Chris Potter. Mehldau eventually met his future trio mates, Larry Grenadier and Jorge Rossy and in 1995, released his debut on Warner Brothers Records. His 2nd release earned him one of his two Grammy nominations, the other coming for his classic Art of The Trio recordings.
Brad comments: It’s cool and a little uncanny, because I hear my own influences and history as a player through Joel. What he had from early on was a certain fluidity in his line, an easy grace. The effect on the listener is to put you at ease in that kind of swinging context. It has the same effect on me playing with him – the ideas come out more easily for me.
Joel and Brad kept in touch over the years but rarely played together. Finally they came together in 1998 at the West Hartford Town Hall for the first of a few duo performances. Those who caught the concert knew they were fortunate to witness the rapport of the musician friends and the beauty of their music. The experience stayed with Joel and Brad too and motivated them to record the captivating Don’t Explain.