bill bodkin interviews jazz musician Todd Clouser, who will perform at Blockey Pourhouse in Philadelphia on April 16, The Local 269 in New York City on April 17 and Goodbye Monday in Brooklyn on April 18 …
Todd Clouser has a wide-eyed approach to life. The former rock musician, who left the scene behind to teach music to children in western Mexico, has channeled a sense of purity and honesty into the instrumental jazz music he performs now.
His new album, A Love Electric, is a blend of the music that Clouser loves — everything from guitar-god ’60s rock to toe-tapping jazz to soul-grooving funk. And while we see many artists in today’s scene blending diverse genres, none seem to do it as cleanly as Clouser. There’s a distinct marriage of the genres he loves, each receiving the proper praise, attention and craftsmanship on A Love Electric.
However, the road to A Love Electric started years before, hundreds of miles from his current residence of Mexico. It actually started years prior in the Minnesota original music scene.
Clouser performed in the rock group 4 Letter Man, and as Clouser puts it, the band went the traditional route of trying to gain a following and be successful — relentlessly gigging. Yet something seemed to get lost along the way for Clouser. It seemed as though the fun and the purity of creating music was taking a backseat to the desire to become successful — and this was not for Clouser. So in 2006, he uprooted his Midwestern life to become a music educator in the Los Cabos region of Mexico.
In Mexico, Clouser’s self-proclaimed “wide-eyed” approach to music, in its purest form returned. The relaxed atmosphere of the town combined with his work with children using the universal language of music, reinvigorated the musician.
One classroom moment Clouser mentioned with great pride was the day he played the classic tune “Blue Suede Shoes” to his class. He had modest hopes that the song would help these international students understand the blues. When the tune hit the speakers, Clouser commented that his students eyes lit up with joy. “This is what music is supposed to be — fun, an experience,” Clouser says.
This was the moment that Clouser was able to get out from all the negative experiences he had back in the Midwest. It was the universal nature of music that’s able to cross cultures that reignited his musical passion — he began writing, performing and touring again.
For those of us living in the U.S., it seems a bit hard to think about a jazz guitarist touring in Mexico.
“You’ll play in Mexico City at The Cinco Jazz Club then you drive to the next town, Guadalajara and play there. It’s kinda like the U.S. plan — you plan it and book it. The same story, it’s just everything is a little more fluid. Down here, everything doesn’t always happen on time, you just have to adjust. It was a little difficult for me at first. But it’s a totally different vibe down here. I feel it might be a little less jaded down here. People are expecting less. You play jazz clubs in the U.S. and the listener expects a lot — there’s more segmentation and sub-genres.”
The relaxed and open-minded Mexican music scene was not the only inspiration for the music on A Love Electric. Legendary trumpeter Steve Bernstein (Levon Helm, Lou Reed) has been a huge supporter and collaborator of Clouser’s for the past few years. After meeting at a music workshop years earlier, Clouser invited the famed trumpeter to perform with him in Mexico.
“I did a two week tour last year with Steven, and I was humbled that he wanted to come back and make music together again. By the end of last year’s run, my band took to calling him Uncle Steven, a wise and accepting presence that managed to put up with the youthful playing, and living, of the three of us. We had all kinds of mishaps that happened on tour, although it was a great success musically, that Steven took in stride and celebrated. A musician with his accomplishments could easily maintain a cold and pompous demeanor, but he runs from that, passing on his knowledge to the next generation of players inspired by what he has done.”
Mexico rejuvenated Clouser’s musical career, but having that wide-eyed sense of awe and love for music and that sense of educational altruism, he knew he had to give something back to his community — hence, the creation of Arts Day Out.
Arts Day Out is a daylong festival that Clouser says brings the community of Los Cabos, a community that is widely diverse socioeconomically, together through the universal language of music. Indigenous children along with the children of expatriate American and Canadian citizens ranging from ages 8-18 come together and engage in workshops taught by musicians (including Clouser and Bernstein) and also perform live.
“As a person that battled a lot of insecurity growing up, it’s important to me that kids can find a way to express themselves. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or trained or whatever — it’s a release, and it’s theirs. So many kids get told they suck at this or that, or they don’t have ‘talent,’ and so on, and that is just so destructive to a person’s growth. It’s so important that kids believe they can do it, whatever it is. Somehow I believed that, so I’d like to pass that on.”
This brings us back to A Love Electric. The music that is heard on this album, is the culmination of experience. He’s at a place of purity and wide-eyed adoration for the genre he loves. He’s been able to take all his influences both in music and life and translate them into this fantastic album — which has brought him back to the states for touring. He has already conquered his former Midwest stomping grounds, playing the famed Dakota Club in Minneapolis. Now he’s hopping from coast to coast, performing in California and New York.
“I like the whole Bob Dylan never-ending tour thing. I’d like to play seven night a week all over the world. [Currently] I’m in California, then on April 16 I’m in Philly opening for DJ Logic. Then I’m in New York City. It’s a thrill for me to be playing both coasts within 10 days. Then it’s a three week tour of Mexico and then I’m back on the East Coast in the summer and in Europe (Prague, Germany, etc.) in mid-June.”
The future is bright for Todd Clouser, who hopes to continue to play and grow as an artist. He wishes to be able to create music playful, energetic music that will transcend the heavy times we’re living in through that universal language of music.