Jonah Tolchin will perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 30, in Stephens Recital Hall at Idyllwild Arts Academy. The concert is free and open to the public.
The 25-year-old has three acclaimed albums and several extended play records to his credit, but the vital statistics and recent accomplishments offer a snapshot only of the Princeton, New Jersey, native and follower of Zen Buddhism.
Musically, the singer-songwriter and industry newcomer is placed in the blues, indie folk, folk rock, alt-country and Americana bins.
But Tolchin said, “My music has been called genre-defying and I really like that because I am not trying to do that. It is the way I believe.
“I am just using everything I have learned and listened to, and expressing that in my own way. The process of wondering is one of the most beautiful things about being human.”
The Town Crier reporter interviewed Tolchin by telephone last Saturday in an hour-long conversation with chickens clucking in the background.
Tolchin was visiting a friend in the community of Shadow Hills in LA’s north San Fernando Valley, surrounded by those birds — plus alpacas, horses, goats and peacocks.
His voice sounded nothing like his recordings.
Tolchin said he had heard that comment before, but the ‘Tolchin-ness’ of the artist was there in conversation.
“I guess the recurring themes in my music have to do with questioning human nature, and especially the inward human experience of going through different emotions of attachment or sadness.”
As the son of a story-teller and college professor — raised in the shadow of Princeton University — Tolchin’s free-range exploration of music started early.
The sounds of B.B. King, Freddy King, Buddy Guy, Mike Bloomfield, Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and many others filled the house and family car.
“That’s the music I listened to growing up — my parents exposed me to it,” Tolchin said.
Later, at the High Mowing School in Wilton, New Hampshire, “a golden thread traced his path.”
Legendary blues guitarist Ronnie Earl listened to the high-schooler jam at a Keene, New Hampshire, music store.
Not long after, Earl gave him his first professional gig in Londonderry, New Hampshire. Right out of high school, Tolchin performed at the Newport Folk Festival.
Back then, Tolchin had not found his voice — he was not actively performing as a singer then. Today, his first instrument exudes a not-too-raw, bluesy quality with a county twang, and a tad of “world-music and Eastern influence,” he said.
On his latest album, “Thousand Mile Night,” he uses an acoustic guitar, or a custom-made electric one embedded with a memento from his grandfather, and the keepsake his mother held while giving birth to him.
Many of his lyrics speak of traveling, moving, running, and being alone. One of the best is “Song About Home.” Other song titles include “Beauty in the Ugliest of Days” and “Unless You Got Faith.”
His latest trip is into the world of rock, soul, funk and R&B as a member of the band Dharmasoul with his childhood friend Kevin Clifford.
“We’re two vocalists strumming and drumming together,” Tolchin said. “I’ve been playing shows and gearing up for our debut album, ‘Lightning Kid.’”
Tolchin has headlined for David and Phil Alvin, the late Gregg Allman and Rickie Lee Jones. His fans run the gamut from his parents’ age to 19-year-olds who have checked him out on Spotify, where he has amassed 10 million hits.
Idyllwild Arts Music Department Chair Chris Reba said, “We’re excited to have Jonah here. His high school English teacher has a son who attends the academy.”
Tolchin, who also is a music producer, will teach a master class in music production, “the more technical side of music-making,” Reba said.
“The students will gain insights and tips from a professional who is not necessarily their age, but not generations away from them. Jonah is doing it successfully and will teach aspects of their careers that they should focus on, if they continue into the industry.”
Tolchin said he is not sure what he’ll play in Idyllwild, but he’ll do it with Gratitude, the name of his electric guitar.
“As a songwriter, music is a very therapeutic art-form for me and I extend the healing process hopefully for others as well.”
“I play a lot of jazz and improvisation-based music. Generally, I gravitate more toward just really great songs,” Tolchin said.
“I don’t really play loud music that much, but every once in a while, [I listen to] Jimi Hendrix or Led Zeppelin and channel their energy. I do love that stuff. I think that can sometimes distract the emotions, or listening to Miles Davis or Coltrane or Charlie Parker.
“In a way, what people will hear is all of those things, none of that and more.
“I feel grateful to be welcomed into the community and to be able to do this concert. I’ve heard some great stories, so I am very excited to come there for the first time.”