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Interview with Todd Mosby, January 2021
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Most of the artists that I interview are pianist/composers and/or keyboardists/composers, but I recently reviewed guitarist/composer Todd Mosby’s new album, Aerial Views, and discovered that Todd’s musical story is unique. Will Ackerman is quoted as saying, “This is as brilliant a recording as I have ever been associated with…” which is a pretty phenomenal statement considering all of the artists Will has worked with at Windham Hill and, more recently, his Imaginary Road Studios. Todd is known as a jazz guitarist, but he has done immersive studies in Traditional Jazz, Classical North Indian and Classical Composition, as well as having roots in bluegrass and folk rock. These very diverse influences give him a sound that is uniquely his own. I have really enjoyed getting to know Todd a little better and think you will, too!

KP: Happy New Year, Todd! I hope 2021 is off to a good start for you!

TM: As of December 21, 2020, we are officially in the age of Aquarius and I for one am really looking forward to a beautiful future.

KP: Definitely! I just looked, and your latest album, Aerial Views, debuted at #3 on the November Zone Music Reporter chart. Congrats! It’s a great album and I really enjoyed reviewing it! What was the idea behind or inspiration for the album?

TM: This is a concept album, the third in a series of three depicting the natural elements with a personal life experience tie-in to each. Aerial Views is about the element of Air or the ethers to get a little more metaphysical and my childhood experiences flying with my father.

KP: You actually started co-piloting your father’s airplane at the age of six???

TM: Yes, From the age of six to about 14, I would accompany and co-pilot on family trips and some business trips as well as recreational flying. My father was really into flying and owned a small company which printed aviation charts (maps) for private planes. He raced them as well.

KP: Do you still fly?
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Click on album covers
to go to Kathy's reviews.
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TM: Wish I did. My life took another direction. At some point it would be nice to get a pilot's license so I can fly to gigs. The cost has gone up astronomically.

KP: Aerial Views is your third album recorded at Imaginary Road Studios and produced by Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton. Will is quoted as saying: “This is as brilliant a recording as I have ever been associated with…” Knowing all of the artists Will has worked with over the years, that’s a pretty stunning statement! What was your reaction to it?

TM: It is humbling to know Will places this work high on his lists of accomplishments. I am well aware of his track record for producing artists. He was pretty jazzed over Aerial Views. When I sent him the CD, Will was so inspired, he built two new speaker stands in his studio just for listening to the recording.

KP: Wow! Will said something similar about Open Waters, which won a very impressive group of awards including Best Contemporary Instrumental Album of the Year at both the 2019 ZMR Awards and the One World Music Awards, and three silver medals at the Global Music Awards. I’d say Will must like your music!

TM: It has been an interesting journey and his guidance and direction has allowed the music and myself to grow musically and artistically.

KP: Do you plan to continue the series of albums with other natural elements? (The first two are Eagle Mountain (2016) and Open Waters (2019).)

TM: I have Earth, Water and Air which leaves Fire as the fourth. There is one other element which many are not aware of and that is Wood. That will complete the series.

KP: You also recorded Four Guitars with Will (which I haven't reviewed). Who are the other two guitarists?

TM: The other two guitarists are Vin Downes and Trevor Gordon Hall. Both people Will has produced in the past.

KP: I’ve reviewed both of them, and they’re both excellent. Do you have plans for more recordings with Four Guitars as a group?

TM: Four Guitars featured the re-imagined music of Will’s previous solo guitar hits in the context of solo, duo, trio and quartet. We also each had entries by Vin, Trevor and myself. This set of recordings came out of the fact we were touring a lot and needed content to sell at the concerts. At the time, I had a booking agency and my wife did a really great job getting us gigs and CD demand was high. Not too sure what the future brings with this as I passed the act onto another agency so I could focus more on the music.

KP: Your guitar sound is definitely unique, as is your very eclectic background and training. It is impossible to put your music into a single category or genre (something I VERY highly respect and appreciate!), except, possibly “contemporary instrumental.” If you meet someone who isn’t familiar with your music, how do you describe it to them?

TM: Jeff Haynes calls it an acoustic version of the Pat Metheny Group of which he was a member for three years. Someone else called it New Age World Jazz. I kind of like the term Contemporary Instrumental or even Jazz Age.

KP: One of the paragraphs on the “About” page on your website describes you as: “An American composer, guitarist and recording artist with immersive studies in Traditional Jazz, Classical North Indian and Classical Composition, Todd Mosby masterfully embodies the musical philosophies and traditions found in each of these disciplines.” Wow! So when did you start playing music?

TM: I am a late bloomer, meaning I started my studies in earnest at age 18, freshman year in college. I received my first instruments (guitar, harmonica, autoharp, toy piano) around the age of six and was a kind of hack through high school. I still consider my start date as a musician at 18. I went to Berklee College of Music for the next three years. Afterwards I joined a New Wave band writing music for it. From the 90’s to 2010 I was a first call Jazz artist in St. Louis with plenty of gigs.
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My private studies started again in 1994 with Ustadt Imrat Khan training in traditional Classical North Indian raga music who became my mentor and neighbor. I was very drawn to the technical and tonal aspects of this system of music. Alongside this study I was being mentored privately in contemporary classical composition and traditional jazz guitar by local university teachers. At this time Saint Louis was like a small Conservatory with some of the finest proponents in each field of training. I later finished my formal private studies from 2010 to 2013 with a Masters in Music Composition from Webster University alongside massive online training at Berklee College of Music with Certifications in Jazz Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Blues Guitar, Jazz Composition, Orchestration, Small Band Arranging, Big Band Arranging, Film Scoring to name a few. I felt I needed to bring my skill-set up to speed in order to continue in the field of music.

KP: Very interesting! Another quote from your site says: “My musical DNA springs from roots in Classical North Indian, Traditional Jazz, Folk Rock and Bluegrass.” These are all over the musical map. What did you study first?

TM: What I mean by musical DNA is the fact that I had to earn a living in earnest from each style of music I played which meant required hours of study, practice, discipline and years of performance to become a part of what I consider my musical soul. For example, first came folk and bluegrass because I was a child of the early 70’s which was a time of the bluegrass revival (Will The Circle Be Unbroken album, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young.

Next came Traditional Jazz when I was thrown into the Boston Music scene during the mid to late 70’s. I was able to see all the jazz greats live which had a huge impact on me (Bill Evans, Joe Pass, Pat Martino, Weather Report, Pat Metheny, Jim Hall, Mike Stern and many great musicians you will never hear about but their sounds and music still live inside me.

Classical North Indian came last. This was the most tonal form yet most difficult to master. I was exposed to North Indian music and philosophy from the age of 12. It reminded me a lot of bluegrass for some reason, maybe the technical mastery, tonality and the drone string of the banjo.

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From left: Jeff Haynes, Kristin Hoffmann, Premik Russell Tubbs, Lola Kristine, Todd Mosby

KP: What led you to study classical North Indian music for thirteen years?

TM: First an early introduction to the music while in high school, a fascination with the group Shakti, an opportunity to hear many live performances of Classical North Indian music in St. Louis, then an opportunity to monitor Imrat Khan's class at the university he was teaching.

Imrat was based in St. Louis due to a university gig. He wound up moving here and spent the last 20 years of his life based in St. Louis. He wanted to take me to India on a few occasions to perform, but it never seemed to work out.

KP: That’s really interesting! I never would have thought anyone could master Northern Indian music in St. Louis! Tell us about the Imrat guitars and how they came into being.

TM: A few years into my studies I felt my guitar was not able to pick up the subtle aspects of Indian music so I found a Luthier capable of handling the commission to build a guitar based on my technical needs and Imrat’s sonic needs. Seven prototypes later we have the working models which are featured on four of the tracks on this set of recordings.

KP: How is the Imrat guitar different from a “regular” guitar or a sitar?

(NOTE:This article is fairly lengthy, so it is included at the end of the interview.)
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KP: You are the only guitarist to become a member of the famed Imdhad Khani Gharana of musicians, India’s most prestigious family of sitar musicians dating back 500 years to Tan-Sen and the Moghul courts. Tell us about that.

TM: According to tradition, when you study with a guru-ji you are brought into a sacred family of musicians who have carried the music torch of that family for generations. You learn what his teacher learned and what the previous teacher learned as far back as the gharana goes. In a more traditional sense you would move into the guru's house and basically become a member / servant in that setting. After a period of dedication to learning the history, philosophy, technique, music phrases, compositions, improvisations, a time comes when you are asked to become a member of the gharana to take what you have learned into the world and then add to it. In this sense the Imrat guitar is Imrat’s contribution to the future of music and my dedication is the fulfillment of that kind of respectful oath/bond between guru and student.

KP: Again, very interesting! Let’s backtrack a bit and find out more about you. Where were you born and where did you grow up?

TM: I was born in St. Louis, MO. and spent many summers growing and working on our family farm as well as time in the wilds of Missouri.

KP: When did you start playing guitar and when/how long did you take lessons?

TM: I started at approximately six years old and continued clueless until I entered college at 18. 18 is when I had my first lesson.

KP: How many instruments do you play?

TM: Guitar is the only instrument, that’s enough. I will qualify that as I consider acoustic guitar, electric guitar and Imrat guitar separate instruments from a technical standpoint.

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KP: Did you play in any rock groups?

TM: Hmm… yes. After Berklee College of Music, I returned to STL and entered my original first band which was a New Wave/Punk Rock group. We were able to do some recordings locally and started to build a following playing bombed out theaters and bowling alleys. This was the era of Police, English Beat, Blondie, Robert Fripp, Brian Eno, Talking Heads, PIL, Brand X.

KP: I remember it well!!!

TM: After that experience I took a break then came back a few years later working acoustically with a Hammer Dulcimer player. We did about three recordings and he moved to San Francisco.

After that I became a first call Jazz guitarist and contractor for one of the main talent agencies in town. That kept me busy until 2008 (18 years) at which time I started working wedding bands to understand how to play the Motown vibe of music… Three years of that landed me back in school to get a Masters in music composition.

KP: When did you release your first album?

TM: Technically I consider Eagle Mountain to be my first release. This one was the first time I got in front of world class producers (Will & Tom) with world class production and followed up with a radio promotion campaign.

KP: Where did you go to college?

TM: Westminster College for one year, Berklee College of Music for three years, Fontbonne University BS/BA Music Business/ Business Admin, Webster University MM Music Composition, Berklee College of Music massive certs in Orchestration, Jazz Composition, Arranging, Improvisation, Acoustic Guitar, etc.
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KP: Are any of your other family members musicians?

TM: Early on, two of my brothers showed great interest and talent. I was the one lagging behind them both but was the one who took the sacrifice and dedicated my life to the pursuit of music.

KP: This time of the COVID pandemic seems to have become a very productive and creative time for many artists. Without touring and performing, has that been true for you, too?

TM: Well, I was able to record Aerial Views. That being said, my touring career was on a nice upward trajectory until Feb 2020 at which point live performance became null and void. Honestly it will take at least three years for the venues I was playing to recover. Some had to shut their doors completely and those who survived are delaying new bookings until 2022. I am very hopeful for the Fall season and seeing a blossoming of music on a scale not really experienced before. I am not a fan of online performance.

KP: Who are some of your favorite composers and performers?

TM: Composers: Takamitsu, Debussy, Stravinsky, Copland, Choral works of Holst
Performers: Wes Montgomery, Imrat Khan, John Mclaughlin, Pat Martino, Johnny Smith, Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell to name a few.

KP: What’s up next for you?

TM: Currently I am wrapping up the final promotion for Aerial Views. I have enough material for a Wood & Steel release and am thinking about doing it as a six track release. CDs unfortunately are on their way out which means a little bit of format restructuring. Many of the Grammy nominees were six tune releases as compared to a full on effort which is weird. But if that may be a trend so be it.

KP: All of the rapid changes in the music industry are bewildering!

If you could have any three wishes, what would they be?

TM: Continued focus on the skill set I was handed and to perfect it to the highest levels.

KP: Is there anything else you’d like to “talk” about?

TM: That's all folks!
Many thanks to Todd Mosby for taking the time to chat! For more information about Todd and his music, be sure to visit his website and his Artist Page here on MainlyPiano.com.

Here is the info about the Imrat Guitar:

The Imrat guitar is a new branch on the evolutionary tree of stringed instruments. It is an 18 stringed hybrid sitar guitar designed by sitar maestro Imrat Khan, guitarist Todd Mosby and luthier Kim Schwartz. The instrument is the first of its kind bridging the eastern and western music cultures. The use of 11 sympathetic strings, 3 chikara strings, 4 playing strings and javari allow subtle and melodic phrasing characteristic of sitar and modal chord harmonies found in jazz. The imratgitar combines the finest aspects of sitar and guitar. According to Ustad Imrat Kahn (sitar innovator), ”It sounds better than a sitar and better than a guitar.”

List of unique features special to this instrument include:
Contemporary Harp Guitar 
Harp strings pitched above the 1st string as opposed to below the 6th string
11 sympathetic
2 necks, 18 strings
3 chikara strings
4 main playing strings
D-D-A-D Tuning found in ancient Rudra Veena
Scalloped fingerboard
Extended width fingerboard for pulling up to major third

Performance Style

The long neck allows for a horizontal performance stye and the tuning allows for a more vertical style of fingering as well. Horizontal movement provides the vocal style of phrasing that oud and sitar achieve. Vertical movement allows for the rapid technique and speed found on piano. The best guitar players in the world do a combination of both vertical and horizontal performance styles.

The wide neck allows for much more nuanced pulling towards the 1st string as opposed to pushing the string towards the 6th string of guitar. The scalloped finger board offers maximum control of a pull and micro tonalities without digging fingernails into the fingerboard.

The sympathetics allow for maximum tonal resonance of the note being played thereby extending the decay length of the pitch. Having 11 sympathetic strings allows the ability to tune them to the scale/rag which is being played. This in turn quadruples the natural tonal resonate of the guitar and at the same time allows a natural tonal harmony to blossom forth from the series of notes being played. An ethereal kind of harmony is created which is unique to this instrument.

Kathy Parsons
January 2021