“a vocalist of inventive instinct and assiduous musicality”—Nate Chinen, New York Times
A jazz singer and new music composer of eclectic tastes and prodigious gifts, GRAMMY® NOMINATED Theo Bleckmann makes music that is accessibly sophisticated, unsentimentally emotional, and seriously playful. His work provokes the mind to wonder, but connects immediately with the heart.
Bleckmann, who has been residing in New York City since 1989, has released a series of gorgeous and irreverent albums on Winter & Winter, including recordings of Las Vegas standards, of Berlin Kabarett, and of popular “bar songs” (all with pianist Fumio Yasuda); a recording of newly-arranged songs by Charles Ives (with the improvisational jazz/funk collective Kneebody); and his Solos for Voice and Toys, where Bleckmann brought just his stunning vocal technique, his emotional commitment, and his suitcase full of oddly evocative voice-altering gadgets to the project of recording delicate songs and poems alone at a monastery in the Swiss Alps. In his highly acclaimed CD release of 2012, Hello Earth - The Music of Kate Bush Bleckmann managed to bring an entirely new and quite gorgeous perspective to the songbook of the British pop recluse. 2013 saw the release of Mother Goose Melodies, a return to Bleckmann’s uniquely interpretive collaborations with Fumio Yasada. Bleckmann has most recently appeared as a special guest on recordings by Ambrose Akinmusire for Blue Note Records and Julia Hülsmann’s trio for ECM, followed by touring with both or those artists. In January 2017, ECM will release Theo’s recording with his new Elegy Quintet, produced by legendary label head and founder, Manfred Eicher.
Bleckmann maintains an ongoing creative relationship with guitar phenomenon Ben Monder, generating a series of performances and a pair of albums that wreak beautiful havoc with standard expectations of jazz and rock. With John Hollenbeck and Gary Versace, he makes up Refuge Trio, a project exploring and reinventing the work of popular singer-songwriters as well as generating provocative original work. He explores the classical repertoire in the context of jazz in his work with pianist/composer/arranger Uri Caine. Bleckmann has additionally collaborated with a remarkable roster of contemporary musicians and composers, including Laurie Anderson, Peter Eldridge, Uri Caine, Philip Glass, Kate McGarry, Ann Hamilton, Frances MacDormand, Sheila Jordan, Luciana Souza, Michael Tilson Thomas, Kenny Wheeler, John Zorn, the Bang on a Can All-stars, and, most prominently, Meredith Monk, with whom Bleckmann worked as a core ensemble member for fifteen years. His uniquely flexible and colorful voice has also inspired compositions by, among others, Michael Gordon, David Lang, Ikue Mori, Kirk Nurock, Julia Wolfe, and, prominently, Phil Kline, who wrote three major song cycles for Bleckmann: Zippo Songs (2004) , Locus Solus (2006) and Out Cold (2012), which premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2012.
Bleckmann's joyous, mischievous sensibility also manifest in his compositional work, which leaves listeners feeling as if their usual chair had been moved over a few inches when they weren't looking - familiar things look fresh and strange again for a moment. He has composed for a range of instruments from piano, violin, and kalimba to chimes, Glockenspiel, toy microphone, and sewing machines, setting exquisite poems by Rumi, Emily Dickinson, and Kurt Schwitters as well as building ineffable soundscapes with just his voice and a loop pedal. He created an evening of original work for voice and the JACK String Quartet, commissioned by the Slought Foundation.
Bleckmann's approach to music and performance is unusual and provocative. His taste for risk-taking, coupled with rigorous technique, is clear in his unusual and varied ability as a sound improviser - an ability that led to his being commissioned to create the space alien language for Steven Spielberg's Men in Black. Bleckmann confesses to a love affair with performance art that informs his playful approach to music-making. Concerned that all senses be honored, he crafts each aspect of stage presentation (including expressive physicality and fabulous clothing choices) to create a context that completes and highlights the music. His thoughtfulness and articulacy about music and performance have led to recognition in unusual quarters, including a Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross and an article on vocal technique solicited for John Zorn's Arcana series, Volume III. Bleckmann's adventurous and extravagantly beautiful choices have led his work to be described as “from another planet” (New York Times), as “magical, futuristic,” (AllAboutJazz), “limitless” (Citypaper, Philadelphia) “transcendent” (Village Voice) and “brilliant” (New York Magazine), and left one critic wondering, “does he eat people food?” (AllAboutJazz). He has a gift for creating sounds listeners have never heard before, but pine to hear again.
Bleckmann's recent accolades include NPR's 2012 Top 10 Jazz Albums of the Year for Hello Earth! The Songs of Kate Bush, top-five spots in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 DownBeat Critics’ Polls for Best Male Vocalist, and top-ten spots in their Readers’ Polls, as well as third place for Best Vocalist in the 2012 Rhapsody Poll of 119 critics (formerly hosted by the Village Voice), Boston Phoenix's "Best Jazz Acts" of 2012 for Hello Earth! The Songs of Kate Bush and WQXR's Operavore "Best Opera of 2012" for Out Cold by Phil Kline. In 2010, Bleckmann received the prestigious JAZZ ECHO award from the Deutsche Phono-Akademie in his native Germany and also appeared on the David Letterman show with Laurie Anderson.
photo by Susie Knoll