Todd Murray: Expanding His Musical Horizons

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Todd Murray

Expanding His Musical Horizons

April 17, 2018

By Elliot Zwiebach for Cabaret Scenes

Photos by Takako Suzuki Harkness

Todd Murray is expanding his musical horizons by putting more emphasis on writing his own songs, both music and lyrics, while continuing to work the cabaret scene.

“Till now, I’ve been more casual about writing — I wrote mostly for myself,” he said. “Now, I’m looking for ways to sell my music to other outlets, including film and TV.”

Although he’s previously written and recorded a handful of originals, he’s begun his pursuit of serious songwriting with two Christmas numbers that will be released as singles in mid-November, along with music videos for each — “I’m Gettin’ into the Swing of Christmas” and “Let’s Hear It for Santa Claus.”

“Both sound very traditional — like they’ve been around a long time,” Todd said.

He worked with Dennis McCarthy on the arrangements, with Jon Levine producing the recordings at Capitol Records in Hollywood and Al Schmidt as engineer.

Todd said he decided to pursue songwriting more actively “because I want a more substantial part of my career to be in music. Though cabaret is the way I make the bulk of my livelihood, we all know that it is limiting in terms of how much you can earn, so I’m trying to use more of what I have to give, which is writing.”

He’s kicking off this new phase of his career with Christmas material “because it’s really fascinating how many of those songs have stood the test of time. They are often melancholy, written in a minor key, with sentimental lyrics that somehow hit all of us in an emotional space that we look forward to re-visiting once a year.” He said he also believes his bass-baritone voice lends itself to Christmas music. “That’s what people are used to hearing at Christmas, similar to the way Bing Crosby or Nat King Cole sounded.

“There aren’t a lot of low voices in pop today, so I’m always looking to see where my voice fits in and to sing old songs while trying to stay relevant to a younger, more modern audience. Christmas is one area where young and old alike still enjoy a crooner voice.”

Todd enjoys listening to some contemporary pop — Pink and Sia are two of his favorites — “because I think they are connecting to what they’re saying. But, for most pop songs, I’m concerned about the number of riffs. A riff is an expression of emotion, but in most of today’s pop, riffs are important in and of themselves.  Most of today’s singers who rely on vocal riffs are less interesting to me because they seem to be more interested in the pyrotechnics of the sounds they are producing more so than connecting with the lyrics. I don’t demean the talent and technical ability it takes to produce the riffs, but, to me, unless you feel something internally, it’s just a pretty sound.

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Todd is continuing to tour with his cabaret show, Croon — which originated seven years ago under the direction of Clifford Bell — working with Alex Rybeck on piano, Sean Harkness on guitar, and Steve Doyle on bass.

He’s also done a cabaret act at Feinstein’s/54 Below with Stacy Sullivan called Separate Ways — it’s all music, with no spoken words, whose narrative is told through the lyrics of the songs they sing.

Doing a show with someone else “was a different experience,” he said, “because you have two creative minds that have to be satisfied.

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But my collaboration with Stacy was very streamlined and fulfilling,” he added, and they are discussing doing a new show together at some point.

He’s also developing a new solo project featuring music aimed at listeners who came of age in the 1970s “since that’s a large part of the age bracket that buys tickets.”

He’s also singing with big bands — an experience he really enjoys. One of those ongoing gigs has been at the Cicada Club in downtown Los Angeles, where he sings with the Johnny Holiday Orchestra  — several times as a guest, once as a soloist.

“Singing with a big band is exciting, and I really love the Cicada, which features a dance floor, because it’s very satisfying to see people dancing to songs or arrangements that I chose.”

He’s also performed with the Pasadena Symphony Orchestra with Michael Feinstein conducting at the Arboretum, an outdoor venue in Southern California. “It was wonderful singing in front of an audience of 5,000 people — it really felt like coming home,” he said.

“Singing in front of an orchestra feels strangely familiar, though I’ve rarely had that opportunity. But, it’s just exhilarating and very gratifying to share your music with that many people at one time.”

To keep up to date with Todd’s appearances, visit

Elliot Zwiebach

Elliot Zwiebach loves the music of The Great American Songbook and classic Broadway, with a special affinity for Rodgers and Hammerstein. He's been a professional writer for 45 years and a cabaret reviewer for five. Based in Los Angeles, Zwiebach has been exposed to some of the most talented performers in cabaret—the famous and the not-so-famous—and enjoys it all. Reviewing cabaret has even pushed him into doing some singing of his own — a very fun and liberating experience that gives him a connection with the performers he reviews.