Theo Bleckmann (born Theodor Raoul Bleckmann; May 28, in Dortmund, West Germany) is a vocalist and composer.
Theo Bleckmann is a jazz singer and new music composer, he was grammy nominated and received the ECHO award in 2010. His work was described as “from another planet” (New York Times), as “magical, futuristic,” (AllAboutJazz), “limitless” (Citypaper, Philadelphia) “transcendent” (Village Voice) and “brilliant” (New York Magazine).
Bleckmann has released a series of very well received 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 jazz/rock collective Kneebody), and his new acoustic Solos for Voice “I dwell in possibility”.
Bleckmann has worked with such artists as Laurie Anderson, Anthony Braxton, Steve Coleman, Dave Douglas, Philip Glass, Meredith Monk, Michael Tilson Thomas, John Zorn and The Bang on a Can All-Stars and was a guest vocalist with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, Estonian Radio Choir, Merce Cunningham Dance Company and Mark Morris Dance and most prominently, Meredith Monk, with whom Bleckmann worked as a core ensemble member for fifteen years. He has recently been interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air.
Recognized as both a performer and composer, his work spans concerts, installations, theater, cabaret and performance art. He has sung worldwide on some of the great stages including Carnegie Hall's, Zankel Hall, and the Sydney Opera House. The New Yorker called him a 'local cult favorite', The New York Times 'excellent' and according to OUT Magazine Bleckmann is 'a singer who's only recently fallen to earth' and indeed Bleckmann's style has something otherworldly and ethereal.
Bleckmann is also an educator. He is professor of Jazz Voice at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music and Adjunct Assistant Professor at The New School, Queens College and New York University.
Theo Bleckmann grew up appreciating both traditional music from his native Germany as well as American popular music and The Great American Songbook. He trained as an ice dancer in Germany, and was a junior champion before deciding to pursue a career in music. In 1989 Bleckmann moved from his native Germany to New York City (subsequently becoming an American citizen in 2005) after meeting legendary jazz vocalist Sheila Jordan at a workshop in Graz, Austria, who remains an influential mentor and colleague to this day. Together they can be heard on Sheila Jordan's Jazzchild (High Note 1999).
Bleckmann's latest release, I dwell in possibility (Winter&Winter, 2010) is one of a kind. Inspired by the Arte Povera, the '60s Italian art movement that created installations with the simplest and "poorest" materials, Bleckmann creates with humble means and the devotion of a prayer. Besides his voice and a myriad of acoustics, Bleckmann has chosen some unlikely companions for his solos: music boxes, megaphones, autoharp, glasses, water, shruti, and various toys.
His 2001 release, Origami (Songlines, 2001) received four and a half stars (out of five) from Down Beat magazine making it one of the Best Releases of 2001, as well as declaring him a 'Rising Star' in their recent Critic's Polls.
Hello Earth! - The music of Kate Bush
This project goes beyond merely re-creating Kate's Bush music but taking it to even further realms of sound and interpretation. He is joined in this venture by long-time collaborator percussionist John Hollenbeck, bassist Skuli Sverrisson and keyboardist Henry Hey and special guest, mult-instrumentalist Caleb Burhans on viola, guitar and laptop.
On 15 October 2011 the album, Hello Earth! - The Music of Kate Bush was released. It contains covers of fourteen of Bush classics, including "The Man with the Child in His Eyes", "Running Up that Hill", and "This Woman's Work", as well as songs from Side B of Hounds of Love, "The Ninth Wave." After seeing Bleckmann perform some of the Bush cannon live in 2010 in preparation for recording the album, New York Times music critic Nate Chinen wrote: “Kate Bush is a special fit for him. The arc of her career, uneasily abutting art-rock and alternative music, jibes with his own off-kilter profile. And she’s another transfixing singer with a penchant for careful diction and spooky connotation, and deep interest in the subconscious.”
"Twelve Songs by Charles Ives" with Kneebody
The Wire: "Fluff-toned American singer Theo Bleckmann and New York based jazz group Kneebody […] look deep inside the DNA of Ives's material to extrapolate contemporary resonance. 'Songs my mother taught me' and 'The Housatonic at Stockbridge' are recast as sepia memories of the originals, as Bleckmann uncovers an impressionistic side of Ives using well-judged electronic atmospherics to put distance between then and now." April 2009
Twelve Songs by Charles Ives with Kneebody, (Winter&Winter, 2008) Grammy Nomination 2010 Best Classical Crossover Album
Bleckmann particularly enjoys performing in duo. He and percussionist and composer John Hollenbeck forge a bond born of a long track record of working together including their duo, which is captured on Static Still (GPE records 2000) and Hollenbeck's Quartet Lucy (CRI 2001).
Furthermore, Bleckmann and Hollenbeck are both equal members of the Refuge Trio and Theo Bleckmann is part of John Hollenbeck's Large Ensemble. (see section for detailed information)
His ongoing collaborations with guitarist Ben Monder can be heard on Monder's Recordings:
and on their two duo releases:
At Night (Songlines, 2007)
No Boat (Songlines, 1997)
Audiopool - Duo with Sissel Vera Pettersen
Audiopool is a collaboration between two eerily like-minded musicians: Sissel Vera Pettersen from Norway and New York-based Theo Bleckmann. Both singers use their voices as an instrument incorporating live electronic processing and looping to create mercurial and haunting compositions, improvisations and soundscapes. Audiopool premiered in the summer of 2008 at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival. Using only accessible instruments (a FLIP HD camera and household lighting) they extend their sensibilities to creating miniature vocal/visual landscapes while translating their live electronic vocal manipulations to video.
Refuge Trio takes its name from the Joni Mitchell song "Refuge of the Roads". The collaborative trio was formed to play at the '2002 Wall-to-Wall Joni Mitchell Marathon Concert' at Symphony Space in NYC. Since then, they have continued to explore music with mystery and exuberance. They fashion a transformative experience for the audience with their music and spirit.
Refuge Trio with Gary Versace and John Hollenbeck (Winter&Winter, 2008)
With Fumio Yusada
Las Vegas Rhapsody
Bleckmann's collection of showtunes, Las Vegas Rhapsody - The Night They Invented Champagne with the Chamber Orchester Basel and pianist, arranger, Fumio Yusada (Winter&Winter, 2006) has been described as "the most transcendent vocal album in many a moon", by Francis Davis in The Village Voice.
Berlin - Songs of Love and War, Peace and Exile
Theo Bleckmann's second collaboration with Yusada is an extension of his love for music from his native country Germany surrounding the themes of love, war and peace. The repertoire consists of works by composers Hanns Eisler, Kurt Weill, Kristian Schultze with Bertolt Brecht providing much of the texts.
Berlin - Songs of Love and War, Peace and Exile (Winter&Winter, 2007)
Schumann's Favored Bar Songs
It's wonderful to plunge into the Schumann's Bar, to feel the atmosphere, to hear the sound of the jazz piano, the warm and clear voice of the singer and the typical back ground noises. Fumio Yasuda and Theo Bleckmann present song after song in a terrific performance. Winter&Winter has made itself a name particularly through the creation of AudioFilms (cinema for closed eyes). »Schumann's Favored Bar Songs« (Winter&Winter, 2009) is one of these AudioFilms, a simple but exciting sound story of a wonderful place.
John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble
Bleckmann is also a featured vocalist in Hollenbeck's three Large Ensemble recordings
Eternal Interlude (Sunnyside Records, 2009), Grammy Nomination in 2009
Joys and Desires (Intuition 2006), Grammy Nomination in 2006
A Blessing (Omnitone 2005)
Moss is a vocal ensemble composed of some of New York's most diverse and interesting (jazz) singers (Theo Bleckmann, Peter Eldridge, Kate McGarry, Lauren Kinhan and Luciana Souza). The repertoire features each artist's individual approach to music and creates a unique collective at the same time.
MOSS (Sunyside Records, 2008)
- 2017: Elegy, ECM Records
- 2014: The Imagined Savior is Far Easier to Paint, Ambrose Akinmusire
- 2012: Hello Earth! - The Music of Kate Bush, Theo Bleckmann; Winter & Winter
- 2010: I Dwell in Possibility, Theo Bleckmann; Winter & Winter
- 2009: Schumann’s Favored Bar Songs, with Fumio Yasuda; Winter & Winter
- 2008: Twelve Songs by Charles Ives, with Kneebody; Winter & Winter
- 2008: Refuge Trio, with Gary Versace and John Hollenbeck; Winter & Winter
- 2007: Berlin - Songs of Love and War, Ppeace and Exile; with Fumio Yasuda Winter & Winter
- 2007: At Night, Theo Bleckmann and Ben Monder; Songlines Recordings
- 2006: Las Vegas Rhapsody - The Night They Invented Champagne, Theo Bleckmann with Fumio Yasuda and the Kammerorchester Basel; Winter & Winter
- 2005: Anteroom, Theo Bleckmann; Traumton
- 2001: Origami, Theo Bleckmann; Songlines
- 2000: Static Still, TheoBleckmannJohnHollenbeckDUO; gpe records
- 1997: No Boat, Theo Bleckmann and Ben Monder Duo; Songlines
- 1995: Looking-Glass River, Theo Bleckmann-Kirk Nurock Duo; Traumton-Indigo
- 1992: Theo & Kirk, Theo Bleckmann-Kirk Nurock Duo; Traumton-Indigo
SELECTED GROUP OR SIDEMAN RECORDINGS
2013 Songs I Like A Lot, John Hollenbeck, Frankfort Radio Big Band, Kate McGarry, Gary Versace
2009 Eternal Interlude, John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble; Sunnyside
2008 Moss w/Peter Eldridge, Lauren Kinhann, Kate McGarry and Luciana Souza; Sunnyside
2008 Impermanence, Meredith Monk; ECM
2007 The Carbon Copy Building, Band on a Can; Cantaloupe Records
2006 Joys and Desires, John Hollenbeck and Jazz Bigband Graz feat. Theo Bleckmann; Intuition
2005 A Blessing, John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble; Omnitone
2005 Oceana, Ben Monder Quartet; Sunnyside
2006 Excavation, Ben Monder Quartet; Sunnyside
2006 Lucidarium, Steve Coleman; Label Bleu Records
2004 Zippo Songs, Phil Kline; Cantaloupe Records
2002 Mercy, Meredith Monk; ECM
2002 The Whitney, Biennial 2002 exhibition catalogue with CD; Whitney
1999 Jazz Child, Sheila Jordan; High Note,
Bleckmann's multidisciplinary works include a commission by the Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris to compose and create a music performance piece out of Kenneth Goldsmith's text Fidget, which Bleckmann scored for voice, piano, percussion, bass, video and three sewing machines. In real time, four seamstresses sewed a paper suit out of the hundreds of sheets of paper that were Bleckmann's libretto.
In collaboration with performance artist Lynn Book, he created Mercuria (produced by the Whitney Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago), incorporating visual and vocal elements of dream and subconsciousness into an evening-length performance piece.
The True Last Words of Dutch Schultz
Playing the gangster Dutch Schultz, Bleckmann co-created The True Last Words of Dutch Schultz a new music opera in collaboration with director Valeria Vasilevski and composer Eric Salzman.
Film, Television and Theater
As a sound improviser, he has performed, created and developed movie, television and theater scores, among them an alleged space Alien language for Men In Black by Steven Spielberg, Star Trek: Envoy (Meredith Monk) and Kundun (Philip Glass)
One of his recent appearances on television include the Late Show with David Letterman with the performance artist Laurie Anderson on July 14, 2010.
Theo Bleckmann sang in John Moran's Book of the Dead at the Public Theater in NY, performed a lead in Bang on a Can's Obie Award-winning opera Carbon Copy Building and frequently appears as a soloist with The Bang on a Can All-Stars.
In collaboration with director Laurie McCants and set designer Elaine F. Williams, he wrote the music and performed The Alexandria Carry On, which has been traveling the US and was performed at the actual library in Alexandria, Egypt.
2009 “Roundabout (4 J.A.C.K.) ” for string quartet, (commissioned by Ensemble Noamnesia)
2009 “Duet for One” for solo voice
2009 “I dwell in possibility” (poem by Emily Dickinson) for voice and chimes
2009 “I am not enough” for voice and toy microphone
2008 “elegy” for 2 voices and loops
2008 “Take my life” for voice, piano, Glockenspiel and drums
2007 “I build my time” (poem by Kurt Schwitters) for voice, piano and string quartet
2007 “Schmidt Lied” (poem by Kurt Schwitters) for voice, piano and string quartet
2007 “To what shall I compare this life” (lyrics Priest Monsei) for voice, piano and percussion
2007 “Happiness” for voice, piano and drums
2007 “Longing” for four voices, cello, percussion and Fender Rhodes
2006 “Orchard” (poem by Rumi) for five voices and guitar
2004 - 05 “Anteroom” for 16 voices
2004 - 05 “A small house can carry as much happiness as a large one” for voices and kalimba
2004 “Lament for a Jungle” for voices and paper
2003 - 04 “The Alexandria Carry On” songs and music for voice, flute, percussion and shruti box (lyrics by Laurie McCants adapted from Ancient Greek and Egyptian sources)
2001 “DNA” for voice, piano, guitar, vibraphone, electric bass and percussion
2001 “None of the Above” for voice, piano and vibraphone
1997 “Men in Black” Alien language for Soundtrack
Awards and honors
Theo Bleckmann's work has been recognized with several awards including a Grammy Nomination in 2010 for the best "Classical Crossover Album". He received the ECHO Award for "Best Singer of the Year" 2010, a Bessie Award, Presser Award for Outstanding Talent and the ASCAP/GershwinAward for his composition "Chorale #1 for Eight Voices" as well as grants from Arts International, the Franklin Furnace Fund for Performance Art, New York Foundation for the Arts, Meet The Composer and the Council on Humanities, PA. He was also voted "Cultural Elite" by New York Magazine in 2005 and 2006.