ACCLAIMED PIANIST, COMPOSER, ELECTRONIC MUSICIAN AND PRODUCER Todd Cochran has experienced music as a way of life and being in a myriad of settings. The piano is something he has always known as a way into other worlds, early on recognizing it as a portal through which to escape the confines of youth, expand curiosities, and gain wide-ranging knowledge of the world. Born in San Francisco, raised in a home environment of classical music, jazz, and an atmosphere filled with an omnipresent love of the arts, Todd began fingering melodies on the piano at age 3. His parents had professional careers, his dad in the automobile industry and his mother as an accountant. Both were trained musicians, his father a singer/pianist and mother a violinist. His first piano lessons were taught by his father, and young Toddâ€™s absorption was such that he was able to read musical notation before he learned to read words. In this sense music found him â€“ long before he knew to seek it.
Toddâ€™s formal training began with private study at age 5 with Norwegian pianist, â€œMs. Gilbertsonâ€ as he fondly remembers. As his talent became increasingly evident, happenchance led him to audition into the studio of then president of the California Music Teachers Association, Geraldine Linegar â€“ a French-Canadian concert pianist who was still concertizing. In preparation to meeting the requirements of entering the main studio, Todd studied with Canadian concert pianist, Valerie Joan Maude Carvath Lee De Visser. At this time, she enrolled Todd in the Trinity College of Music diploma program. Trinity College London (TCL) is an international examinations board based in London. In terms of his orientation to classical music and the performing arts, this training is the foundation upon which his burgeoning fascination with melody is built. Toddâ€™s multinational perspective of art was cemented. A lifelong musical relationship and friendship ensued.
Grade school was important to Todd, who took it seriously even while all lanes led back to music. He prepared intensely for two major music examinations a year â€“ in theory and counterpoint and piano performance â€“ and performed recitals. There is no virtuosity without discipline, and as such, the good fortune of focused work embedded into his outlook early on would prove to be an immeasurable asset.
Todd grew up the Lakeview district of San Francisco, a predominately black but integrated neighborhood and community. â€œMy schools were mixed so I always had black and white friends. I was an outsider, isolated and often teased about my love and study of classical music, but never â€œotherized.â€ My solitude enhanced what I was drawn to, music, art and books, and I accepted this. But because of the music I never felt lonely and enjoyed great relationships with my few close friends.â€
Influential throughout Toddâ€™s childhood was his maternal grandmother, an ordained reverend, evangelist and protofeminist. They had an easy and close relationship; he loved the hours spent with her, talking, learning to cook, their outings in nature â€“ to Golden Gate Park and the Japanese tea garden, to the seasonal fields of wildflowers and afternoons at the beach. Always surrounded with greenery or flowers that she would nurture â€“ either indoor potted plants or the vegetables and fruit trees growing in her backyard â€“ she introduced him to the beauty of nature. It was his grandmother who taught him how to see nature and to listen and learn from it. Weekdays after school he would practice the piano at her house. Strict and at times overbearing, she harped about â€œgood musicâ€ and was intolerant of anything that did not fit her churchgoing or oratorio (religious themed) criteria. Rooted within the Protestant gospel songs she insisted he play, is the traditional blueprint of New England hymns, the northeastern code of American music. Also being absorbed into his musical framework were the codes of the American south from the motifs of the African American religious spirituals and traditional songs he was taught.
Todd was born with chronic allergies â€“ atopic eczema dermatitis syndrome â€“ that by the time he was two years old, developed into asthma. Allergic to nearly everything, foods (especially nuts), fabrics, and pollens he was subject to a good amount of experimentation, in and out of the hospital, until medics could get a handle on how to treat his condition. With a restricted diet (he drank goat milk) and controlled number of foods he could eat, he grew up in a bubble that his well-being necessitated. At age 10 he was old enough to enter a medical program that would desensitize him from his most extreme allergic reactions, a positive step. Nonetheless, his allergies to certain food types â€“ those causing anaphylaxis shock (life-threatening) are never outgrown and have persisted throughout his life. This rare condition isolated Todd at a very young age and forced him to develop his inner space. Music, books, and imagination became his world; practicing the piano was his safe haven and revealed a dreamscape he hoped to someday actualize. Out of a forlorn condition he grew his self-identity and intention to connect with people in a meaningful way while pursuing a love of music that would grow into artistry.
â€œI had a strict bedtime, lights out at 8:00pm. Iâ€™d say my prayers with my dad five minutes before and jump into bed. My dad would switch on the radio and shut the door (heâ€™d come back in my room after Iâ€™d fallen asleep to switch it off) and exactly on the hour, the nightly classical show â€œConcert By The Bayâ€ would begin with its theme music of â€œDon Juanâ€, Opus 20, the tone poem for large orchestra by Richard Strauss. I heard it for so many years, and so many times, Iâ€™m sure the notes have crept into something Iâ€™ve written, thinking it was my own. In middle school my nighttime ritual switched to reading spy novels with a flashlight under the covers and listening to Motown and Memphis soul on my transistor radio.â€
Around age 14 Todd was introduced to jazz by his older cousin. She was a music lover and classical pianist with whom he enjoyed playing 4-hand duets of Schubert, Clementi and Grieg. It was she who conveyed the beauty of jazz to him in a musicianâ€™s language, opening his mind to the vast cultural landscape of a remarkable artform. The notion of playing jazz captivated him; Wes Montgomery, Gabor Szabo, Willie Bobo, Charles Lloyd, Jimmy Smith. It required understanding the technical and theoretical principles of the classical idiom and then had this contemporaneous, invention in-the-moment dimension that challenged all of the sensibilities of music making. Todd reflects: â€œAlong with going to live concerts, my cousin Cynthia and I were spending hours listening to these astonishing jazz recordings together, and I remember well the day I went to the piano wanting to get some of the harmonic textures and rhythmic sounds Iâ€™d heard out of the instrument â€“ and couldnâ€™t. It was life-altering moment, and in that instant, I was hooked on the pursuit. From that day on I existed in two distinct worlds as far as playing the piano and music was concerned. My interests would never be contained or placed into an simply defined single thing.â€
Throughout high school Todd continued in the Trinity College diploma program, playing classical recitals, and recording (professionally) solo piano works from the standard classical repertoire. At the same time, in what must be described as total music immersion, his jazz playing was taking root. Learning by absorbing every nuance of recordings by jazz pianists Ahmad Jamal, Gene Harris, Dave Brubeck, Bill Evans, etc. he began gaining a palpable sense of there being something beyond the notes and the technique.
â€œTranscribing recordings, doing take downs, copying note by note, everything â€“ the ghost notes and the spaces between, the silences â€” plunged me into the meter and pulse of the performances I was trying to capture. I pored over the hard accents and especially how the musicians ended their performancesâ€¦ there appeared to be a burst of freedom in the final statements, the last thoughts unbridled from the tuneâ€¦ there was so much personality revealed in the flurry of finality â€“ some left the door open, others slammed it shut. There was so much to learn.â€
San Francisco in the 60s and 70s â€“ Toddâ€™s hometown â€“ was a vital center of the cultural revolution. The civil rights movement had become an energy, a force in motion â€“ yet within the fearsome conflict and agitation was a profound sense of hope for the world to be a better place; that equal justice and change could happen. For a young African-American musician, playing jazz and knowing the inflections of the blues experience was rite de passage. To that end, making art that creatively mirrored the vitality and passions of the socio-cultural moment was an embedded mandate. Inspired by the quest, Todd sought out musical associations with relevant, skilled artists.
Key transitions have pivotal points and Toddâ€™s shift from being a classical purest happened while he was studying and performing the music of 20th century composers Hindemith, Khachaturian, and Gottschalk; for him the melodies, rhythmic shapes and harmonic abstractions formed a bridge into jazz. He was perceiving something of a similar tonal language; however, each had a system that was unique to the composer. â€œThey introduced you to their symbolism and sent your mind traveling with them. Through their music they seemed to externalize everything they thought and felt through images. I wanted to do that.â€
JAZZ APPRENTICESHIP â€“ EARLY RECORDINGS
At age 17 Todd officially began his apprenticeship, playing for 2 years with master jazz alto saxophonist John Handy â€“ featured alumni of the Charlie Mingus band and renowned for his â€œGoodbye Pork Pie Hatâ€ performance on Mingusâ€™ lodestar album â€œUm Huhâ€ produced by Teo Macero. Roughly a mile from Toddâ€™s high school and bordering Lake Merced (a freshwater lake in the southwest corner of San Francisco) is the campus of San Francisco State University. Daily, after the final bell of his high school classes, he would head to the music school at the college to use a piano room and practice; a ritual he was devoted to every minute he possibly could. On one of those afternoons, in the hallways of the music department, he was introduced to John Handy. A year later, performing with John Handy at the Concord Jazz Festival, Todd had his first big stage, large scale premiere of a 5-movement suite he composed for the occasion.
Around this time, he befriended famed New Zealand pianist and Yusef Lateef alumni, Mike Nock, who introduced him to a number of international jazz pianists and significantly expanded his exposure to post-bop and third-stream approaches. He would study scores, listen to music, and practice for hours with Mike at his home. Toddâ€™s subbing on keyboards in Mikeâ€™s band â€œThe Fourth Wayâ€ with violinist, Michael White, bassist, Ron McClure and drummer, Eddie Marshall at Bill Grahamâ€™s Fillmore West and similar venues opened his thinking about the inclusive possibilities of music.
Todd began to circulate and in his late teens joined the band of iconic vibraphonist, Bobby Hutcherson. Playing in Bobbyâ€™s band for 2 years was a significant period of mentorship, and a time when Toddâ€™s fundamental jazz sensibilities became shaped and defined. Bobby Hutcherson gave him a musical laboratory and a philosophy in which to work with notes, and when Todd was 19, Hutcherson held the door open for the beginning of Toddâ€™s professional recording career by having him play, compose and arrange â€“ for a 21-piece ensemble â€“ music for the Blue Note album, â€œHead On.â€ Says jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviewing the albumâ€™s reissue in 2007 on Terry Grossâ€™ Fresh Air, â€œFeaturing reeds, flutes and multiple percussionâ€¦ Itâ€™s a portrait of jazz in transition, masterminded by classical, R&B, pop and jazz composer, Todd Cochran, who wrote most of it and put his stamp on all of it.â€ A project with hard bop pianist, producer Duke Pearson (unreleased) followed.
Jazz is a language of poetics, vernacular and relationships. Toddâ€™s years with Bobby Hutcherson â€“ a proponent of both post hard bop and the avant-garde â€“ was his entrÃ©e into understanding creativity without preconceived notions and circulating with major jazz artists. The vibraphone occupies a distinct place in the jazz milieu, with its direct African roots. People automatically associate Bobby with the vibraphone, because it is the jazz standard of instruments played with mallets. The master jazz vibraphonists preceding him is a stellar group; Lionel Hampton, Milt Jackson, Cal Tjader. However, what is lesser known about Bobby is that he was a virtuoso on the marimba.
The rosewood bars of a marimba all have unique characteristics and in crafting the instrument each piece of wood is selected to complement each other. Each of tones are distinct; every sound is an individual event and resonates differently. It is the performer who brings the instrument to life, as the design is not uniform like a plucked or bowed string instrument or a wind instrument that speaks when air is blown through its tubing.
â€œWhen Bobby played, he became a prestidigitator; someone who does tricks with their hands. Something like â€œsleight of handâ€ happened. He would do something with his hands, and youâ€™d think that you see something but thatâ€™s not really whatâ€™s occurring. With mallets, connecting an F to a B flat is an illusion, but the way that he was able to do it you heard the tones as connected. This moves us into an area that we donâ€™t easily understand. But then thereâ€™re a lot of things we donâ€™t easily understand that we completely love and appreciate.
Bobby passed along to me the core tradition of jazz and techniques of interpreting â€œthe standardsâ€ â€“ approaching them anew with each performance. He explained the avant-garde and free jazz by osmosis, whenever you joined him on a concert stage. His talent was creating structures for improvisation. We risked everything, playing in ways where there was no pattern or precedent. Performing â€œwritten-throughâ€ duets with him was an adventure in listening, anticipating, and feeling the audience; his focus was penetrating.â€
Toddâ€™s next composing and recording project was the album â€œIapetusâ€ (Mainstream Records) with saxophonist and flautist Hadley Caliman (an alumnus of Freddie Hubbard, Gerald Wilson, Dexter Gordon, Elvin Jones, Mongo Santamaria, Joe Pass, The Grateful Dead, and Joe Henderson). The recording which featured four of Toddâ€™s compositions Iapetus, Ambivalence, Green Eyes, and Watercress was produced by Bob Shad, who early in his career produced Charlie Parker for Savoy Records in the â€™40. This quartet setting features one of finest recordings Todd did with bassist James Leary, and the imaginatively innovative drummer Sonship Woody Theus in the rhythm section. In astronomy â€œIapetusâ€ is a satellite of the planet Saturn, and in Greek mythology, the ancestor of mankind. This group of compositions and nonlinear themes were harbingers of Toddâ€™s future work.
Soon after being signed by Saul Zaentz to Prestige Records, Todd wrote and produced his first solo album, â€œWorlds Around the Sun.â€ It proved to be an auspicious debut as the recording â€“ with Todd just turning 20 years old â€“ became a number one jazz album. The album included Toddâ€™s composition â€œFree Angelaâ€ â€“ written as a musical poem to the feminist, counterculture, civil rights activist, Angela Davis â€“ that was later recorded by the rock band Santana. The inspiration for â€œFree Angelaâ€ was sparked by her charisma and hearing her deliver an intense lecture through a bullhorn on the campus of UCLA. She went on to become an international political icon. The now heavily sampled original recording still continues to be heard, beginning with De La Sol, who sampled it for their landmark song â€œSunshine,â€œ Kendrick Lamar â€œLittle Johnny,â€ Bobby Shmurda â€œWipe The Case Awayâ€ and other luminary hip-hop artists.
â€œOn â€˜Worlds Around The Sunâ€™ Bobby Hutcherson was looking over my shoulder. He had held the door open for me with the â€œHead Onâ€ project and knew how important a first album is and how it tends to define a young musician. Reviewers look at it and say this is what he can and canâ€™t do, and then, this is what to expect. Bobby brought a mentoring musical presence and always brightened the atmosphere with his sense of fun. You can hear the freedom and happiness in everything he played. He made it clear that playing well is the same as thinking well. His art was like the sun, the sea, the sky; the birds, the wind and the wavesâ€¦ He wrote the beautiful linear notes for this album.â€
During the delicate interval between entering the music business as a pianist and his emergence as an artist in his own right, Toddâ€™s feelings about humanity, racial inclusion, and injustices in the world continued to intensify. There was an inherent connection between the passion of the civil rights movement, his personal identity/reality, and the relevancy of viewpoints he wanted to reflect in his art. He was absorbing wisdom from the elders in the San Francisco Bay Area music community and interrelating with similarly driven young creatives. Within there was a growing inner cognition of the historical significance of being an African-American who played jazz and the importance and depth of the rhythmic impulse of the music and where it comes from. Understanding how music and art has influenced history, and also how there were voices throughout history that have not been heard, he wanted to do his part to assure constructive narratives were not left out. This led to what he perceived as a heightened, more focused creative impulse and changing his name to â€œBayetÃ©.â€
â€œBayetÃ©, in the South African language of Zulu translates as â€œbetween man and god.â€ This name with its wonderful meaning was given to me by an older female friend who was part of the circle of young creative artists, musicians and social activists I was associating with at the time. I felt like something lost or hidden needed to be discovered within â€“ within my awareness and thinking â€“ something purer than an imagined state of mind. I wasnâ€™t looking for a â€˜you have arrivedâ€™ or â€˜peakâ€™ moment; the urge was wanting to learn, wanting to know â€“ and awakening my sensitivities to a larger context. Changing my name represented the choice of how I wanted to be excellent, of being able to choose my own excellence and making the rules. BayetÃ© was my alter ego, and I wrote a composition on â€œWorlds Around The Sunâ€ to expresses this, in part, without words.â€
Being descriptive and bringing to life whatâ€™s occurring inside music with words does not come easily. Elevating this formative phase, his friendship and mentorship relationship with Herbie Hancock â€“ one of his treasured heroes of the piano â€“ continued to deepen. It was a free-form era of musical experimentation, and Herbie â€“ explaining Buddhism in a way that daily life itself can be seen as a canvas and work in progress â€“ imparted many forward-thinking philosophies about the ephemeral nature of ideas and improvisation. In his own music Todd was already incorporating the keyboard elements of electric pianos and clavinet, however, it was Hancock who introduced him to synthesizers and the potentials of electronic sound modeling. Todd favorably had an open mind. While a student at San Jose State University, he had met the influential synthesist, Morton Subotnick, one of the pioneers (in the development) of electronic music and a champion of Buchla synthesizers. Herbie arranged a daytrip for the two of them at Stanford University and guided tour of an in-progress future-tech, computers-in-music research project funded by Xerox Corp. One could foresee a bridge between the esoteric and accessible was imminent and that a gateway into another dimension of music making was at hand. Todd later recorded with Herbie Hancock, playing electric keyboards on Hancockâ€™s score to the film, â€œThe Spook Who Sat By The Doorâ€ (United Artist Pictures.) In 2012, the movie was added to the Library of Congress National Film Registry, which honors films that are â€œculturally, historically or aestheticallyâ€ significant.
â€œThe time I spent with Herbie Hancock and his friendship had a profound effect on me. It was extraordinary because I remember when I first heard his playing, it was like going into a foreign country and suddenly hearing your own language spoken. His musical colors were gateways to adventuring.â€
Thought patterns come in waves. There are no specific pathways to absorbing or applying or elaborating on the elements of creative music, itâ€™s a process and not a destination â€“ different approaches, a common goal. There is always a less or more radical way to make a statement.
Performing with trumpeter, Woody Shaw, multi-reedman Rashaan Roland Kirk and â€œsitting-inâ€ with the likes of Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson intensified Toddâ€™s quest of â€œfinding voice.â€ He discovered an artist finds their voice by â€œgiving voice.â€ There were forces in motion that directly mirrored the social climate. There was urgency and intensity and a prevailing energy, and the thirst for original forms of expression was everywhere. Bold and impassioned people were speaking their truth fearlessly. The strongly protested war that had been fought on the foreign soil of Vietnam, had brought neither resolution nor any answers; the battleground was at home, in cities, and in peopleâ€™s minds.
â€œEternal Worldsâ€ â€“ Toddâ€™s imaginative soundscape-like piece â€“ composed for trombonist Julian Priesterâ€™s â€œLove, Loveâ€ album (ECM) cast him on keyboards with a stellar group of creative cohorts. With an ensemble of duel drummers, Ndugu Chancler and Eric Gravatt (Weather Report,) bassists, Henry Franklin and Ron McClure, saxophonists Hadley Caliman and David Johnson and synthesizers, Pat Gleeson, the piece intertwined several cultural streams and etched a utopian vision of a future society of comity and peace.
Esoteric and outside the mainstream margins, the project nevertheless had an audience because (unique to the time) there was an underground network populating the music. The music of rock â€˜nâ€™ roll and jazz experimental was pairing off. There were underground radio stations with disk jockeys whose playlists combined all of the latest music, regardless of genre. In addition, this underground music was being presented live at major cultural venues and festivals and was part of the fresh creative vanguard on college campuses. To be embraced by the underground meant that no new ideas were going unheard; it was reaching deft ears while also becoming artistic fodder. Having worked with jazz multi-instrumentalist Rashaan Roland Kirk and knowing that Rashaan would hang out at Jimi Hendrixâ€™s apartment when in London intrigued Todd even more about the real and unseen connections in music. All good compositions and songs, regardless of genre, or how they were created, have stories to tell. A book lover and drawn to fiction, he saw words and images in combinations and started connecting his prose to melodies. In private his love of storytelling and song steadily deepened.
Unintended and unforeseen, Todd had intersected with a larger community of consciousness, and had become as he self-describes â€œan accidental activist,â€ something of a voice from the forest. Through classical music and then jazz he had learned about communities and cultures outside his own, learning the subtleties and (authentic) nuance of the differing genres of expression. The ability to identify these essential points, Todd reflects, was central to his creative progress.
â€œI recognized you could be inside of this, while still being very outside of that. The key was to get myself in the company of those who knew the form and would show me how to absorb and embrace the new aesthetic. It was an intoxicating adventure of creative learning.â€
AUTOMATIC MAN â€“ THE BAND
The identity emerging from Toddâ€™s â€“ pka Bayeteâ€™s â€“ musicianship was swiftly evolving; he was distinguishing himself with a reputation of being an artistically curious adventurer. Pink Floyd, Richie Havens, The Who, Gil Scott Heron established a precedence of setting literary messages to well-conceived, musically captivating pop; and people were listening.
Something was unmooring Todd from being a jazz snob and pulling him in a new direction of exploration. Songwriting had piqued his interest â€“ its simplicity, itâ€™s directness, and messaging. The start was fragile. It involved the quietness and reclusiveness of a musician who knows they must search and think; that there must be an objective or a goal in mind to offset the endless hours of the mysterious work of getting something into your hands.
Todd was being pulled in an experimental direction, and he followed that impulse. There is no yield without effort, or â€œaha!â€ without concentration. He needed a private space with his array of keyboards, processors, and amplifiers, in which to try things; an atelier to fulfill a musicianâ€™s need for deep practice, solitude and a sense of aloneness. To that end he found a private, secluded space on a pier that housed a tugboat company on the Embarcadero in San Francisco. Along the extended pier â€“ that stretched above the bay â€“ was a radio tower and sleeping quarters for the boat operators whose tugboats were moored to the dock. There were the pungent smells of seawater, the sporadic cawing of seagulls, the muted sound of the dark briny water lapping at the wooden piles, and often foghorns. Within the pale marine-green colored walls of this spacious room Todd would practice through the night into the early morning hours. He was chasing a way to produce the illusion of a lead electric guitar sound on the now classic Hohner D6 clavinet by modulating the feedback of the instrument while playing at high volume levels. With tunable strings and multiple pickups, the keyboard had several characteristics of an electric guitar. In other bands the clavinetâ€™s rhythmic capabilities were being well utilized, however using the instrument to produce a sustained â€œliquid-likeâ€ sound was clearly on the fringe. Encouraged that the instrument could actually be used in this offbeat way, Todd began composing songs incorporating this sound.
Globally respected, high profile rock drummer, Michael Shrieve, had recently left Santana and was keen to put a band together that would have a distinct identity. Toddâ€™s edgy songwriting and creative seeking in combination with Michaelâ€™s musicological instincts and honed collaboration experience led to the formation of â€œAutomatic Man.â€
â€œIâ€™ve always loved Michael Shrieveâ€™s organic approachto rhythm, it encompasses everything the master rock drummers have; a solid eighth and sixteenth note concept, a fluid sense of time, and a triplet-swing feel that makes the music breathe. With colors and punctuation, his canvases set up a mÃ©lange of directions to choose from.â€
At the time Automatic Man was coming together, music was evolving in ways that virtually redefined the formats and sensibilities of those preceding them. The traditional big-time forms were relegated â€œold schoolâ€ while the â€œnew popâ€ was explosive, challenging, socially attuned, and radical. For Todd, as a young creative, the allure of the changed musical horizon was overwhelming. Jack Kerouac (On the Road) and The Black Arts Movement â€“ counterculture and the civil rights transformation â€“ anti-war activism, Motown, Memphis soul, rock and roll, psychedelia, post-hard bop, harmolodics, and free jazz â€“ all coalesced in altering the creative context. It was an intoxicating mix of passionate viewpoints and expressions, a living epoch in American culture.
â€œThe allure of writing real love songs was fixed in my mind, still I wanted to muse about â€˜the moss growing on the side of a treeâ€™ or â€˜the smell of eucalyptus leavesâ€™ or â€˜a journey to an inhabitable unnamed planet.â€™ To really go there, I knew I needed to connect with the right musiciansâ€¦ Looking back, Automatic Man was a hallucination, an unforgettable lucid dream.â€
The vibe of Automatic Man grew out of an almost free-form impulse of creativity, where every element of the sound reflected the individual personality of the musician playing the notes.
Combining words and music, street poetics, future-tech imagery and storytelling â€“ with the limitless possibilities of inventive vocals, blues and roots infused keyboards, virtuoso rock guitar, rock-fusion bass, propulsive drum rhythms, and synthesized electronic soundscapes â€“ Automatic Man was like a macÃ©doine of fire and ice. Todd (BayetÃ©) and Michael, along with guitarist, Pat Thrall and bassist, Doni Harvey produced a chemistry of genre-bending art rock.
Automatic Man was a multiracial band, and this existential moment in the San Francisco/Berkeley area supported its inception perfectly.
At this time Todd was absorbed in the philosophies of the Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda, who, in the late 19th century introduced Hinduism to America. Vivekananda founded the Vendata Society in the United States, establishing a chapter in San Francisco. There was an inescapable universality in his words and his ideas were embraced by renowned thinkers and humanitarians Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
The bandâ€™s name Automatic Man contains the phonetic aspiration Atman, a Sanskrit word that can be translated as â€œbreathâ€ or selfâ€ and is often referred to as spirit, soul or oneâ€™s true self. The divisions of war and peace was the zeitgeist of the late 70s. Vietnam, Angola, Mozambique, apartheid and the South African Border War and the tribal wars in America bore the consequences of anguish and alienation. The world was in need of a major correction and to be relevant or vital the music had to speak the truth of this reality; either directly or in abstraction. Telling people stories, the band paired music with surrealistic imagery, and in a literary lyrical style riffed on connecting the polarities of the ancient and futuristic. The message was transmitted with passionate themes of social awareness and concern for a better humanity.
For the larger part of a year the band rehearsed in San Francisco. They were signed by Chris Blackwell to Island Records, and then moved to London to record. There they recorded a visionary album representing an era in music history that still resonates decades later. The enigmatic musicality of this highly influential band speaks to contemporary culture and has garnered a cult following.
The second Automatic Man album, done in the states, had two key personnel replacements (Michael Shrieve and Doni Harvey had left the band) and a different producer. Clearly the pressures of the industry had impacted the direction Todd envisioned for the band, and the resulting recording had a different character than the first. The original dream once destined, now gently faded. Facing the emotional letdown, Todd was moved to hedge his options. He disbanded, and then returned to London after accepting the invitation by Peter Gabriel to join his touring and recording band. The Genesis (art rock band) alumni who conceived the self-discovery concept of â€œThe Lamb Lies Down On Broadwayâ€ was the consummate front man with full command of his stagecraft. Todd recalls there were always these little explosions of greatness in the room. The album he recorded with Peter Gabriel titled â€œPeter Gabrielâ€ was produced by Robert Fripp (King Crimson, Brian Eno, David Bowie) featuring the heart-rending classic about people living in fear of each other, â€œMother Of Violence.â€
While in England, Todd had ongoing opportunities to work and record with a wide range of rock, roots/reggae, and experimental artists â€“ all told, a collectively invaluable mixture of challenging experiences and multicultural, multiethnic fun. Todd concluded his last extended period in London with the band he had with drummer, Carl Palmer, of ELP (Emerson, Lake and Palmer).
LOS ANGELES & THE STUDIOS â€“ SESSIONS ARRANGING COMPOSING PRODUCING
With the legitimacy Todd had established via his associations and recordings with a number of art rock projects, upon returning to the states he became an in-demand keyboardist, synthesist, arranger, and later producer. On the recordings he made in England with artists Jim Capaldi (Traffic), Bill Bruford (Yes) Phil Collins (Brand X), The Real Thing (David Essex) etc., he appeared as an electronic musician. Working with a growing assortment of state-of-the-now keyboards, he had given himself to manipulating the complexities of these instruments and making the textures an integral part of the sonic spectrum.
For a creative musician unfamiliar with performing within the strictures of otherâ€™s rules, session work in the Los Angeles studios presented something of a paradox. Itâ€™s music, yes, and for some a career path without the rigors of traveling. Nonetheless, for a musical artist steeped in producing a singular sound, recording contracts, and touring â€“ working as a â€œhired gunâ€ was a challenge.
In the studios circle, his name, BayetÃ© â€” revealed itself to be demanding, hard to remember and difficult to pronounce. Not wanting a couple of syllables to get in the way of him having the fullest experience as a musician, he acquiesced, and returned to being called Todd; and a new musical chapter was launched. Because audience tastes are fickle and quick to change, the viability of contemporary music production thrives on the influx of ideas. Todd brought his brand of fresh approaches and made significant inroads during a particularly vibrant time in the music industry. He gained traction in several areas of the sessions scene and moved from camp to camp.
â€œComing from one world of music-making and suddenly being dropped into another entirely different context was an eye-opener for me. I saw it as an opportunity to be around sounds and influences from opposite ends of the spectrum, with different stylistic goals, and intended for different audiences. To work with people who represented the essence of certain sensibilities was like a walk in the magic garden. Coming onto projects at different phases of the process, all with their unique set of production values, in turn revised my approach, and kept me continually fluid with my creative responses. Listening is key. Thereâ€™s no room to be a snob when youâ€™re brought in to deliver a key element to a work in progress. With the right musicians itâ€™s communal. And actually, in a lot of ways this discipline was very healthy for me.â€
Either playing, arranging, or composing, Todd collaborated across genres with the likes of jazz artists Quincy Jones, J.J. Johnson, Stanley Clarke, Stix Hooper (The Crusaders), Maynard Ferguson, Brazilian percussionists Airto Moreira and Paulinho da Costa, Grover Washington Jr, Hubert Laws, Stanley Turrentine, to list a few.
In the blues, R&B and pop idioms he worked with Booker T. Jones (leader of the band, Booker T. and the MGs, who wrote the classic soul instrumental song â€œGreen Onionsâ€), The Staple Singers, Natalie Cole, Aretha Franklin, Burt Bacharach, Carol Bayer Sayer, Neil Diamond, Teena Marie, Syreeta Wright, Stephanie Mills, The Dells, etc. He had a tangible tutelage in how pop music is constructed, recorded, and performed; and also gleaned something each of these accomplished creators of songs possessed â€“ the language of enthusiasm to directly touch peopleâ€™s hearts. Rock artistsâ€™ projects he participated in and recorded on during this period, either playing keyboards and/or arranging include: John Hiatt, Janis Ian, Joan Armatrading, and Stewart Copeland. Next came production assignments and writing albums for jazz saxophonist Arthur Blythe, CBS, Andalusian guitarist â€“ Juan Martin, BMG, R&B singer â€“ Cheryl Lynn, CBS, and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, BLUE NOTE, to list a few.
Quoted from the St. Louis Sentinel about Freddie Hubbardâ€™s â€œTimes â€˜R Changingâ€ â€“ the album Todd produced for him: Freddieâ€™s tour guide on this music journey is synth wizard Todd Cochran who produced and arranged the sessions utilizing an arsenal of the latest high-tech gear. Though he has developed an adeptness with machines through his work with Peter Gabriel, Jeff Beck and his own progressive rock band, Automatic Man, Cochran was mindful of preserving the integrity of Freddieâ€™s art and the purity of his sound. As the trumpeter put it, â€œHe really dressed me up. He laid out a cushion for me. This guyâ€™s a genius with those keyboards.â€
For Todd, being in the middle of a stylistic whirlwind (driven by dramatic shifts in the music-making model, and particularly the fusion of sampled acoustic and electronic sounds) was not an altogether undesirable place to be, because the intensity proved to be constructive. He was nurturing his personal rite-of-passage goals â€“ delving deeply into the ethos of African American artforms â€“ while having the self-affirming freedom to connect the dots. Todd subsequently had the treasured opportunity to work on a recording project with the boundless poet and author, Maya Angelou; co-writing a spoken-word/piano setting for Angelouâ€™s poem, â€œLetter To An Aspiring Junkie.â€ In a similar context he composed music for radio story artist, Joe Frank, and his series on NPR, â€œWork In Progressâ€ and â€œIn The Darkâ€. A mesmerizing mix of noir, satirical, disorienting and at times humorous storytelling, Joe Frankâ€™s work has inspired people like Ira Glass (This American Life), David Sedaris, and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman.
Musical artists tend to be sketchy when asked to reveal their process. It is as though describing one aspect leads to a host of intangibles that cause any effort at clarity to appear muddled or become confusing. Creativity occurs in starts, stops, and leaps; and itâ€™s never a single thing. For this reason, interacting with those who know the components and use the tools of the music is immeasurable. That which seems unanswerable and impossible to systemize can, however, be observed, felt, absorbed emotionally, and passed along. Making music with those who know and embody it and are willing to isolate, communicate and share the touchstones of a genre or creative style is immeasurable.
â€œThere were, from time to time, those new situations that I entered where I was somewhat out of my depth. Not willing to be locked into what I already knew was why I was there. Entering new zones at times felt dangerous. So, to counteract that tension I would think of the challenges as not that they are teaching me, but that I am learning. Herbie Hancock once told me something about â€˜remaining openâ€™ that Iâ€™ve always remembered which was, he never had all of the ideas but once it was shown to him, he could play it.â€
FILM AND TV COMPOSING
There is a difference between seeing a flower and dreaming about a flower, seeing a mountain and dreaming about a mountain, and then experiencing how someone else envisions that flower or mountain. The sequence of Todd becoming something of a cinÃ©aste began with his family during his youth. His father was a photography hobbyist who for years had a darkroom in the house to develop his prints. Then, all important, there was Toddâ€™s fatherâ€™s cousin who was a film librarian in the audio-visual school of San Francisco State University. Following his recommendation, Toddâ€™s parents bought a used Bell and Howell Filmosound 16 millimeter movie film projector, take-up reels, and a collapsible screen for the home. Many of the cold and drizzly weekend afternoons were perfect days to stay inside, have a few buddies over, and enter the fascinating worlds that filmmakers can open. With the good fortune of his academic cousin having access to the film library and being able to borrow films for sometimes a week, these movies were a gateway to exploring the planet, the lives of heroic people and beyond. Todd saw film after film â€“ emotional journeys of perception â€“ and documentaries spanning every topic; artists in preparation and in performance, the studios of paintersâ€™ and sculptors, exotic varieties of cooking, seagoing expeditions, the contrasting cultures of the continents.
He saw what Roger Ebert has said, â€œA movie could suggest the truth about a human life and that movies were an expression of the vision of those who made them.â€ Todd knew he would at some point be drawn into the world of film. It was an eventuality he had long anticipated, prepared and hoped for.
Sought after for his eclectic tastes and a penchant for enigmatic juxtapositions, Toddâ€™s music came to the attention of filmmakers who were seeking something edgy to complement their storytelling. The projects he was assigned had topical and socially relevant themes, and Todd was clearly drawn into the interactive world of creating textured atmospheres and contouring emotional sounds to visuals. He found communicating with directors energizing and insightful â€“ and enthusiastically absorbed the colorful language they used to frame ideas and their intentions. Converging emotions, imagination and realism piqued Toddâ€™s love for a poetic concept and shaped the authenticity and balance principle he applied to scoring.
Todd Cochran in studio
â€œFilmmaking is one of the most collaborative processes imaginable. You write a piece of music with your eyes closed, but you compose for film with eyes open.â€
Selected film projects include Waynehead (Warner Bros. animated television series), The Hurricane (directed by Norman Jewison and starring Denzel Washington,) Keep The Faith, Baby (The Adam Clayton Powell Story) (Showtime/Paramount Pictures), and â€œWoman Thou Art Loosedâ€ directed by Michael Schultz.
CIRCLING BACK TO JAZZ â€“ LIVE PERFORMANCES
Moving between behind-the-scenes gigs kept Todd very busy. Years composing for film and producing albums for other artists proved to be an important and fruitful stretch for him professionally. Still, the impulse to conceptualize, record, and perform his own music was steadily shifting from the background to the forefront. While the engagement and comradery that came with the moving from camp to camp, and personality to personality that is inherent in the independent existence of making music is gratifying; to be at a distance from his key milieu as an imaginative artist was inwardly dispiriting.
Music in its purest state is organic; forever changing, growing, interacting, reflecting, asking questions, challenging sameness, invading the unknown. Facilitating this progression is the artistâ€™s pursuit. There are certain key moments in oneâ€™s life, divergence points that, had they gone differently, would have made them a different person. When you examine certain events in your life, youâ€™ll find there are those significant points. Because in the still our thoughts shift to identity â€“ who you are, how you come to be, and whether you can change yourself and build something else.
â€œDriving my car on a sunny afternoon, from northern California along the coast to Los Angeles, it was in Big Sur where I happened to observe a drummer whoâ€™d set up his drums on the rim of a wide cliff facing the ocean. There this guy was, alone â€“ and visibly inspired â€“ playing his instrument with total abandonment and freedom, into the seascape surrounding him. The image of this lone drummer expressing whatever flowed naturally was almost mystical; untied, pure and instinctual. I was stunned, and in that instant recall being transported into remembering why Iâ€™d originally fallen in love with music. I was being reminded about something important; it was deep-rooted, something I had unwittingly allowed to weaken and somehow lost touch with. That moment in Big Sur was like having a fictional encounter with something unknownâ€¦ a raised hand directing traffic at an intersectionâ€¦. a correction that set me back on course.â€
INFINITE VARIATIONS â€“ CHAMBER MUSIC â€“ ASIA
There is a certain quality, and an allure to the music of artists who create with the goal of reaching people. Technical displays of raw virtuosity, while captivating and brilliant, unescapably sacrifice the emotional charms of a poet. Making music that is open and inviting, where nothing is relegated secondary, is the fodder of continuous experimentation, observation, and listening. There has always been a veritable link between Toddâ€™s curiosities and the direction in which music was heading. To that end, he never envisioned himself a â€œchameleon,â€ but rather an adventurer in quest of discovery.
Toddâ€™s tastes have always stretched across musical boundaries and he has consistently spoken about his great veneration for the elders. Seeking new horizons, that there would come a point where his influences would merge into a singular voice was predestined.
â€œMy heroes of the music, and there are several, are varied. People who have stood for something they believed in at a critical moment. Artists who have maintained a value system throughout the body of their creative output. Those who have had the courage to rise above the muddied water to be selfless and tell an uncomfortable story to raise peopleâ€™s awareness about things that matter. And then there are those who show us new forms of happiness, with beauty in them all. Folk, blues, jazz, classical â€“ music is not a single thing, but all things.â€
A creative musician learns about going to â€œnew placesâ€ from the thinkers of the form, and lineage has always been fundamental in Toddâ€™s evolution. Always in pursuit, he has sought to interact with artists who had learned the aesthetic from this one, and who, in turn passed it along to the next. With reinvigorated passion for spontaneity and improvisation, his jazz and live performing took on a deepened meaning. He had circulated and played with some of the important progenitors of the genre; and the lessons took hold.
Todd wrote and recorded an audiophile album titled â€œTODD,â€ performed club dates, concerts, and at jazz festivals, did interviews and radio tours, and penned articles and essays for music magazines about the philosophical and social backdrop of the arts. Following came a collection of more blues themed works under the moniker â€œAmericana Root Music.â€
Well-established and aligned with jazz composers whose tradition combines notation and improvisation, there was also the panache of concert music he could never escape; being drawn especially to the energy at the outer edges of classical composition. How could these variant pathways of art be combined? Toddâ€™s answer was to launch the high-concept ensemble â€œInfinite Variationsâ€ â€“ a music-centric amalgam of varying configurations, moving parts and inventive musicians. His objective was to create an environment where multidisciplinary thinking and influences could interact freely and be transformed into new musical structures. Built upon a model of inclusion encompassing the genres of classical, jazz and other abstractions, â€œInfinite Variationsâ€ represents a vision of shared humanity and connectivity through contemporary music.
â€œUnderstanding music is similar to understanding timeâ€¦ and how we exist in that mystical atmosphere of before and after.â€
Soon after the inception of Infinite Variations came a commission for Todd to perform solo piano at the opening of American artist James Rosenquistâ€™s â€œA Retrospectiveâ€ exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. An abstract expressionist and contemporary of modern art stylists Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, and Willem de Kooning, Rosenquist was known for his large-scale collage paintings. His contrasting fragmentary images drew on the iconography of mass media to invoke a mocking sense of modern life. For Rosenquist, a fanatical jazz aficionado, Todd penned â€œTopologyâ€ â€“ a humorous and mischievous composition to memorialize the event.
More composing opportunities followed, and then came an important introduction by the Patron of Arts and Culture of Singapore to the vibrant art culture and diplomatic community of Southeast Asia. This would prove to be a bridge to completely new horizons. Highlighting his initial trip was an invitation to perform for the former president of Singapore, Ong Teng Cheong. On this outing Todd also world-premiered his composition â€œThe Secret Gardenerâ€ for the ambassadors of Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, and Indonesia. Delving further into Singapore Todd collaborated with members of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and premiered his Suite for Piano and String Quartet â€œTales of The Sundialâ€ at the Esplanade Concert Hall. With introductions via the National Arts Council he interacted with conceptual artists, classical composers, dance ensembles, and traditional Chinese drum troops. An entirely new window of creative possibilities flung open. Eastern tonalities, body movement and gestures, form and context, literally exploded the parameters of his musical spectrum.
Todd was having the experience of multicultural, multinational, fun. It was the right moment, perfect setting, and deeply inspiring. The collision of Malay, Chinese, Indian, British â€“ Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity â€“ acoustic and electronic sounds, dance and filmed media â€“ all coalescing and influencing new formations â€“ sets the scene for a rich creative complexity. The impact of globalization is vibrant and uniquely on display in the tiny geographical space of Singapore.
As it is so richly embedded in the styles of American music Todd had long been committed to studying and researching the instrumentation and musical approaches of Africa, however, unbeknownst to him, exposure to the tonal languages of Asian culture enlarged his perspective exponentially, virtually exploding the techne of his musical philosophy. Ambiguities were purged by hearing the speech patterns, learning the textures, timbres, and shapes of the traditional music, and exposure to the evolving contemporary devices of Asian modernist orchestral composers. And widening the horizons further, for several years Todd penned artist-to-artist journalistic essays for the Singapore based â€œArts Magazineâ€ that included pieces with cellist Yo Yo Maâ€™s â€œSilk Road Projectâ€, New York Philharmonic conductor, Lorin Maazel, and composer, Tan Dun.
Seismic events never wait for a best time, they just happen. Often the worst times are later understood as best of times. Major changes took hold of Toddâ€™s personal life, casting him into the role of being a full-time single dad for his then 2-year-old son. Meanwhile his mother had entered the debilitating stages of Alzheimerâ€™s and the complexities were such that she needed daily assisted care. The reality of these family responsibilities led to Toddâ€™s decision to take an extended break from the rigors of his professional career.
His piano practice and composing continued, the only difference now being that he would sketch whatever came into his mind, free from a specific objective target or outcome, flexing his creative muscle, with the intention of capturing what was there. Adjusting to the only respite he had ever taken, deep conversations with close friends were ongoing; reading, listening, and wittingly staying connected to the outer world. The contrast of relative quiet after years of hyper activity tends to reconnect one with things that have been crowded out by the noise. Thereâ€™s an alluring quality to early musical dreams, those memories from a formative period that remain indelibly wired into the nervous systems. Returning to first principles is an act of remembering and more like living in your freedom in the most truthful way. For Todd hiatus meant new beginnings, wiping the slate clean so he could begin anew on another course.
The key element of this project was collaboration. Not a representation of separate identities but a synergy of talents to form a larger creative representation.
Toddâ€™s French horn project with Bob Watt (assistant principle horn in the Los Angeles Philharmonic ret.) had a quiet beginning, all while in the background an auspicious moon was rising. Long phone conversations led to its inception, conversations that started with nothing specific, but an affinity that centered around the varied experiences of two lifelong musical artists. Producing this album was more about aligning thought patterns because there are relatively few French horn soloists, let alone albums. So the groundwork of landscaping the music, the stylistic approaches, genre, and range of the compositions was the essential aspect.
Gunther Schuller, French hornist, Third-Stream innovator and conceptualizer of Miles Davisâ€™ nonet album â€œBirth Of The Coolâ€ was a teacher and early mentor of Bob Watt. Gunther Shullerâ€™s work on the George Avarkian produced Music For Brass performed by The Brass Ensemble of the Jazz and Classical Music Society, also featuring Miles Davis, established a template for pairing jazz and classical musicians in a concert setting.
In Guntherâ€™s own words, â€œThe purpose in writing this work was primarily to write a symphony. Secondarily it provided me with an opportunity to make use of my experiences of sitting day in, day out in the midst of brass sections, and show that members of the brass family are not limited to the stereotypes of expression usually associated with them. Thus, there is more to the [French] horn than its â€œheroicâ€ or â€œnobleâ€ or â€œromanticâ€ character, or to the trumpet than its usefulness in fanfares. Indeed, these instruments are capable of the entire gamut of expression. Their full resources and the amazing advances made â€“ especially in America â€“ in the last 30-odd years have been left largely unexploited by most contemporary composers.â€ 
To this end Bob has shared that if he were allowed to have a say about his reincarnation, he would return as a jazz pianist. To postulate an alternative art life is a lofty thinking that actually pushes you farther into whatâ€™s important now. Then came the ground rules: Play, donâ€™t think!
â€œA day of creativity, a stream of dreams, a palette of colors, a quiver of emotions. Music is always there, waiting.â€
Wordlessly there is the linking of imagination to the opening of possibility. Entering the state of music means to perhaps see things you never saw. Itâ€™s a fusion of horizons. With both feet in the common world we leap into another, moving from sound to sound. You play with your stream of thoughts to create something beyond your everydayness. Go to the blank page. Do not presume or assume anything â€” this only crowds the imaginative space â€” there are no wrong notes.
The creative starting point of IPFH was when Bob asked Todd to compose a piece for a â€œRemembering Great Peopleâ€ recital series he was giving. Of the people he wanted to remember in performance was Miles Davis, whose personal friendship he had enjoyed for years. The title he suggested for the composition was â€œMissing Milesâ€ and to this Todd added â€œAn Ode to A Painter in Sound.â€ Todd later wrote two more movements, completing the extended piece that encompasses the timbral range of the French horn with bold, melodious, searching, and bitter sweet elaborations of the inventive sensibilities we attribute to Miles Davis. From here the other pieces came into the picture with musings on Eternity and Love, the Gullah culture, fictitious voyeuristic scenes of Laughter, Humor, and Satire, the resetting into a single piece a spiritual with a gospel hymn, and arrangements of Bach, Ravel and Brubeck.
Todd achieved his ends through orchestrated instrumental techniques that were themselves about languages. Lending a literary perspective to the project, author, historian Paul Robeson Jr. wrote the album liner notes.
â€œIf you know what someone has lived and something about what they have seen, you gain a sense what they should sound like. Then itâ€™s on to how to express it and make it relative to the experience of today.â€
CREATING SHORT FILMS
Sometimes we fall into a process without there being a clearly defined plan to do so. Toddâ€™s creating short films and videos was not a deferred ambition but was sparked while filming the â€œmaking-ofâ€ video for the re-release of his â€œWorlds Around The Sunâ€ album.
â€œOn the second day of filming a performance video for my â€œWorlds Around The Sunâ€ reissue, a behind-the-scenes video was shot with a skeleton crew. Editing this piece into something that was more than one dimensional required all of the creative suggestions and materials I could provide and started a learning curve that led to me seeing videography as integral to the music itself. Fast forward I began sketching narratives and drawing my visualizations. It was a mini transformation for me.â€
Transparency is at the heart of visual storytelling. Role play, creating scenarios; artists are meant to do the art that frightens them. Many know what their authentic truth is but are afraid/hesitant to show it. We are in the era of personal truth telling; a time of acceptance, knowing that everything we are being shown and exposed to is not going to resonate with us directly. Nevertheless, wherever there is a common thread, itâ€™s the artistâ€™s responsibility to show it. Depictions of our inner world impact the real world in wonderful freeing ways. Face the intrigue and say whatâ€™s difficult. Rub the genieâ€™s lamp and detach yourself from inhibitions.
Following the splash of his debut recordings and looking back at how Todd was henceforth marked with the â€œjazzâ€ brand, it is important to note what is consistent in his real successes is his messaging about societal justice, a penchant for imaginative conversations and blurring the boundaries.
A lot of Toddâ€™s attraction to fresh creative spaces can be attributed to the compositional concepts of indeterminacy that he learned in the formative phase of his development from avant-garde classical and free-jazz music. Label it audacious or bohemian, there are two types of musicians; creationists â€“ those who believe in a fixed identity, and evolutionists who believe art is boundless in infinite elaborations. If a work of art can be answered or precisely understood it is of little value. Embracing a creative philosophy of chance has kept Todd distant from conservative paths and without any resistance of the unfamiliar.
â€œWe live in a world of multiple perspectives and competing worldviews. Iâ€™ve always believed art can guide us toward better versions of ourselves. Art frees the hidden and the little understood; it explains and paints a clearer picture.â€
TC3 JAZZ TRIO
The piano is sound and whatever shadows are made of.
JAZZ CAPTIVATED TODDâ€™S INTEREST when he was an early teenager and became his gateway to embracing the poetics of art. He was transfixed by the art form that sent him on a mission of discovery. His nascent devotion (to jazz) formed a pathway for him to enter the cultural conversation, satisfied his desire to actively contribute to the social discourse; and over time led to his decision to pursue the art life. More than just notes, Todd saw how the essence of jazz is enshrouded in mythologies and became obsessed with observing: listening to natural speech patterns, dialects, notating indeterminate sounds and silences, with the intention of utilizing them later in musical contexts. Unquestionably, it was through the art form of jazz that he found his place in the world.
Concepts of beauty are entirely subjective â€“ and nowhere is this more evident than in the variables of 21st century creative music. Technological innovation and the emerging ecosystem of AI (artificial intelligence) has progressively impacted the way artists realize their creative visions. Yet the legacy of the piano endures as an instrument of prose, imagination and adventurousness. No other instrument is so influenced by various cultures and traditions, and as such the fluidity of the modern piano embodies the full mystique of musical art.
Stylistically, Todd embraces the ongoing history and evolution of the piano and the rich art of improvisation at the core of the jazz aesthetic. Full circle, his emotional and intellectual love of jazz has strengthened his passion for classical music as it elevates his mindfulness of the human spirit. The jazz gene â€“ once awakened â€“ becomes an insistent invitation to explore.
If this dream died, what would die with it, and remain unfulfilled?
All artists have ideas that rest in a quieter place, and one of Toddâ€™s deferred ambitions was to again have a working acoustic jazz trio of piano, bass and drums. Todd collaborated with two of his favorite musicians, bassist, John Leftwich, and drummer, Michael Carvin to create a concept album of jazz standards and songs from the American songbook titled â€œThen and Again, Here and Now.â€ Each piece is a snapshot of the socio-cultural setting in which they were written. Yet and still, in the hands of the trio the music is given an altogether fresh look, contemporized and reimagined for the 21st-century. In live performance the music expands exponentially with the virtuosity of the band on full display. The trioâ€™s concept appropriately represents a nod and a reflection of past music, so within the interpretations there is constant generational interplay. Culture is always a conversation across generations, of taking elements and bringing them forward. This is what all the Renaissance painters do, but here itâ€™s done with salute.
Iâ€™ve always seen myself as a colorist, joining sounds and tones â€“ like a sculptor molds shapes and lines or a painter places light within a texture. Many of the things I seek to do with music are things Iâ€™ve observed in other art forms. Jazz is about spontaneous creativity and stretching the imagination; and this, I believe, is what makes it one of the most spiritual art forms.
THIS MOMENT TODAY
The piano has been Toddâ€™s companion from the very beginning. Even during peak periods when the intensity of his ventures into electric keyboards and electronic music overtook his piano career, his musical personality remained piano-centered as his compositional style developed. During his two-decade period of delving almost exclusively into electric music, he relates how he feels especially lucky to have been able to keep his piano playing in a safe space. â€œPerforming on mediocre instruments in situations where poor acoustics and the loudness of the band demands that you play a certain way â€“ just to be heard â€“ can adversely alter your approach to the instrument.â€ Later he discovered ways to apply techniques to the piano that he had learned from developing and manipulating timbre as a synthesist. In a similar fashion, devices are elevated to forms, or elements of form. Undoubtedly, the cross-pollinating in Toddâ€™s composing is a metaphor of the life he has seen as an extension of the experiences he has had.
The term â€œpoeticsâ€ is a word-picture of his continuing journey; one of attuning to a sensitivity that can only be expressed musically, feeling free to go to where creativity leads. At the two decades signpost of the 21st century we are in an accelerated interval of transition â€” change, transformation, and the new. Fractures in the old-guard cultural landscape resulting from globalization, the decline of liberal democracy, the internet, and streaming has impacted our approaches to communicating ideas. Illustrating further, the power of visual literacy to shape the way we see and understand each other is the reality contemporary artists are manifestly compelled to embrace. There are emotional tones that transmit when something is shown as opposed to being told, when something heard is also seen, when the art is multigranular; it is felt.
Todd has leitmotifs heâ€™s been developing for years. They are well represented in the themes and melodies of his published and recorded works. As a storyteller, Toddâ€™s response to the new paradigm has been to deep-dive into multimedia, writing and directing short-films. Music first, and then expanded further as a twofold narrative. Images add contrasting dimensions of movement and context to the art, affecting an immersive experience. Visual storytelling also opens up the collaboration, documentation and sharing process that extends across multiple platforms.
When asked to describe the music he is now creating, he explains,
â€œIt is a fusion of high concept art music and pop culture. I am now purely trusting my instincts and foregoing the analytics. What weâ€™re witnessing today in the 21st century is that a lot of the 20th century idealism is resounding and actually taking root throughout the world. Itâ€™s fascinating to see. What others might see as audacious I see as an act of progress. If something is an honest representation of the moment how can there be any wrong notes? Music finds a way to speak to everyone in their own language. I believe there is a ring around the world that invisibly connects us. To a degree we have control over the amount of darkness in the world with the light we create.â€
There are no rules in art, only conventions â€“ each form is at its best when it uses the qualities of that form and those qualities are well understood. Thereâ€™s a fluid zone between the world itself (in actuality) and our image of it. Art is as much about searching as it is about creating.
â€œThereâ€™s no reversal of the past, only an understanding of where weâ€™ve been. We live in an attention deficit world and must contend with each otherâ€™s overstimulated impulsiveness; yet weâ€™re inseparably linked by our concerns for safety, security and sustainability.â€
The unifying element in Toddâ€™s oeuvre is not biographical but a portrayed passion for introducing â€œthe otherâ€ into the conversation. There is more to be gained than lost by seeing our inherent connection to each other. To be liberated from preconceived notions and baseless biases [implicit] benefits the world, as one personâ€™s liberation is the liberation of all people. The artistâ€™s act of dancing at the intersection of chance and choice symbolizes a personal freedom we all seek to experience. Over the course of oneâ€™s creative output an artist can be seen as pivoting, contradicting, saying the opposite. Then, out of nowhere comes a formation, an edge, a powdery pixelization; the enigma that lends itself to blending with complimentary artforms, the material which can be transposed into other media.
In doing so the art speaks to the human condition, the hidden people, the underclass, the sophisticated yet isolated, the accomplished but empty. We witness the interplay of the obvious and the mysterious. As a language of expression, sounds are never neutral; they become a compass capable of pointing in all directions. This is what musical art is meant to do; to mirror, reflect, correct, inspire, and hint at shapes to come. Art shows us that to be a human being in the world is the same everywhere (and that significance lies within ourselves.) Todd has given equal footing to all his pursuits, never dithering while seeking the imbued authenticity and grace of the genres he has endeavored to learn.
â€œThereâ€™s a thread between idioms and genres thatâ€™s as natural as sunlight beaming through the branches and leaves of trees, or moonlight reflecting off the surface of a lake. Each time you place your foot in the river you touch a different part of the stream. Thereâ€™s connection wherever we seek it. Our natural reflex is to be curious, to explore, learn and understand, and I want to reinforce and hopefully inspire a state of openness to new approaches in thinking and being in all my work. I am a people person, I love people, and am fascinated by all kinds of people. Our differences are mainly in the ways we choose to express ourselves and go about protecting our inner space. Once we release the things weâ€™ve intentionally avoided and pushed deep down inside, our wonderful similarities are revealed. Let the hang ups go and an amazing, almost strange, freedom occurs.â€