Crossing Over with Brad Mehldau’s Cover of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android”: The Role of Jazz Improvisation in the Transformation of an Intertext*

René Rusch

ABSTRACT: This paper explores the intertextual relationships between popular music songs and their jazz adaptations, or “covers.” In a jazz adaptation of a pop song, the improvisatory section—wedged between two more or less complete statements of the pop song—forms the crux of the jazz performance. Improvisation affords musicians an opportunity to create something new out of an existing musical work and, as I suggest in this paper, has the potential to transform the expression perceived in the popular song’s lyrics and musical structure. Using Brad Mehldau’s live solo piano performance of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” (1997) from his promotional album Deregulating Jazz ([1999] 2000) as a case in point, I show how his adaptation both highlights the motivic repetitions in the original rock song and heightens the song’s expressions of anxiety and apprehension.

The article unfolds in two sections. The first section provides an overview of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” as a means to ground my discussion of Mehldau's recording. Here I consider how the rock song’s musical content can be heard as the analog of its lyrical content. In the second section, I explore the intertextual relationships that emerge between Mehldau's adaptation and Radiohead's rock song, drawing from my transcriptions and analyses of both musical texts.

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