After completing Midwinter Born, I had a few ideas leftover that I thought might form the core of a new solo piano project. While playing a jazz chord progression, struggling to decide on a melody, I realized Claire de Lune kept whispering over the top. It made me think back to when I was a kid and loved listening to orchestrations of Debussy's piano works, then later, learned how to play them myself. Debussy was my grandfather's favorite composer and George Gershwin was my mother's. I have always thought of the two together, not only because of this personal connection, but also because there are many jazz tendencies that find their harmonic roots in the Impressionist music of Debussy and others.
Why not approach the music of the Impressionists as a contemporary jazz musician? I could explore this connection as I lose myself in the music, spontaneously. Let myself find my own impressions, as if the written notes were light and my imagination was water...
I thought the project would turn into a jazz collection with Impressionist overtones, and some of these pieces are, but mostly I found myself forging a balance between Impressionism and jazz, creating a Neo-Classical post-Impressionist hybrid. Some pieces sound like re-arrangements, familiar, yet with a new tonal setting. Some are fresh compositions that merely quote a few known passages. Some are theme and variations, as old and new duel, collaborate. All are Fantasies that explore the intimacy between jazz and Impressionist music, between myself and my favorite composers. I hope you are able to go back to the originals, to reconnect with them; the contrast will heighten your enjoyment. I know I'll never hear them the same again.
I like to think of some Impressionist music as Pastoral pre-Jazz. Sophisticated modal harmonies and playful improvisation give shape to fluid dissonance, yet avoid the urban agitations and twentieth century displacements (syncopation) that energize much of modern jazz. Many Impressionist pieces flip from idea to idea without conformity, like a catbird scatting. Idyllic, illusive running brooks pervade many of it's melodies. Still meadows, gardens in full bloom, a sunrise over drifting waves, and the exultations of springtime give much of this music dreamy context and inspiration. Sensual music, mythic yet tactile. This poetic essence is what I've tried to illuminate in each of my interpretations, regardless of the genre they (almost) fall into.
Debussy has been called "the determining factor in the music of the 20th century because of the doors he opened and the restraints he cast aside." That is one of the reasons his works form the core of my explorations. The other reason is my love for his music. What a fabulous cultural time. I've paired paintings of the era with each of the pieces to add one more layer...
"These piano realizations are inventive, as they creatively flower from the roots of familiar impressionistic compositions. They are wonderfully played by Tobin Mueller with sumptuous yet carefree styling. A beautiful synthesis of melodic tethers, pleasing harmonics and jazzy counterpoint."
1. Fantasy Girl with Flaxen Hair (Claude Debussy)
1. The first track is based on La fille aux cheveux de lin: Très calme et doucement expressif (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair), Prelude #8 from "Préludes: Book 1" by Claude Debussy. Each book was written in a matter of months, at an unusually fast pace for Debussy. Book one was written between December 1909 and February 1910, and book two between the last months of 1912 and early April 1913. I stick fairly close to the original form during the opening (and ending), although only 6 chords use the actual written notes. I hope my chord substitutions bring a fresh feel to the piece. I am ever mindful of the composer's initial flow and intent, even in the bluesy section that deviates completely from the score.
2. "Leur chanson se mêle au clair de lune" (Their song mingles with the moonlight) is taken from the French poem Clair de Lune written by Paul Verlaine in the year 1869. It is the inspiration for the third and most famous movement of Debussy's 1890 Suite bergamasque of the same name: Clair de lune. Debussy commenced the suite in 1890 at age 28, but he did not finish or publish it until 1905. I had written this chord progression long before I knew what melody it would accompany. Debussy's Claire de Lune haunted me, and, thus, after I wed the two, the "Impressions of Water & Light" project was born. The waterfall-like arpeggiated section in the middle is the only section of the piece in which I play (mostly) the notes as written.
3. Pavane pour une infante défunte (Dance for a Dead Princess) was written by the French composer Maurice Ravel in 1899 when he was studying composition at the Conservatoire de Paris under Gabriel Fauré. I first played this song when I was a teenager, during the last year of my sister's life. Although Ravel wrote this as a romantic song, I have always interpreted it as a lullaby. Romance and loss, tragedy and beauty, nostalgia and longing are all included. Most of the chords have been subtly altered by a note or two, blending in hymn-like New Age jazz timbres. The inserted middle section represents a dream sequence I imagine playing inside the surviving mother's mind as she recalls her lost child. The fallen final note was added to signal that the lullaby is over and real life has, again, intruded. The illustration: Frédéric Bazille's The Terrace at Meric, with the seemingly unfinished sketch of a young woman haunting the shadows.
4. Maurice Ravel wrote on the 1901 manuscript of Jeux d’eau, "Dieu fluvial riant de l'eau qui le chatouille..." a quote from Henri de Régnier's Cité des eaux, translated as "River god laughing as the water tickles him..." which inspired my title, "River god at play." Jeux d'eau is a marvel of flowing impressionistic perfection, dedicated to Gabriel Fauré and inspired by Franz Liszt's Les jeux d'eau à la Villa d'Este. My variations grew out of the rehearsal process, moments when I'd let myself get lost in the musical imageries and find my way out onto new harmonic seascapes. I love the way my internal fantasies lay alongside Ravel's own passages. Claude Monet's “Japanese Bridge” beckons, with its flaring colors and fluid motions, just as Ravel’s music, to find, as Monet said, “that perfect moment we spend a lifetime trying to capture, hoping to experience.”
5. Le Petit Négre (1909, Debussy) was originally intended to be the sixth composition in a collection "The Children's Corner" loosely based on things in Debussy's daughter's room. Le Petit Négre is about a black doll belonging to Debussy's daughter employs ragtime rhythms associated with African-American composers who had just come into fashion, like Scott Joplin. It was replaced in "The Children's Corner" by "The Golliwog's Cakewalk" (track 10) and "Le Petit Negre" became a stand-alone piece. I went further into the future history of jazz than ragtime for my set of variations. Yet, even the frenetic boogie woogie section is based on riffs used in Debussy's original music. I deviate so far from the original score, I felt it necessary to add "variations" to the title.
6. Rêverie (1880/1884) is one of Debussy's most beautiful and loved works, even though the composer was dissatisfied with it. "I very much regret your decision to publish Rêverie," Debussy testily wrote to publisher Eugène Fromont. "I wrote it in a hurry years ago and purely for commercial purposes. It is a work of no significance and, frankly, I consider it absolutely no good." Aside from the introductory section, altered transitions, and liberties with tempo and timing, I play this piece mostly as written; although I hope my interpretation and occasional harmonic additions transforms it into something new. Rêverie is animated by romance, spontaneity and daydreaming. It represents the earliest known instance of Debussy working in the "impressionistic" musical vocabulary that would become his trademark, and, thus, has great significance, no matter what the composer believed. The Studio Boat by Claude Monet depicts Monet's converted boat from which he studied light and reflection.
7. Tango Américaine (1920) is an elegant example of American composer John Alden Carpenter's ability to apply Impressionistic stylings to other musical genres, in this case, the Tango. Carpenter was born in Park Ridge, Illinois, and educated at Harvard University (where he was president of the Hasty-Pudding Glee Club). After studying under Edward Elgar (composer of "Pomp and Circumstance"), Carpenter earned a comfortable living as vice-president of the family business, a mill supply company from 1909 to his retirement in 1936, writing music throughout his life, especially after retiring. I play his Tango much slower than marked and use a light, staccato touch, which I feel brings out a sense of restraint and grace. And though I let my imagination lead the melody on a few improvised side steps, for the most part I stick to the original structure and progressions. I chose "Etude pour Tango" (Sonia Delaunay-Terk) as a visual accompaniment because of it's combination of swirling motion and chic boldness.
8. Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir (Sounds and scents turn in the evening air) was inspired by the poem by Charles Baudelaire, "Harmonie du soir" (Evening Harmony). The poetry suggests many images and muted yet colorful moods. This is the fourth of the Preludes that comprise Book I of Debussy's Préludes for piano. My interpretation greatly simplifies the darker and darting original, creating a moody yet coy jazz-blues groove that emphasizes the brief Gershwin-like moments in the score. Baudelaire often combined erotic and aesthetic themes, and would’ve loved jazz, I think. He was an important innovator of prose poetry. I've chosen Picasso's "Blind Man's Meal" (1903) to illustrate both the music and poem, calling this fantasy "Blue Prelude."
9. Pavane, written in 1887 by the French composer Gabriel Fauré, was originally a piano piece, but became better known after Fauré arranged it for orchestra and optional chorus. Devastatingly simple, with a gorgeous melody, it inspired both Ravel and Debussy to write a pavane of their own (see track 3). My first verse speaks to the "romantic helplessness of man", which is the subject of the choral lyrics. My left hand plays 16th notes instead of 8ths, giving me more room to explore lush minor key variations. When the jazz progressions kick in during the later verses, they serve as examples of uncertainty, of struggle, of searching. I quote Fauré's original piano in my final verse; I thought it dramatic to place it last, as a cleansing statement of purity, as if innocence survived. I chose Degas' The Tub I (Woman Bathing in a Shallow Pan) to illustrate.
10. Golliwog's Cakewalk is the final of six movements from Debussy's "The Children's Corner", published in 1908. It is dedicated to Debussy's daughter, who was three years old at the time. The golliwog was a black character in children's books in the late 19th century usually depicted as a type of rag doll. My take on the song evokes more the magic of "stepping out on the town" than a child's room. This is why I used the fantastical Portrait de Félix Fénéon (Paul Signac) to illustrate. I hope you enjoy the way I took Debussy's youthful melody and made it swing just a bit. Harmonically, I embellish Debussy's playful dissonances and completely replace the left hand rhythmic framework with chromatic syncopation. As in a few other arrangements, I expand the main themes and edited out secondary ones, shaping the song into more of a jazz standard format.
11. A Giddy Girl, published in 1922, is the 4th movement of "Histoires", a 10 piece song cycle by the French composer Jacques Ibert (1890 – 1962), the "youngest" composer I've included in this collection. My arrangement of A Giddy Girl is the only one in which I play every measure of the original score, without editing out any phrases or sections. I have added passing notes throughout that act like counter melodies, transforming the piece while maintaining the original simplicity and 1920s charm. I also take great liberty with tempo, trying to capture the dizzy romantic swoon of the Giddy Girl. Mary Cassatt's contemplative yet reeling portrait, Lydia Leaning on Her Arms, illustrates.
12. La cathédrale engloutie (The Sunken Cathedral) was published in 1910 as the 10th prelude in Book I of Debussy's Préludes. This piece is based on an ancient Breton myth in which a cathedral, submerged underwater off the coast of the Island of Ys, rises up from the sea on clear mornings when the water is transparent. Incorporating Debussy’s melodic theme into a jazz groove made me feel like I was walking the streets of Rouen, synthesizing everything around me. I have renamed this fantasy "Risen Cathedral," imagining the cathedral already risen as I pass, my present distractions contrasted against its ancient magic (when the chordal section arrives at 2:48). Choosing one image from Monet's "The Rouen Cathedral" series proved difficult, but I settled on Morning Effect. I thought the contrast of colors best fit the music.
I saw Frank Sinatra on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson many years ago. With an impish grin, Johnny asked him, "So, when you're entertaining a young lady in your home, do you play Sinatra (to try and seduce her), like the rest of us?" "No," Frank replied, "I put on something classy, like The Sunken Cathedral."
13. Sitting with Satie: Conversation & Life was conceived as a medley in which I play the main piano interpretations and then overdub a second part, similar to "Conversations with Myself" (1963) by pianist Bill Evans. Instead of separating the differing performances by panning them left/right, as he did, I separate them spatially via reverb. Satie's Trois Gymnopédies (1888) and Gnossienne (1890), Debussy's Prelude 6 and my own music (inspired by Satie) are combined. The medley begins with Satie's simple purity, evolves into tumult and trauma, then returns to try (in vain) to capture that initial simplicity. Satie is a master of creating space, and I hope the use of extra reverb during the "conversation" helps to fill it with a sense of homage. The transition out of 1 ére Gymnopédie is done with the help of Debussy's Footprints in the Snow (Prelude 6), although many additional notes are added. I play the melancholy Lent from 1 Gnossienne with a near violent un-Satie urgency and completely new chords that become more jazz oriented as they are repeated. It eventually gives way to my own transitional section inspired by Satie's 3 ére Gymnopédie. The recapitulation of 1 ére Gymnopédie includes a new melodic duet, which I imagine accompanying the lone man sitting on the bench in Paul Signac's Place des Lices. Surely, those trees are swaying with music all their own...
COVER ART: Water Lilies by Claude Monet, 1906.
Artwork used to illustrate each track:
|More Solo Piano...|
Morning Whispers: Tobin's first solo piano collection is a song cycle of tragic beauty. Music of healing and introspection. New Age and Neo-Classical. The use of key changes, unusual time signatures, and other variational devices makes this work involving, not merely background music. Its internal intensity, however, does not detract from its healing essence, its sense of inner joy. This is Mueller's most introspective work. Several of these works have since been used in film. Cover photo taken by Mueller on Cape Cod.
13 Masks: Tobin's second solo piano collection. This project came out of discussions about the role subconscious plays in creativity. Tobin used his illustration of 13 Masks to inspire songs combining ragtime, jazz and avant-garde classical. He let his subconscious lead the way, creating phrases and variations that pleased something deep inside. An eclectic mix of original of songs, for sure.
The Muller's Wheel has been remastered! This collaborative project combines the talents of pianist Tobin Mueller and saxophonist Woody Mankowski in Jazz Quartet and larger ensemble settings. 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. Click here to learn more about the recording.
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. Click here to learn more about the recording.
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
Come In Funky - Jazz-Funk - 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 - funky Jazz etudes - resonate with unique 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.
|Voice & Piano...|
Hard place To Find - voice/piano - Following on the success of Song of Myself (see below), Tobin has released a second volume of his favorite songs. Complete lyrics and song notes are linked from Tobin's Hard Place To Find project page. Cover features artwork by Eric Green.
"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 having to do with journeying, questing, searching. Released June 2nd, 2013.
Song of Myself - voice/piano - Tobin's favorite cover songs, reinterpretted. Intimate, heartfelt, devistatingly honest music. Complete lyrics and song notes are linked from Tobin's Song of Myself project page. Ballads, blues, showtunes, folk rock, jazz - the music of Tobin's roots. These are songs he's song for decades, songs that have evolved and matured with him. New additions to the Great American Songbook.
"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.
A moving and meaningful compilation. Songs from a life well lived. Released July 13th, 2012.
|Audiocracy / Progressive Rock...|
See: Audiocracy: Revolution's Son for latest band info.
Ever since Tobin first listened to Yes, he's been enthralled with progressive rock. Using the Internet, he collaborated with players from around the world. He put tracks together piece by piece, a whole different way to record, but it was very rewarding: the music is inventive and driving!
The album was well reviewed in Progessive and other leading prog mags. The CD inculdes a collection of great arwork illustrating each song by Hovakimian Anoushavan. Please check it out.
Tobin Mueller: organs, synths, pianos, drum programming, backing vocals
Twon: vocals, bass, acoustic guitar
Bob Piper: electric guitar, guitar synth
Darren Chapman: electric guitar
Tadashi Togawa: guitars
Rob Thurman: drums
• Audiocracy on CDBaby
• Audiocracy on iTunes
|A Bit Of Light / Alternative Rock...|
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, saxophonists Danny McCaslin and Woody Mankowski, and guitarist John Luper provide fabulous highlights.
The CD comes with a digital booklet in PDF format:
Download the Digital Booklet here!
(click to view in browser, right-click to download to desktop)
For more details, see Tobin Mueller's Recordings...
• A Bit Of Light on CDBaby
• A Bit Of Light iTunes
|September 11 Project|
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 on CDBaby • Tobin on iTunes •
• Member: ASCAP, Dramatists Guild (NYC).