About The Album
“Then and Again, Here and Now” is a concept album comprised of tunes from The Great American Songbook. This is the first recording I’ve done of standards and it put me in touch with my earliest dreams about the possibilities of reinterpreting existing music. In a simple way this music allows me to associate with things I’ve always been drawn to. And it’s not only the melodies or my familiarity with the tunes.
When I think about it on a deeper level the many interpretations of standards – particularly for jazz musicians – was a way for “outsiders” to harmonize across hard divisions within American culture. The stories, romances and destinations we dream about in these songs are universal. I love seeing where concepts of expression were developed and shared and how jazz became an emissary for improving relationships and breaking down social barriers. The musical reimagining and reinterpreting (of standards) led to entire movements of musical styles. As a pianist, I look at stride, swing, bop, and cool as distinct and fascinating approaches to The Music. Everywhere I look I see beautiful intersections of influences – and having never before recorded an album of standards – my idea was to research the origins of a collection of songs and create a narrative that retold the places and times and sentiment of when they were originally created but with an impressionistic representation of these pieces within today’s chaotic reality.
The Todd Cochran Trio – TC3 Musicians
Todd Cochran (piano)
John Leftwich (bass) *
Michael Carvin (drums) **
* Chet Baker, Sarah Vaughn, Freddie Hubbard, Hubert Laws, Rickie Lee Jones, Leo Kottke
** Bobby Hutcherson, Freddie Hubbard, The Lincoln Jazz Center, Branford Marsalis, Jackie McClean, Cecil Taylor, Hampton Hawes
There can be a very strong presence in an artist’s work that is rarely talked about. _TC
Artists partner and musical collaborations occur at an assortment of times, in endless forms, and for a myriad of reasons. Music is an evolving emotional language. While a musician’s “sound” is a mixture of skill-set, practice, experience and philosophy, the uniqueness of a musician’s style and artistry emerges from the spaces that remain free from fixed viewpoints. Inventive soundscapes are formed, and untold possibilities appear whenever the alchemy of musical collaboration enters the process. In a band that embraces improvisation – where an unexpected phrase or nuance can completely transform the imagination – the combined effect is a distinctive synergy, the personality of chemistry. As the notes and ideas spontaneously morph into new thinking and leitmotifs, the moment-to-moment experience becomes an engaging and fascinating process for both performer and audience.
I resonate with a musician’s balance of intellect and emotion – and am drawn to individuals. Stylistically, I love the modernists – those with the courage to follow their instincts to the furthest corners of the sonic spectrum. Trusting their sensibilities, they connect with an audience by packing their explorations with the truth of their experiences. At once they create an ambience of attitude and spirit that is compelling and absorbing. A glimpse of this, and then riffing about that, they willingly give of themselves and transmit messages that become vital to our understanding of who we are.
The beginnings of TC3 happened a few seasons ago, with my initial thoughts about forming a trio occurring shortly after the CD reissue of my first solo album, “Worlds Around The Sun.” The concept I envisioned was challenging, but always very clear. Yes, I wanted to collaborate with the most inventive players, yet my prime objective was that we share a natural compatibility. Nothing could be forced. Notions about time, harmony, and melody-rhythm nuance factor exponentially in the creative equation; freeing the music to have an energy of its own, and swing.My hometown, San Francisco, is located by the bay.
A unique mix of classic and post-modern architecture, parks, bridges, coves and ocean views – it is a city of the imagination and the rainbow’s end. With hills and villages, it is a town of microclimates; sunny, bright and still in one neighborhood, while covered by a damp, windy marine-layer in another. As a child, I remember foggy mornings and waking up to the sound of hissing automobile tires on the moist pavement. The dew drops that gathered on the shrubs and trees drizzled like a light rain, falling in offbeat rhythms onto the sill of my bedroom window. I’d try to count them and notate what I heard on music paper. Listening, I could also hear the bells ringing in the tower of the nearby Catholic Church, chiming the hour. And adding more color to the potpourri, often wafting through the mist, would be the deep bellowing of fog horns that were guiding the big container ships as they approached the piers or headed out to sea.
During the years I was growing up in San Francisco it was a vital place of activism and revolutionaries; from the pulpits of nondenominational black churches, schoolroom lecterns, marches on city hall, concerts in Golden Gate park, and communes of the Haight-Ashbury. While the all-around vibe was “free love” – who exactly was “free to love” was the divisive inescapable question of the day. Thinking seriously about what I was seeing and absorbing moved me to muse about how anyone could be free of conditioning in a state of sameness. It then fell upon my mind that I had a thirst for the world; and in an affirming magical way it became my obsession to trust where the energy was leading and seek all things cultural. Soon, it seemed ludicrous to separate things that were naturally joined. Collaborative adventures – and a career of multi-genre, multidisciplinary, multicultural art, and interracial fun is what followed.
There was a particular beauty in the polemic language emerging from the civil rights and counter-culture epoch. New philosophies pervaded the atmosphere, affecting everything, and impacted me deeply. The courage, the truth, and instinctual passion inspired a communal sense of purpose. However, the formation of the aesthetic that fused my classical training and study of jazz came with my interest in the blues; Robert Johnson, Pinetop Perkins, Lead Belly, Nina Simone and folk music; Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Richie Havens, Odetta. These artists embodied the lifetimes of dreams by reflecting the cadence of the day directly to the people.
on stage, performing live with Freddie Hubbard. Saxophonist, Kenny Garrett was a member of the band that Freddie had assembled for the dates. Freddie and Kenny were a powerful front line and the music was muscular and adventurous. I really heard the grounding that John was bringing to the ensemble, holding it together while also – in certain moments – adding elements of melodic character to the music. The way he moved between these dual roles was composed and inventive. Very aware of how a lyrical approach to the bass can add a special dimension to a trio setting, I logged the experience into my memory for another time. Fast forward… When I talked to my friend Hubert Laws about the acoustic trio I was about to put together, he immediately suggested John. I called him and soon we were spending entire afternoons talking and playing together. That we had a very compatible approach to music making was easily apparent.
John brings a colorful element to the ensemble. He’s developed a technique that I call “legato pizzicato.” The melodic intervals in his choice of notes and angular phrasing enlarges the sound and harmonic fullness of the trio, largely due to his understanding of the creative codes of the acoustic bass – historically and stylistically. John grew up in San Diego, a southern California seacoast town. Environments tend to shape what you instinctively model. I grew up in San Francisco, a picturesque town surrounded by the bay and beaches. There is a similarity in the natural surroundings of the two cities; ocean, fog, micro-climates, eucalyptus trees, ice plant, vistas, and sandy beaches. An additional aspect of the environ of our early years was a socio-cultural attitude that was generally forward thinking and compassionate. I believe the sense of community and prevailing ideals in your formative environment influences you tremendously and sparks your dreams. All art emerges from native soil.
John tells me about his early interest in literature and painting, saying he could have pursued either of them with an equal level of interest, however it was music that seemed to take hold first and create a path for him to follow. This is how music became his identity while his interests in writing and painting have never altogether left.
Musicians like to play metaphors and images. John, to my ear, uses musical passages to paint pictures, and in this sense the sounds that we make together evoke visual images. The giant waves of the ocean. The unknown vastness of bottomless water below. Crashing, powerful, turbulent breakers on the surface, and when you dive down beneath the tide, the sea is calm and still.
People who love people can change the world for the better. Michael, I am certain, is one of those people. _TCMichael and I met through Bobby Hutcherson,
playing together in Bobby’s very adventuresome quartet. This was in San Francisco during a unique season in the city’s history, an epoch period of cultural transitioning and the civil-rights movement. Haight-Ashbury, Bill Graham’s Fillmore West, Todd Barkan’s Keystone Corner, The Both/And Jazz Club, The Great American Music Hall, In The Beginning, City Lights Bookstore, ACT-American Conservatory Theatre, U.C. Berkeley and The Free Speech Movement, The Black Panther Party. The change had come. It was a festival of “the other” in look, feel, relationships and rhetoric; jazz, experimental, funk and rock. San Francisco has been called both the Little New York of America and the Liverpool of the United States. All the core elements of the counterculture were in full force, with everything indicative of the major shift in paradigm in full affect.
In this charged atmosphere, music as commentary, the expressing of one’s innermost voice was equally as important as knowing the fundamental¬¬¬ idiomatic elements of jazz. With our shared deep-rooted and free-experimental approach to music Michael and I – playing together nearly three years in the 70s – developed a meaningful conceptual rapport. It is a style of listening that taught us to know when we were being listened to – taking a musical lead in the direction of the playing – and then, in an unperceivable instant, how to pass that lead off to another player in the band. This was the philosophy we learned and when we play together now, so many years later, it’s this same shorthand of balance that shapes the creative dynamics of the music we make.
Michael has developed a holistic approach to music. While what he plays has structure, the characteristic shape of his sound is never a single element. Rather it is more of an amalgam of many things. Michael loves stories, listening to them and telling his own. Colorful explanations are fun, because for a real storyteller nothing is absurd or off limits. Point made. Noted. Command. Save.
Music itself can become a powerful way of remembering. Recalling his early youth and impressionable childhood memories of growing up in Houston, Texas, Michael talks about how he loved spending afternoons alone in the nearby woods, observing and listening to nature. Evenings, he would sit in the backyard of his family home – and because there were few streetlights where they lived – he remembers how he could gaze deeply into the ebony nighttime sky. During summer the stars seemed to stretch and would appear elongated., Reminiscing further – in that hot humid ambience with fireflies “lightening bugs” everywhere and pesky mosquitos darting around – he would imagine how he might go about creating the sound of the moon rising. He would set up a snare drum and try to play patterns that matched the vastness of what he saw. Several rhythms became one rhythm. Over time his ears paired with his eyes, as he started to “see the sound.” For this reason, I will take a leap and say that the sounds Michael creates are actually more sculpted or tastefully hand-sketched than played. What we hear is the audible component of what he’s envisioning. The important part being the meaning behind the thought. People see with their feelings. That’s the real take-away.
THEN AND AGAIN, HERE & NOW – AT THIS MOMENT, TODAY
Some eight years ago I began an extended hiatus and break from the rigors of my professional career. Where I am now is a summation of my insistent musical journey and fortuitous period of personal reflection. The time-out interval became a sojourn of distilling my principle purpose from a potpourri of influences and a quiet farewell to the familiar.
Today we are in the midst of an extraordinary time of social disruption and relationship transformation. Embracing this reality, the challenge is to make music that speaks to our era of cultural tumult and outspokenness with solutions. We are now hearing (and more distinctly every day) the “small voices” that heretofore were silenced. People are always drawn to meaning, and I am conscious of how well-conceived music can go beyond words and touch on things that have been missing from the conversation. Indeed, to aptly represent these fresh perspectives you have to dip your paintbrush in a few palettes of pigment to get it right.
I’ve spent years cultivating a relationship with different theories of music. At this point I am concentrating less on organizing sounds and more on how to pour life into the music; life I’ve observed, combined with the life I’ve lived – without filters, masks or pretense. I think time is a continuous sequence, that it expands exponentially, and does not repeat itself. We can look at ideas that reflect a certain place and time and then construct something of that emotional image. It is for this reason that I do not believe in peering through the rearview window. Now, fully back into the rhythm, I come to the music with my trio of piano, bass and drums – delving deeply into the possibilities, excited at every turn.
Music keeps asking questions. _TC