Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

fishing in the 3rd stream

interview with richard todd, part 2

January 24, 2008

We’re continuing this week with the interview with Richard Todd, principal French horn with LACO, music educator, and, from Royce Hall and the Alex to the Jazz Bakery, and from Carnegie Hall to Birdland, one of the finest horn soloists playing today.

When we concluded last week, Rick had been speaking about the jazz musicians who had been early influences on him. Continuing with the interview:

Bob: Who were some of the classical musicians who had an early influence on you?

Rick: My great classical influences came from the people closest to me – my teachers, conductors, and colleagues. I must admit I did not listen to many horn recordings, other than the obvious Dennis Brain recordings. The first horn recording I bought was of the New York hornist and later teacher at Wisconsin, John Barrows. Now of course my discography of hornists is much larger, but back then, I was more interested in symphonies than concerti. I got my Bachelors of Music from USC, having studied with Waldemar Linder and the great Vincent DeRosa. I also studied with Gunther Schuller when I was apprenticing at Tanglewood. They, as well as some chamber music coaches such as Tommy Johnson and Mitchell Lurie, were my biggest influences while at USC. I must remember to mention Robert Marstellar as well, as he was the trombone teacher at the time, as well as one of my biggest supporters whenever I would stray off course in my studies. Life at USC was good then. There was, however, no room for jazz in their curriculum then, so whatever I learned came from my own interest in it.

Bob: What proportion of your time today do you spend playing and listening to jazz, as opposed to classical music?

Rick: I tend to divide my time equally between jazz and classical playing and listening. Depending on what my next project/deadline is will determine where my time goes. I love them both equally, but of course jazz is more of a curiosity to people, and classical opportunities as a soloist are rare these days.

Bob: More’s the pity… Are you currently playing regularly in a jazz group?

Rick: Historically my jazz playing has been done with a traditional trio-piano, bass, drums-but lately I have been experimenting with a new sound. I have been playing for the past few years with an accordionist-Frank Marocco-and love the sound we make together. So my new project is an interesting mix of instruments one would not ordinarily think of as a jazz combination-horn, accordion, violin, acoustic bass, and electric bass. That’s right: TWO basses. We have played only once together, but we will do much more once I can find time in my life to write more for this group. It is one of the most exciting and interesting things I have ever done.

Bob: That sounds fascinating! What an interesting blend of tonal colors and textures. I’m really looking forward to hearing more about this…

Among jazz musicians currently playing, who are some of your favorites?

Rick: Well, I have to start with the Marsalis family. Ellis, the father, was my jazz teacher when I lived in New Orleans as principal horn of the New Orleans Symphony. Not only did he give me lessons, but he also had me play with him on his solo gig whenever I could find the time. He also would introduce me to big name artists who would come through while on tour. Clark Terry, Milt Hinton, Bobby Rosengarden, Bobby McFerrin – these were people I got to play in clubs with. But I credit the courage to play in front of people to Wynton and Branford. While hanging out with me one day, they responded to my comment about “someday” getting the nerve to play in a club by saying, “Get your horn; today is the day”! The first time I played in a club was alongside Wynton and Branford Marsalis! Wynton was still in high school, and Branford was a freshman at Southern University in Baton Rouge. I still remember that moment. No doubt I was awful, but they never let me know it…

Bob: That’s really a special story. Talk about starting at the top…! Now, Wynton is a perfect example of someone who has garnered praise in both the classical and jazz worlds. You probably know that, at age 20, Wynton joined CBS Records, signing simultaneously to both its classical and jazz artist rosters, and within two years, he had won Grammies in both fields!

I have been most impressed by Wynton as a teacher. In the Marsalis on Music series of programs he did with Seiji Ozawa for PBS, I thought Wynton dealt with the topic of jazz, and the young people in the audience, with a gentle humor and understanding that were endearing, and very effective.

Rick: But, you asked who some of my other favorite jazz musicians and influences are. Well, for example: Billy Childs, Frank Marocco, Miles Davis, Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown, Chet Baker, Ray Brown, John Clayton, Max Roach, Ralph Penland, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Maria Schneider, Michael Brecker, Charlie Christian, Charles Mingus, Johnny Mandel, Bill Holman, Sammy Nestico, Nelson Riddle, Billy Strayhorn, Cannonball Adderley, Gary Foster, and so many others too numerous to mention. I am sure I am leaving out many people that I will regret later, but there is only so much room. I can’t forget Jeff Kahane, either-no matter what he plays, it sounds right!

Bob: Are we fortunate to have Jeffrey with LACO, or what?! I’m impressed by your list, Rick; there are a whole bunch of my favorites in there, as well. I’m with you: when I try to think of a list of people like that, my mind usually goes blank, and I think later of all the people I should have named…

Do you spend time listening to music for your own enjoyment? If so, what kind of music do you like to listen to?

Rick: I don’t spend so much time anymore listening to music, as I have only so many hours in a day. Now with two children-Haley, 8 and Hunter, 5-my music listening time is mostly spent with them. They hear all forms of music in our home. My wife Marda and I believe that they should know music from all over the world. Classical, jazz, pop, world influences-we listen to it all. I love salsa, Afro-Cuban, music from Cape Verde, Led Zeppelin, Haydn, Queen, Joni Mitchell, Mahler, Balinese gamelan, Stevie Ray Vaughn,
Brahms, Beatles, Cole Porter, zydeco-you name it!

Bob: When do you remember first hearing or hearing about “Third Stream” music? What is your reaction to the notion? To the music?

Rick: Third Stream music was introduced to me by my mentor, Gunther Schuller. He was, along with John Lewis of the MJQ, a leader in the development of that era-that of melding classical and jazz into a new sound. It opened a lot of ears-and doors-for acceptance of music that, even to this day, is considered “outside the box”. It was an important time for music. Third Stream concepts were really not new-consider composers borrowing from each other, and indeed themselves, by combining newly composed and existing material in the same work. The Third Stream went a different direction by adding what was considered taboo in the classical world-jazz-to the culture that was the classical concert. This was different than Benny Goodman playing at Carnegie Hall-this was Benny Goodman Meets Arnold Schoenberg! An exciting time, to be sure, that still resonates in different ways even today.

Bob: What directions do you see your career taking in the future?

Rick: For myself and my future, I feel as if I am only now really discovering my voice as an artist. I do not know where that will lead me, either as a classicist, jazz artist, composer, or arranger, but it all seems very exciting. I have been taking my first real break from teaching in almost 25 years. I know I will get back into it again-perhaps sooner than I think-but for now a bit of sabbatical teaching at Indiana University for the great horn icon Myron Bloom is keeping that “itch” scratched. Being a member of LACO for the last 27 years has been an amazing part of my musical life. I am excited to be composing my first orchestra work for their 40th season next year. I don’t know what it will be yet, but be prepared-it will be an adventure!

Bob: We’ll be looking forward to it, Rick. On behalf of our readers, let me express again my gratitude to you for this delightful time together. We really appreciate it.

Rick: It’s been my pleasure, Bob. We’ve left a lot of things hanging-my new project combining different instruments and sounds in a jazz context; my upcoming orchestral composition-maybe we’ll have to continue this conversation later…

Bob: Nothing would make me happier!

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