Touch & Go
, the newest release by Susan Tobocman
, is a showcase for the admired vocalist’s considerable talents as a composer, lyricist, and arranger. The album is a collection of Tobocman’s original compositions, well-known standards, and tunes off-the-beaten jazz track. This is Tobocman’s fourth CD as a leader and follows Love from Detroit
(2019), Live from Detroit
(2014), and Watercolor Dream
Tobocman has toured extensively in Europe and around the country. She has also appeared in several off-Broadway musicals, and on Late Night with David Letterman as a vocalist and keyboard player with the new wave band Tom Tom Club, which was founded by members of the mega-group Talking Heads. She has done session work for the MCA and Atlantic record labels and has sung background vocals for numerous rock and pop acts, including Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Wailers, Richie Havens, and Garland Jeffries, to name just a few.
Tobocman, a native of Detroit, moved to New York City when she was just 17-years-old after winning the prestigious National Scholastic Writing Award for Poetry. She was invited to attend the graduate writing program at Columbia University, even though she was still a high school student. After Columbia, Tobocman went on to NYU to study musical theater and philosophy of religion. After graduating, she answered an ad to be a receptionist for Electric Lady Studios, the famous New York recording studio built by Jimi Hendrix, where many top acts like Stevie Wonder, Patti Smith, and David Bowie recorded some of their most famous albums. After three months, she became studio manager, a career she maintained for close to a decade.
Tobocman says, “My work seemed exciting, if not fulfilling. I was meeting rock stars, going to concerts, and sitting in on recording sessions, but I always somehow felt as though I was living someone else’s life. As my 30th birthday approached, I came upon a book about visualizing your dreams. Three weeks later, I could barely believe it. There I was, exactly where I had visualized myself, on the road with a famous rock band.”
After an exciting year on the road, Tobocman found herself back in New York City, broke and with no prospects. Looking for new challenges and opportunities, she was drawn to the sophistication and rich, harmonic complexity of jazz, and she began immersing herself in it.
With her warm and flexible voice and unique interpretation of songs, it did not take long for Tobocman to start gigging in clubs around New York, including Zinc Bar, where she was their first resident singer/musician. Today, Zinc Bar is a venerable New York institution. For the last twenty years, Tobocman has been making a name for herself with audiences and musicians alike on both the New York City and Detroit jazz scenes, performing and collaborating with some of the top jazz musicians around.
With Tobocman’s background in poetry and her deep dive in music theory, it was a natural transition for this restless, searching artist to start writing and arranging music. She has received the ASCAP Plus Award for her jazz compositions for 15 consecutive years. Tobocman’s songs have also been recorded by several artists.
For Touch & Go
, Tobocman enlisted the talents of some A-list musicians. She brought on board her longtime band mate and collaborator, guitarist Pete McCann
as her co-producer and accompanist. He is a leader in his own right as well as a highly sought-after sideman. Pianist Henry Hey
and Tobocman have been working together since she began singing jazz. He has worked with artists such as David Bowie, Rod Stewart, and George Michael. He is the co-founder of the jazz fusion band Forq and a former member of the band Rudder.
Tobocman also engaged renowned cellist Dave Eggar
. Eggar has performed, recorded, and arranged for artists in many genres, including Tony Bennett, Andrea Bocelli, Michael Brecker, Chris Potter, among many others. His work is prominently featured on Esperanza Spalding's Grammy-winning record Chamber Music Society. Tobocman is a long-time fan of Joel Frahm
, the highly regarded saxophonist who has played with a Who’s-Who of some of the biggest names in jazz. Bassist Matt Pavolka
has been a vital force on the New York jazz scene for twenty years. He has toured extensively in the United States, Europe, and Japan. Drummer Michael Sarin
performs all over the world. He has appeared with the WDR Rundfunk Orchestra (Cologne, Germany), Jazz Sinfonica Orchestra (Sao Paulo, Brazil), and Metropolis Ensemble (NYC).Touch & Go
is not the typical release from a jazz singer. Five of the album’s 12 tunes were written by Tobocman. Highlighting her flair for composing, she includes two instrumental numbers, including “Leaves of Absence,” which has a straight-8th Latin feel, and the up-tempo title track, “Touch & Go.” Tobocman wrote “Touch & Go” when someone asked how she was feeling after she came down with food poisoning on a trip to Mexico. But it is also a double-entendre that refers to someone who touches your life and then leaves.
Her other compositions, “Make Believe,” “I Could Get Used to This,” and “The Way to You,” show her facility with language. She quotes Stephen Sondheim who said, “A perfect rhyme snaps the word, and with it the thought, vigorously into place, rendering it easily intelligible.” She has certainly mastered that concept with lyrics like “So many paths I’ve pondered / So many worlds I’ve wandered / But not one stepped was squandered / On the way to you,” whose rhymes ring clear as a bell.
Tobocman is also a superb arranger who turns well-known songs into personal statements. Her interpretation of “What’ll I Do” is heartbreaking without being sentimental. She changed the lyrics to “Wichita Lineman” to reflect a female perspective. In Tobocman’s hands the chestnut “The Man I Love” becomes an upbeat swinger. She does two versions of The Beatles’ “Help!” on this disc. She slows down the first version and turns it into a waltz, while the alternate take has a heavy rock ‘n’ roll feel. Tobocman’s arrangement of “You Only Live Twice,” the theme song from the James Bond film, turns the song into a bona fide jazz tune.
Susan Tobocman has had a varied and exciting career as befits such a multi-faceted artist. Touch & Go
is the manifestation of her endlessly creative mind and talents.