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The Music of J. S. Bach and Tobin Mueller
Cover of Flow
Flow: The Music of J. S. Bach & Tobin Mueller
available on CDBaby, iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify

Jump to: Liner notes, Disc 1Liner notes, Disc 2Notes about Johann Sebastian Bach

See also: Reviews

FLOW is the second album of The Masterworks Trilogy. It achieved Fanfare Magazine's 2015 Editor's Choice Award.

FLOW is an exploration of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and how his music has come to affect my own playing and composition. Just as I did with Claude Debussy and other Impressionists in Impressions of Water & Light and with Chopin in Of Two Minds, Disc One features Jazz-influenced interpretations of well-known Bach pieces. (Hear selected tracks below.)

Disc 1 highlights: Tobin Plays Bach. (Trouble with the CDBaby player? Click here to reload.)

FLOW also illustrates the master's influences on my own music. Disc Two includes two original suites for piano written after working through the Bach repertoire. (Liner Notes describe exactly which Bach piece inspired which of my compositions.)

Disc 2 highlights: Tobin Plays Tobin. (Trouble with the CDBaby player? Click here to reload.)

FLOW represents my first double album. It is intended to be one part homage and one part internal romance. New Age, Neo-Classical, Modal Jazz, Impressionism, Musical Theatre and Baroque all combined during the evolutionary process of rehearsal and subsequent composing. As I fell in love again with the music of Bach, I stumbled upon new perspectives. I invite you to fall in love, invent, and stumble with me.

FLOW has been included in Fanfare Magazine's 2015 Want List, their Editors' Choice "Not To Be Missed" recordings.

This two-CD set of Tobin Mueller’s jazz piano excursions may be the pianist-composer’s most ambitious and sophisticated recording project to date. Flow uses the protean output of Johann Sebastian Bach as its core inspiration, and lets the Baroque master lead Mueller as a composer and pianist into a journey of reinterpretation and new creation—a journey that inevitably explores the interactions of Baroque and jazz.

The first disc strikes the listener not only with Mueller’s skill as a pianist, but with his comprehensive grasp of Bach’s form and structure. But it is the second disc, where he allows his immersion in Bach to inspire his own compositions, that Mueller’s inventive voice speaks most colorfully and persuasively. The two original piano suites are imbued with a transcendent feeling for the connections between nature and music and for the cyclical energy of the human experience.

On one level, these are works exist in their own unique realm, to be heard, absorbed, and experienced in the flow of the moment. And that intangibility, that ephemerality, is precisely their genius."

Fanfare Magazine, October 2015.

Flow, as a psychological concept, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus and enjoyment. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. When I first heard Mihály Csíkszentmihályi present this idea, I immediately thought of the music of J. S. Bach. There is a constant forward motion to Bach's music, a sense of infinity in each detailed variation and fugue, as if every motif is precious and no amount of improvisation will ever exhaust the possibilities his imagination can generate. If there is music that serves as a metaphor for the ecstacy of flow, it is Bach's.

I also wished to embrace the sense of timelessness one achieves when in the state of flow, to bridge the centuries and let Bach's 300 year old manuscripts inspire me to find new expression and joy at the piano. I wanted to add to his rippling themes and variations.

There is a marvelous tradition of reinterpreting Bach: from the orchestral transcriptions of Esa-Pekka Salonen to Wendy Carlos' electronically enhanced Switched On Bach; from the a cappella vocals of the Swingle Singers to the throaty saxophone of Yasuaki Shimizu; from Jethro Tull's progressive rock flute Bourée to Jacques Loussier's consumate jazz piano combo, Bach to Bach Trio. There are many, many fabulous musicians who have reimagined Bach's music (Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, E. Power Biggs...). Like them, I mean only respect; I merely wish to add to Bach's magnificent legacy, to pay tribute.

I thank Bach and all those who've taken his music to heart, deeply, and found a new voice in the taking. I hope those who love Bach will have that love increased - and those who do not know his music will take the time to discover its wonder and depth.

Mueller’s compositions are firmly grounded in an impressive musical technique and far-reaching understanding of past idioms, at the same time that they are bold, sometimes playful, often rebellious excursions into uncharted territory. The gift that Flow bestows on the listener is the insight into the dialectical truth that from form comes freedom."
Flow - Disc One — Liner Notes by the composer

The Disc consists of music written by Johann Sebastian Bach, rearranged and performed by Tobin Mueller.

Joy of Man's Desiring
Like true desire, this melody led me into places I hadn't expected. Each chordal variation borrows from the one before yet adds something unexpected. Joy of Man's Desiring serves as an overture to this collection, both musically and philosophically. The 10th and last movement of Bach's cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147 ("Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life"), it was written during his first year in Leipzig, Germany. I begin with a variation that harkens back to the opening song (First Noël) on my Christmas album, Midwinter Born. What follows is a representation of my New Age roots as a pianist, me at the piano playing with progressions I've been experimenting with for 40 years. I emphasize the delicate beauty of desiring, the internal aspect of rebirth that curiosity and passion bring.
Well-Aged Bourée/Youthful Beret (variations in 2 parts)
Bourée in E minor is the fifth movement from Suite in E minor for Lute, BWV 996. This piece is perhaps the most famous piece among guitarists, although I first heard it played on flute by Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. My arrangement is in two sections. The first invokes the color of wine, blending Jazz, Blues, Impressionism and New Age (in the style of several of my arrangements from Impressions of Water & Light). The second section is brighter, more youthful at the outset, traveling through additional genre variations (the second of which steals a bit from Jethro Tull, as an homage). It gently morphs back into a well-aged sentimentality. I hope my play on words (bourée/beret) does not offend, but I played the piece wearing my beret and just had to put it in the title, somehow.
Re-Invention No. 13 (Two-Part Invention No. 13 in A Minor, BWV 784)
The Inventions and Sinfonias, BWV 772–801, also known as the Two- and Three-Part Inventions, are a collection of thirty short keyboard compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750): 15 inventions, which are 2-part contrapuntal pieces, and 15 sinfonias, which are 3-part contrapuntal pieces. They were originally written as musical exercises for his students. Bach wrote on the collection: Honest method, by which the amateurs of the keyboard – especially, however, those desirous of learning – are shown a clear way not only (1) to learn to play cleanly in two parts, but also, after further progress, (2) to handle three obligate parts correctly and well; and along with this not only to obtain good inventions (ideas) but to develop the same well; above all, however, to achieve a cantabile style in playing and at the same time acquire a strong foretaste of composition. The two groups of pieces are both arranged in order of ascending key, each group covering eight major and seven minor keys. The inventions were composed in Köthen; the sinfonias, on the other hand, were probably not finished until the beginning of the Leipzig period. As a perpetual student, I thoroughly enjoyed playing through these pieces to decide which ones to perform for this collection.
Well-Tempered Prelude No. 3 and Me
By "well-tempered" I also mean that the opening track does not deviate far from the original. I had not intended on adding any original sections to the piece, other than evolving its harmonic nature, tempo and adding repeats to extend its length, but the new sections simply came to my fingers as I played. That's why I added the "and Me" to the title. "Well-tempered" in Bach's title refers to the temperament (system of tuning); many temperaments before Bach's time were not flexible enough to allow compositions to utilize more than just a few keys. The Well-Tempered Clavier, Books 1 and 2 (BWV 846–893) consists of a prelude and fugue in each of the 24 major and minor keys in chromatic order from C major to B minor. (The whole collection is often referred to as "the 48").
Double Fantasia and Fugue
The blues progression used in the first section ("Double Fantasy") is inspired by the dramatic opening of Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor (BWV 542) for organ. I was originally going to play the actual Fantasia, but it didn't translate well to piano. However, the score inspired the blues chords I play under the improvised version of the theme from his famous Fugue in G Minor (BWV 578), also for for organ. The reason I use the term "Double" is that I also weave in the theme from Passacaglia in C Minor (BWV 582), mainly as a bassline variation. The second half of the piece ("Fugue") places the G Minor Fugue directly over the Passacaglia Fugue in Cm, which I am able to due by transposing the first phrases of the G Minor Fugue into C minor. Then the G Minor Fugue, with a few variations, edits and added notes, takes over. I end with a recapitulation of the blues fantasia, not just for balance, but also to remind the listener of the relationship between the original and my affectionate re-interpretation.
First Starfield (Prelude No. 1)
It is very difficult to listen to Bach's Prelude No. 1 from The Well-Tempered Clavier without thinking of Ave Maria (Bach/Gounod). The devastating simplicity and emotional power of Bach's Prelude, even without that famous melody layered over the top, is thrilling to play, an example of Bach's perfection. Still, I wanted to bring something new to the piece and decided to build on it's harmonic context by playing (mostly) parallel fifths both under and over Bach's single-note line. The effect, for me, was like a starfield of triads. If you listen closely during the last third of the piece, you'll hear me shift the downbeat accent to the second beat, lending to it a new rhythmic sense, as well. A new melody line evolved as I played, I thought I might add my name as co-author, in the Gounod tradition, but searched, instead, for a new title. I wanted to name it after the Mary of Ave Maria, also searching for uses of "triad," since the piece is based on them. I settled on "Mary's Garden," because it also spoke to the garden my wife tends in our back yard, started by her mother Mary. This way, for me it gained a triple meaning, maintaining the triad concept: Ave Marie, Mary of the backyard garden, and my wife as their living legacy. A starfield of triads, indeed.
In Anna Magdalena's Hands (Cello Suite 1, Prelude)
Although Bach's six suites for unaccompanied cello are some of the most frequently performed and recognizable solo compositions ever written for cello, the suites were not widely known before the 1900s. However, after discovering Grützmacher's edition in a thrift shop in Barcelona, Spain, at age 13, prodigy cellist Pablo Casals began studying them. He would later perform the works publicly, but it was not until 1936, when he was 60 years old, that he agreed to record the pieces. Their popularity soared soon after. The suites were most likely composed during the period 1717–1723, when Bach served as a Kapellmeister in Köthen. Bach's second wife, Anna Magdalena, transcribed many of his works, but this one is of special note, since no draft or copy signed by the composer survives. Anna's hand-written manuscripts have produced presumably authentic editions, yet many interpretations of the suites exist. My re-interpretation of the first movement is an homage to Anna Magdalena, who not only preserved many of Bach's works for posterity, but provided him a special love and care that is uncommon in this life. Although I edit out many measures and repeat others, the unchanged solo cello line runs throughout. I merely add romantically dense harmonies and expressive timing.
Leopold's Short Life: A Prelude and Fugue
Prelude & Fugue No. 2 in C Minor from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1, is the first Bach I ever played on the piano, assigned to me by my University piano professor in 1977. Although I loved Bach's music from my first hearing as a child, I was a latecomer as a performer. I experiment with the rhythms and chords, but maintain the over structural, although I edited out a quarter of the Prelude (which is arranged a bit like a Big Band piece), keeping all the Fugue. It is fascinating to hear Bach as 21st and 18th centuries merge/collide. This piece was composed in Köthen and I've named my version in honor of its Prince, Leopold, as well as Bach's son, Leopold Augustus, for whom the prince stood as godfather. Bach's son died in infancy. (Only nine of his 22 children survived him.) Prince Leopold died from smallpox at age 33, after the disease took his only son and second daughter. There is something about the drama of Bach's original score, combined with the dissonances I've added, that made me think of the many shortened lives Bach dealt with during his time.
Sleepers Wake
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Awake, calls the voice to us), BWV 140, also known as Sleepers Wake (from Six Chorales of Diverse Kinds for organ) was composed in Leipzig, first performed on 25 November 1731. The cantata is a late addition to Bach's cycle of chorale cantatas, completing the cycle he had begun in 1724. Movement 4, the chorale I base my piece on, is itself the foundation for the first of Bach's Schübler Chorales, BWV 645. I ignore the part sung by the tenor, concentrating instead on the backing orchestration. I simplify the piece further by condensing it, sometimes using variations as harmonies played over the melody, and transforming the bass line into a repeated Blues-Jazz groove. The altered chordal harmonics accentuate the sense of sleepiness. The right hand improvisations represent the voices whispering, gently calling us to awake.
The Clown Dances and Dreams (a medley)
There is a duel sense of frivolity and introspection in this piece. The title is meant to imply both exploration and self-abandonment, finding a way forward while being swept away by internal forces outside one's control. The fluidity of push-and-pull. The clown is the sad kind, the one who plays with shadows more than spotlights. As I play, I move from reinterpreting Bach's written notes to flights of fancy that carry me far away, only to lead back, then diverge again, like a clown both attending to then carelessly forgetting his audience. I love the juxtaposition of styles, linking time and influences, moods and settings. Searching for the current of abandoned thought. This medley is inspired by Bach's Fugue No. 7 (BWV 852) and Prelude/Fugue No. 4 in C# Minor (BWV 849) from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1.
Bach On Vaudeville (Two-Part Invention No. 8 in F)
The working title for this piece was "Two Parts Invention, One Part Intervention" and was to be a medley of several pieces, but once I got rolling, Bach's Two-Part Invention No. 8 in F took over. I expand on the original a bit, adding an intro (based on internal variations), repeat the first section with increasing chord and note substitutions, add an extended section of 16th notes toward the end, and have fun with rhythms throughout. After I had rearranged the piece, I renamed the piece "Bach On Vaudeville," in keeping with the lightheartedness of the arrangement, although @1:32 it does a dramatic turn, as any good Vaudeville sketch might.
Bach Backstage (Two-Part Invention No. 9 in F Minor, BWV 780)
I was originally going to pair this piece with Track 9, in a medley, but Invention No. 8 (Track 9) became a stand-alone number and, after playing around with Invention No. 9, I simply couldn't bear to change any notes. The short work is so tightly conceived, I found simply learning from it, bereft of any desire to rearrange it. Instead, I reinvisioned the backstory: after pleasing the audience with Bach On Vaudeville's mixture of Tin Pan Alley and silent film melodrama, Bach sneaks backstage and plays this number on his private upright, in order to regain his center. I play the piece as written, with a faster tempo and a few altered ornamentations. A perfect example of "Flow."
Night At The Theatre (Minuet in G)
The Minuet in G is included in the 1725 Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach (BWV Anh 114) and, until 1970, was attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach. However, it is now universally attributed to Christian Petzold. It is a beloved melody, childlike yet elegant, and I wanted to include it here, for I will forever associate it with Bach, as will many others. My version calls upon my career in the theatre for its style and storytelling nature. The first half could be a stage tune from early Broadway; the second half is more contemplative, an inward moment, perhaps a heart rending soliloquy. It's intersting how some of the rearranged phrases remind me more of Chopin than Bach. But it is what the moment led me to, and, above all, for this project, I need to stay in the flow, wherever it takes me.
The "Air on the G String" was one of the first Bach works ever recorded, in 1902. Part of the melody was incorporated into Procol Harum's 1967 hit, A Whiter Shade of Pale. I can still recall the first time I heard Bach's Orchestral Suite #3. The 2nd movement "Air" left me breathless. Such grace, beauty, perfection. I hope you sense my own humility and wonder as explore these variations. I could've kept playing, on and on. The walking base never to wants to stop.
Encore and Amen (Prelude No. 21 in G Minor)
One last homage: I play The Well-Tempered Clavier Prelude No. 21 in G Minor playfully, edited, with fast and fun variations. I wanted to leave listeners filled with the energy of an infinite mind. It ends solemnly, however. I tried several triumphant, happy endings with flashy flourishes and kept discarding them. The collection needed to end with an Amen. And so it does.
Flow - Disc Two — Liner Notes by the composer

This disc consists of music written and performed by Tobin Mueller.

The music in CD 2 are more influenced by composer-pianists Keith Jarrett, Thelonious Monk and Fred Hersch than by Bach, however, there are phrases that would not exist if I hadn't just spent the last 6 months rearranging dozens of Bach pieces. I am convinced Bach colors every phrase, for he is still looking over my shoulder. Without a doubt, this is music that would not have been written if not for Bach and this project. I have never written a piano suite before, so just the form is a direct influence. In addition to the two suites, there is one live recording piano duet that will be offered as bonus track.

Bach’s use of accidentals (sharps and flats) to lift or lower the tonal center of a phrase, or to modulate between phrases, is so smooth and logical, the listener rarely realizes the key has changed. Perhaps it’s because there’s always a ghost of the original key magnetically calling, like a mother’s voice never forgotten. How these accidentals and tonal shifts affect melody, harmonies, chord progressions, as well as the emotions of the listener, is what I’m exploring. This technique is most obvious in the first movements of each suite, when the themes are laid out, but can be heard throughout. Although these pieces may not seem rhythmically or harmonically connected to Bach, the use of accidentals is. His mastery pushed me to delve into new uses in my own music. I am continually searching for a different harmonic setting that might emotionally alter the listening experience.

Suite: Flow
Suite: Flow...
Tide Pools - Suite: Flow, first movement
As Keith Jerret said, music doesn't come from music. It comes from whomever plays it, composes it, improvises out of it. By working on Bach exclusively for the past months, his chord substitutions and relentless logic are now part of me. But so are all the other experiences, people, histories and reactions that have made me who I am this day. On another day, who knows what different music would have resulted?

Regarding the Bach influences in this piece, the rising and falling chord progression may have been a direct result of working on such pieces as "Air" and Prelude No. 8 in Eb Minor (BWV 853, from The Well-Tempered Clavier), with references to the Sciliano from Concerto for Oboe No. 2 in F (BWV 1047). The working title of this first movement was "Dancing Among The Tide Pools" but that seemed too cumbersome for the music that resulted. The endless ebb and flow of tidal water becomes a metaphor for the gentle yet persistent power with which small tugging acts of love bring us daily sustenance. The final variation of block chords represents the tide pools as the water recedes, isolated and waiting, yet teaming with life and memory.

Momentary Undertow - Suite: Flow, second movement
This Goldberg-esque variation of the first movement borrows from Impressionism, evoking a sense of undertow. I swayed with the swirl of shallow currents as I played, like submerged seaweed. The middle whole-tone arpeggio section represents the moment in which the undertow kicks in. Although the piece may seem more akin to Beethoven's Für Elise, it was composed after listening to Bach's Chorale Prelude, "In dulci jubilo" (BWV 729). In my mind, it also conjured the elder couple from Cabaret, Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz ("Married"). Such is the wandering might of imagination.
Yin and Yang - Suite: Flow, third movement
Yin and Yang can be thought of as complementary (rather than opposing) forces that interact to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts. In this particular piece, it stands for connecting the two styles of play, represented by the opening chordal section and the following arpeggio section. These sections take aspects of the Suite: Flow and provide additional treatments/variations.

The idea of Yin and Yang might also be applied to this entire project, with Bach being the Yin to my Yang. It is interesting to note how the title of a piece can change its musical qualities, not just in how a listener approaches it, but in how the arranger might interpret it. The working title of this first movement was "Finding The Center." I had composed the opening chordal section and the arpeggio section before I had figured out how to combine them. They were purposefully disparate. I was intentionally planning to show how two very different styles could not only work together, but create a kind of synergy, a sense of resolve and connection. It would be a starker contrast than similar juxtapositions found elsewhere in the Suite. I worked on the transition for days without finding what I wanted, a "center" that was title worthy. In my final take, I played a short four chord riff providing a simple bridge to the arpeggio section, forgoing the idea of a composed "center" transition. Later, while waiting for the train, the title "Yin and Yang" came to mind and I felt suddenly satisfied. It would do a nice job of highlighting one more aspect of "flow" while getting rid of the "center" concept. Funny, how a title can make you happy.

This particular piece deconstructs and distills the more complex chord progressions I use in other movements of the Suite: Flow. But I hope it helps to provide a point of reference to hear where they come from. A sweet flow, I hope.

Salmon Ladder Variations - Suite: Flow, fourth movement
Merging the influences of Monk and Bach, this piece creates a sense of urgency by choosing notes slightly above or below normal target points, like a salmon struggling up a cascading ladder, against the discordant current. Using a modified blues progression, I set up short repeating sections, like steps, a metaphor for climbing, fortitude and discovery. As the improvised melody ascends then slips back, the hard-struck piano keys bring to mind the jumping, threadbare salmon. The lush chordal mid section is a pause in which the salmon reflects on the immortal drive toward procreation, the flow between meaning and death, wonder and birth. This is a piece I would never have tackled without first going through the Bach gauntlet. It was hatched from the roe of logic and balance, like a newborn swimming toward structure amid the chaos.
Bird In Migration - Suite: Flow, fifth movement
Bird In Migration combines a right hand inspired by Charlie Parker and a left hand ostinato (derived from the Italian word for "stubborn") that hints at a Baroque-Blues pedigree. As opposed to this piece being a morphing of Bird and Bach, it is more of a Bach purge, a song written after too many months of living with the precision and grace of the Baroque master. The whimsy of melody and timing was inspired by birds on the wing, as well as Bop improvisations. The courage it takes to migrate twice a year to places where instinct and wordless learning pulls you, that is a virtue all its own.
Curved Surfaces - Suite: Flow, sixth movement
This piece consists of variations on themes introduced in the opening movement (Tide Pools), I employ a 6/8 modal New Age style derived from 6-string guitar fingerpicking, which was how I first learned to play by ear when learning the piano as the youngest child in a family of excellent guitarists. The feel of this movement is also derived from the final movements of several of Bach's French Suites: the gigue. A gigue is a lively baroque dance originating from the British jig. It was imported into France in the mid-17th century and usually appears at the end of a suite. The gigue was probably never a court dance, but was danced by nobility on social occasions. In early French theatre, it was customary to end a play's performance with a gigue, complete with music and dancing. My version seems more a memory of dancing than an actual gigue, yet, somehow, I thought that apropos, since my memory is so full of Bach at the moment.
New England Suite
New England Suite
River Ice (Winter) - New England Suite, first movement
A driving yet gentle chord progression combines the restless/purposeful movement of New Englanders with the seasonal grace of its natural surroundings. The rhythms also harken back to New England's American Indian roots, in a stylized way. The shifting meters are like patches of river ice, conforming to the shoreline, then breaking off into the current, melting, changing shape. Starting in winter, I move through the seasons with each movement of the suite...
Ghostly Bells (of Independence) - New England Suite, second movement
The half-step chord progression that opens the piece (and sees countless variations thereafter) is the initial haunting of the bells, tolling throughout New England's history. Constantly changing keys help to evoke a sense of differing times and places, tied together with a common theme of Independence and Self Reliance. One interpretation of the piece might place the climax at about the 1:40 minute mark, well before the piece is even half finished. This was intentional, since the ghosts had their heyday will before the present, yet continue to assert themselves as the future unfolds. Hints of differing styles appear between the tolling bells, from Irish melodies to Island rhythms to a dreamy quote from Yankee Doodle, adding to the fabric of New England life. Not just Ben Franklin is conjured within these phrases.

There is also a sense of Coming Spring in the forward drive and overall improvisational feel. I don't mention this in the title, since "of Independence" became the parenthetical notation, but I consider it placed correctly within the overall seasonal flow of the movements.

Lighthouse (Spring) - New England Suite, third movement
There is nothing more iconically New England than a lighthouse. They can be seen from nearly every beach. They protect nearly every harbor. Representing the lonely sentinel, they light the way, a series of singular voices bringing insight, illuminating the darkness, helping us to escape injury during our perilous voyages forward. It is this sense of intellectual Spring, of renewal, that I try to capture. The waltz feel brings to mind the turning motion of the light as it sweeps the foggy harbor with upright clarity, not sentimentality. In the middle of the piece, the past asserts itself (by way of Bach's Fugue #4 from the Well-Tempered Clavier, BWV 849), a signpost signifying where we have come from. Then the waltz returns. I like to think that way I play the recapitulation becomes a precursor to the dawn. An Emersonian internal rebirth.
Train (Summer Tango) - New England Suite, fourth movement
Subways, Metro-North and Amtrak are aspects of daily life for many New Englanders. As someone who lived in Manhattan and later moved to southern Connecticut, trains have been my economic and social lifeline. (I haven't owned a car for 2 decades.) Trains embody the vibrations of connection and anticipation. Although there is nothing inherently "summer" about trains, they share a sense of freedom and the illusion of limitless energy. My repeated rhythmic continuum represents the feeling of the rails beneath. Right hand chords evoke the train whistle. Phrases stop and start like the Metro, pausing at every town on the way home.
Nor'easter (Early Autumn) - New England Suite, fifth movement
Instead of representing a Nor'easter from the point of view Nature, getting caught up in the extreme weather of the event, I center, instead, on the sense of wind against windows, the sound of rain on the roof, the feeling of being inside as the storm surrounds, pauses, surrounds again, then moves on. There is a cozy quality, safety within an oasis apart from the fast-paced world, one gets while hunkered down in the middle of a nor'easter. The bluesy section is that moment when you think it has passed, a moment of relief and recall... and absolute relaxation.
Berkshire Shadows (Late Autumn) - New England Suite, sixth movement
Autumn - the season, the stage of life, the state of cleared mind and reverie - is my favorite time of year. I've employed a simple theme and variation, with each individual leaf (note), each sculpted tree (musical phrase), each sunlit rolling hillside (major chords) and shadowed valley (minor harmonic colors) expressing itself as a unified vista. I hope this piece expresses my abiding adoration for Autumn's ever-changing plumage, it's sense of exuberant quiet and restful vigor. There is no more inspiring place than the Appalachian Mountains in Autumn.
Bonus Track:
One Body of Man, a duet
One Body of Man, a duet was recorded live at Lawrence University in 1998. The music is a series of variations on a them from my off-broadway musical "Creature," based on the Frankenstein story. In the stage play, it is sung by the chorus which is made up of body parts, all of which contribute to the awakening Creature. This track is a duet (duel) performed during the Rain Bather recording sessions by Doug Schneider and Chris Mueller. It did not make it onto the Rain Bather album and I've been looking for a project to attach it to for 16 years. I finally found one.

Click here to see more videos.

Johann Sebastian Bach
Portrait of Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach's dedication to expanding the role of the organ, harpsichord and clavier led to elevating all keyboard instruments from continuo to solo instrument. In many ways, the keyboard came into its own due to Bach's vision and virtuosity. When I went to college, 300 years after Bach's death, his music was the first assigned to me by my piano professor. Amazing, when you think about it.

Bach's compositions highlighted his skill in contrapuntal invention and his flair for systematic improvisation. His musical family background (they were a very famous musical family) and his noteworthy talent as a young organist helped him find work throughout Germany. His access to musicians and scores and instruments as a youth, however, only explains the excellent craft he developed, it doesn't explain his originality as a writer. What he cherished above all was composing. Known for tightly woven music of powerful sonority, he developed an eclectic, energetic musical style that was not without controversy, in his day. In it, foreign influences (Italian and French) were combined with an intensified version of the pre-existing German musical language. Bach synthesized it all and became the greatest Baroque composer.

During the Baroque period, many composers only wrote the framework, and performers embellished this framework with ornaments and other elaboration. Bach notated most or all of the details of his melodic lines, leaving little for performers to interpolate. This accounted for his control over the dense contrapuntal textures that he favored.

Bach's devout relationship with the Christian God in the Lutheran tradition and the high demand for religious music of his times placed sacred music at the centre of his repertory. Lutheran chorale hymn was the basis of much of his work. He wrote cogent, tightly integrated chorales, larger-scale structures that took a great deal of subtle, elaborate planning. And great passion. Bach's music breathes with depth and passion, loss and longing, even as it exudes mathematical balance and precision.

Bach was employed by Prince Leopold, in 1717, and moved to Köthen. Prince Leopold, himself a musician, appreciated Bach's talents, paid him well, and, for the first time in Bach's career, gave him considerable latitude in composing and performing. The prince was Calvinist and did not use elaborate music in his worship; accordingly, most of Bach's work from this period was secular, including the orchestral suites, the cello suites, the sonatas and partitas for solo violin, and the Brandenburg concertos. Bach also composed secular cantatas for the court. During his years with the Prince, Bach embraced dance music, perhaps the most important influence on his mature style other than his previous adoption of Vivaldi's music in Weimar. I draw heavily from this period in the pieces I've chosen.

Bach produced collections of movements that explored the range of artistic and technical possibilities inherent in various genres. The most famous example is The Well-Tempered Clavier, in which each book presents a prelude and fugue in every major and minor key. Each fugue displays a variety of contrapuntal and fugal techniques. When contemplating these pieces, I can't help but wonder at Bach's infinite imagination and ability to take any fragment of music and make hours and hours of never-ending variations. Just that thought brings me joy.

On his deathbed in the week before he died, blind and in the aftermath of a stroke, Bach had a friend play his organ chorale on the hymn “When We Are in Greatest Distress.” Even near the end of his rope, Bach’s lifelong perfectionism endured. He dictated a number of revisions to the chorale. He renamed the piece, giving it a title from another hymn: “Before Thy Throne I Now Appear.”

He wrote 20 pages of music for every day of his 65 years. Yet, in some ways, I think he just scratched the surface of his genius.

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Play button 1 Tide Pools
Play button 2 Momentary Undertow
Play button 3 Yin and Yang
Play button 4 Salmon Ladder Variations
Play button 5 Bird In Migration
Play button 6 Curved Surfaces
Play button 1 River Ice (Winter)
Play button 2 Ghostly Bells (of Independence)
Play button 3 Lighthouse (Spring)
Play button 4 Train (Summer Tango)
Play button 5 Nor'easter (Early Autumn)
Play button 6 Berkshire Shadows (Late Autumn)
Tobin's Solo Piano Collection
Of Two Minds cover
Of Two Minds: The Music of Frédéric Chopin and Tobin Mueller is the final addition to Mueller's "Masterworks Trilogy" in which he explores the intersections of classical and jazz piano. Mueller reinterprets Chopin's most iconic piano solos (Disc 1) and uses the preludes to inspire three original jazz piano sonatas (Disc 2). Seductive, rebellious, heroic and beautiful, Mueller embraces Romanticism at its core, creating music that's distinctly personal and deeply poetic. Jazz, Blues, New Age and Romantic, Mueller weaves all strands of music into a single fabric. Achieved Fanfare Magazine's 2016 Editor's Choice Award.
Flow cover
Flow: The Music of J.S. Bach and Tobin Mueller is a double album featuring Mueller's reinterpretations of Bach's greatest hits (Disc 1) plus two original jazz piano suites by Mueller (Disc 2). Inventive, playful, joyous, beautiful, full of emotion and intelligence. Mueller embraces the sense of timelessness one achieves when in the state of flow, bridging the centuries, letting Bach's 300 year old manuscripts inspire through new expression. Modal Jazz, New Age, Neo-Classical and Baroque all combined in seamless synergy. Achieved Fanfare Magazine's 2015 Editor's Choice Award. Flow is second album of "The Masterworks Trilogy".
Impressions of Water and Light cover
Impressions of Water & Light is an exploration of the cross-inspirations between Impressionist and jazz piano, including adaptations of music by Debussy, Ravel, Fauré, Satie, Ibert and Carpenter. Tobin uses the written notes as if they are light and his imagination as if it is water, creating all new interpretations. This post-Impressionist music illustrates the intimacy between jazz and Impressionist music. You will never hear these works the same again. The gorgeous CD booklet is a work of art in itself, pairing an Impressionist painting with each piece. Impressions is second album of "The Masterworks Trilogy".
Impressions of Water and Light cover
Midwinter Born is a collection of jazz piano interpretations of traditional Christmas carols. Mueller captures the quiet simplicity, expectant playfulness and over-riding joy of the season. A delightful and sometimes surprising album destined to become one of your annual holiday favorites. The wonder of Christmas unfolds as Mueller takes you on a yuletide journey through his musical imagination. The 18 track album includes: First Noel, Bring A Torch Jeanette Isabella, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, O Holy Night, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Carol of the Bells, Lo How A Rose E'er Bloom, Good King Wenceslas, Still, Still, Still and many more.
Morning Whispers cover
Morning Whispers is Tobin's first solo piano collection, a song cycle of tragic beauty. Music of healing and introspection, these New Age and Neo-Classical pieces do more than evoke emotion: they tell stories. The use of key changes, unusual time signatures, and other variational devices makes this work involving, not merely New Age background music. Its gentle intensity, however, does not detract from its healing essence, its sense of inner joy. Influences include Frederic Chopin, Claude Debussy, Aaron Copland, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Bill Evans, David Lanz, Liz Story. Several of these piano pieces have since been used in film and documentaries.
13 Masks cover
13 Masks is Tobin's second solo piano collection. This project evolved from discussions about the role the subconscious plays in creativity. It is also an exploration of the links between avant-garde 20th Century music and jazz. Tobin used his illustrations of 13 Masks to inspire songs combining ragtime, jazz and 20th Century avant-garde classical. He let his subconscious lead the way, creating phrases and variations that pleased something deep inside, often avoiding normal forms and variations. Influences include Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck, Art Tatum, Scott Joplin, John Medeski, as well as classical composers Shostakovich, Ligeti, Bartok. These pieces will startle and delight. An eclectic mix of original of songs.
Afterwords cover
Afterwords - Combining spoken word and solo piano, Tobin "illustrates" his favorite works of literature with a wide variety of new musical compositions. Paying homage to classic authors like Hemmingway, Steinbeck, Vonnegut and Faulkner, as well as contemporary authors such as Dave Eggers, Chuck Palahniuk, Aimee Bender and China Miéville, Mueller spins musical stories that will make you consider each author in a new light. Every track is a musical meditation, guided by inspiring and insightful quotations recited and underscored by Mueller. Taken as a whole, the album becomes a personal memoir of Mueller's life journey. The 18 tracks combine to represent the true breadth of his musical influences and accumulated experiences.
Tobin's Other CD Collections
Tobin's Jazz Collection
Come In Funky cover
Come In Funky Old School Funk and and small combo Jazz featuring legendary bassist Ron Carter. This eclectic blend of Jazz and Funk is the second collaboration between keyboardist Tobin Mueller and saxophonist Woody Mankowski. Half of these tunes will transport you back in time to when most everything (music, clothes, language) owed its hipness to the Funk wing of 1970s jazz. The other half resonate with intimacy, playfulness and humor. A delight. For more information, see: Come In Funky Project page. Released May 4 2014, in honor of Ron Carter's 77th birthday.

"You guys can play! These are, almost without exception, very complicated numbers in terms of rhythm and the general sync of solos with ensemble playing, a stellar set of recordings that, I believe, adds seriously to the body of jazz that this represents... A remarkable work in every single way I can think of. This is such a bright and happy album that is played with a spirit of invention and joy from the first notes to the last." - Paul Page
The Muller's Wheel cover
The Muller's Wheel is a collaborative project combining the talents of pianist Tobin Mueller and saxophonist Woody Mankowski, featuring their jazz quartet and larger ensemble. These original tracks represent their personal journey through jazz influences -- from swing to bop to fusion to funk. The styles of Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Herbie Hancock, The Brecker Brothers, Weather Report and more influence this homage to the jazz greats. Even the blues are given Mueller/Mankowski's uniquely bop-funk treatment. In all, the duo's originality permeate each track, each jazz sub-genre.

This is joyous music. It reminds us of the happiness we relive when returning to our musical roots. Mueller/Mankowski remind us how the personalities of certain eras continue to assert their influence and power.

"The Muller’s Wheel" title is based on the biological concept that mutation and DNA recombination creates cycles of growth and loss. It serves as a metaphor for the ebb and flow of the synthesis and creativity Mueller and Mankowski apply to their musical influences. The tracks are arranged in historical sequence, and the listener appreciates the cross-pollination between each of these genres. Listening from beginning to end creates a cyclical pilgrimage. It's rhythms and inventive flights of fancy invite the listener along for many return trips.
Rain Bather cover
Rain Bather is a jazz ensemble 80 minute long play CD. It features superlative solo performances byan all-star band members. Most of the tunes are in the jazz-funk-fusion vein, but many others try to break new ground, defying easy labels.

Tobin Mueller - B3 organ, electric piano, synth; composer
Woody Mankowski - soprano saxophone
Chris Mueller - acoustic piano
Jeff Cox - acoustic bass
Dane Richeson - drums & percussion
Tom Washatka - tenor saxophone
Doug Schnieder - tenor sax
Ken Schaphorst - flugelhorn
Bob Levy - trumpet
Sal Giorgianni - flute
Bill Barner - clarinet, additional sax
McBoy - electric guitars

Tobin's Rock Collection
Progressive Rock
Audiocracy cover
AUDIOCRACY is an international progressive rock collective. Their poetic writing and virtuosic performances make their high energy music life-affirming and uplifting, even considering the apocalyptic nature of their first release. Revolution's Son has been called "a masterpiece in the Epic Prog tradition." Progressive Magazine gave it 4 out 5 stars. Th story follows a revolutionary who comes to The City to be a catalyst for change and a prophet of truth. He falls into an Underground that urges a less innocent approach to change, leading to a post-apocalyptic finish. High energy, impressionistic prog.
Alternative Rock
A Bit of Light cover
A Bit of Light - A progressive folk / cross-genre collection of songs Tobin's been accumulating for a decade, A Bit of Light includes some of his favorite collaborations with saxophonists, fiddle players and guitarists, mixing jazz, bluegrass, tango and folk-rock. World renown violinist Entcho Todorov, Grammy winner saxophonist Danny McCaslin and L.A.'s Woody Mankowski, Enlish fiddler player Martyn Kember-Smith and guitarist John Luper provide fabulous highlights. The CD comes with a digital booklet in PDF format.
If I Live Long Enough cover
If I Could Live Long Enough - Previously unreleased outtakes from earlier projects, including the 1998-1999 Rain Bather sessions, the 2004-2006 MacJams collaborations, and selected songs from two of Mueller's musicals: Creature and Runners In A Dream. Featuring acoustic guitar by Grammy winner Michael Hedges, vocals by Woody Mankowski and Emily Rohm, and some of Mueller's best songwriting. Six free Bonus Tracks available here.
September 11 Project
September 11 Project cover
September 11 Project: Ten Years Later - Music written following 9/11/2001. Tobin was asked to participate in the 10th anniversary at Ground Zero ceremony and revisted these songs. He decided to put them out as an album instead of keep them to myself. Since he was unable to sing at the event, after contracting a lung disorder, this music gained layers of poignancy. Recorded in the months following the tragedy.
Tobin's Standards Collection
Song Of Myself cover
Song Of Myself - Tobin's favorite songs from The American Songbook, reinterpretted. Intimate, heartfelt, devistatingly honest music. Complete lyrics and song notes are linked from Tobin's Song of Myself page. Ballads, blues, showtunes, folk rock, jazz - the music of Tobin's roots. These are songs he's song for decades, arrangements that have evolved and matured with him.

"American Tune" by Paul Simon. "Blackbird" by Paul McCartney. Bob Dylan's "Dignity." A Joni Mitchell and an Elton John medly. "Being Alive" from Company (Stephen Sondheim). "Impossible Dream" from Man of la Mancha. "Oh Danny Boy." "Frozen Man" by James Taylor. Many more, plus two original songs by Tobin Mueller.
Hard Place To Find cover
Hard Place To Find - Tobin has released a second volume of his favorite songs from The American Songbook. Complete lyrics and song notes are linked from Tobin's Hard Place To Find project page. "Still Crazy" by Paul Simon. Bob Dylan's "Shelter from the Storm" and "Bob Dylan's Dream." Richie Haven's "Paradise." "Dulcinea" from Man of la Mancha. "Alfie" by Bacharach. "Somewhere" from West Side Story. Many more, plus one original song by Tobin Mueller. All songs have to do with journeying, questing, searching. Released June 2nd, 2013.

"Tobin Mueller is something of a Renaissance man of the arts, and 'Hard Place To Find' presents another volume in his prolific and impressive output. More of an art-music album than a pop release, I recommend it if you are looking for something different and deeply personal!" - Kathy Parsons, Mainly Piano
A Bit of Light cover
A Bit of Light - A progressive folk / cross-genre collection of songs featuring Mueller's vocals and a long list of his best friends and collaborators, including world renown violinist Entcho Todorov, Grammy winner saxophonist Danny McCaslin, L.A. saxophonist Woody Mankowski, English fiddler player Martyn Kember-Smith and Texan guitarist John Luper provide fabulous highlights. The music melds jazz, bluegrass, tango and folk-rock. The CD comes with a digital booklet in PDF format.
If I Live Long Enough cover
If I Could Live Long Enough - Previously unreleased outtakes from earlier projects, including the 1998-1999 Rain Bather sessions, the 2004-2006 MacJams collaborations, and selected songs from two of Mueller's musicals - Creature and Runners In A Dream. Featuring acoustic guitar by Grammy winner Michael Hedges, vocals by Woody Mankowski and Emily Rohm, and some of Mueller's best songwriting. 6 free Bonus Tracks available here.
September 11 Project cover
September 11 Project: Ten Years Later - Music written following 9/11/2001. Tobin was asked to participate in the 10th anniversary at Ground Zero ceremony and revisted these songs. He decided to put them out as an album instead of keep them to myself. Since he was unable to sing at the event, after contracting a lung disorder, this music gained layers of poignancy. Recorded in the months following the tragedy.
Poetry / Spoken Word
As Simple As Soap cover
As Simple As Soap - Del lends his deep voice and unique personality to Tobin's award-winning poetry. Love, fatherhood, history, death and daily meanings are all touch on in this combination of poetry and short story offerings. Each spoken word selection is accompanied by Mueller's visually stimulating background music that adds great emotional depth. The force and color of Del's voice earns this collection a high recommendation; the breathtaking and varied accompaniments make this a truly fascinating addition to Tobin Mueller's collected works.
Afterwords cover
Afterwords - Combining spoken word and solo piano, Tobin "illustrates" his favorite works of literature with a wide variety of new musical compositions. Paying homage to classic authors like Hemmingway, Steinbeck, Vonnegut and Faulkner, as well as contemporary authors such as Dave Eggers, Chuck Palahniuk, Aimee Bender and China Miéville, Mueller spins musical stories that will make you consider each author in a new light. Every track is a musical meditation, guided by inspiring and insightful quotations recited and underscored by Mueller. Taken as a whole, the album becomes a personal memoir of Mueller's life journey. The 18 tracks combine to represent the true breadth of his musical influences and accumulated experiences.