Gary Negbaur has toured across the US & Europe with his quartet, playing both original music & performing his shows, "The Great American Songbook Forever," "Across America by Song," and "The Great Jewish American Songbook." His recordings include "Let Me Explain" (original tunes), "Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat" (solo album of standards) and "Max’s Family Band" (a children’s CD). In addition to performing, Gary writes music for theatre & film & his interactive wine-tasting musical, "Wine Lovers" (co-written with Michael Green & Travis Kramer) is currently touring the US & on Norwegian Cruise Lines. "Librarians in Love" (co-written with Tony nominee John Cariani) was presented at the New York International Fringe Festival. He contributed music to the feature film An American Summer & his song, "Red Pontiac," was featured on NPR’s "Car Talk."
After a triumphrant sold-out run in January, Gary is returning to the Metropolitan Room in NYC for four Sunday nights with his highly acclaimed show "Diggin' The Beatles." Accompanying Gary for this innovative interpretation of the Beatles songbook, will be his quartet, guitarist David Phelps, bassist Ritt Henn, and drummer Nat Seeley.
1. Who or what inspired you to become a pianist/singer/songwriter? A lot of factors. My mother is a piano teacher, so I grew up in a musical household. I had the good fortune to be exposed to jazz and to be in a jazz band in high school led by Duke Ellington Alum Aaron Bell. As time went by, I was able to fuse my interest in the harmony of jazz with my attraction to the lyrics of singer/songwriters like Joni Mitchell and James Taylor, and yes, the Beatles. Add in a dose of some humorous songwriters like Mose Allison, Dave Frishberg, Loudon Wainwright, and Randy Newman and the groove of New Orleans pianists like Professor Longhair, Dr. John and Jon Cleary, and that gets you some sense of my influences. As a pianist/singer/songwriter, it allows me to pay tribute to my influences and to stay creative and fresh inventing new material.
2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? I'd love to work on a record with Allen Toussaint. He's a great pianist/songwriter and producer who has had a hand in so much of the music that I dig.
3. You are returning to the Metropolitan Room with your highly acclaimed show "Diggin' The Beatles." What initially made you want to put together a show of Beatles music? The Beatles was some of the first music that inspired me as a kid. As I began studying jazz, I met a number of jazz purists who felt that rock music was insignificant and certainly couldn't stand up to standards. I disagree, and I guess this is my answer to that challenge. I feel that the Beatles music really can be approached like standards, both respecting the original material and allowing it to be a launching pad for new ideas.
4. What is it like to put your own spin on the music of a band that is so hugely popular? What are some of the reactions you have received from Beatles fans? It's certainly daunting. I approached this project with a lot of trepidation. The world of rock music is, in general, so much about the sound as opposed to the world of jazz, which is about the song. That's why you generally have cover bands in rock who try to emulate exactly the sound of a recording while in jazz you have bands playing standards and trying to take a song in a new direction. To mix these philosophies is difficult, but of course that's part of the fun – trying to make something that's both familiar and fresh.
The Beatles fans that have heard it have enjoyed it. If they want to hear the original recordings...they can. One doesn't preclude the other. And hopefully they hear the original in a new way after hearing a new arrangement of the same material.
5. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing the show? Of course, first of all, I hope that people enjoy themselves. Ideally, my arrangements should convey love and respect for the original tunes as well as a sense of fun, whimsy and creativity in taking these tunes in a different directions. Audiences may be able to hear the influences that the Beatles were drawing from – blues, country, jazz, ethnic music in some of the choices that I've made.
6. What do you like most about performing at the Metropolitan Room? It's a beautiful space and the sound is great in there. It's like going back in time to the era of supper clubs where people were able to go out for the night and listen to a show in a classy setting.
7. In addition to covers, you also write your own music. What is your favorite part of the creative process in writing your own music and where is your favorite place to write/rehearse on your own? I like solving the musical puzzles that I get myself into. You start working on a tune, and it leads you down a certain path which inevitably has musical and lyrical hurdles – what do I say in the second verse? How do I resolve this harmony? I'm always trying to uncover the “real” song that I'm working on rather than playing a “version” of it, if that makes any sense. I try to push for the honest tune that is hidden in the ether. And when you stumble upon that “aha” moment when something comes together, nothing is better than that.
I'm not too precious about where I work. It can be anywhere that has a piano and is quiet. I do use the computer when I'm writing these days too, so I generally start at the piano, then move to the computer. All of which makes my studio the easiest place for me to work.
8. What do you get from covering a band's music that you do not get from writing your own music? You get some insight into how someone else composes – different kinds of musical structures, lyrical couplets and harmonic voicing. In the case of the Beatles, they were these fantastic synthesists. They would learn a new chord and immediately throw it into a couple of new tunes. They'd hear a poem or read a book, and they'd grab a line, an idea or a paraphrase and use it. They were fantastic thieves, as all the best writers are. So, for me, I felt I was uncovering some of the hints of what they were drawing from as I explored their work.
In general, it allows you to absorb some new ideas. Years ago, I had a stretch where I only did original music because I didn't feel I had as much freedom in doing other people's work. As time has gone by, I feel less distinction between doing my originals and doing other people's work. I'm equally satisfied to express myself within the parameters of someone else's compositions as I am to put out my own work. Of course I can't understand why a composer made the choices he made as well as I can understand why I did, but the exploration is equally fun.
9. What have you learned about yourself from being a pianist/singer/songwriter? I guess I've learned that I have different appetites and the challenge is to balance them. I'm a performer and I really enjoy being on stage communicating with an audience. I also love rehearsing with a band and getting to learn from other players. At the same time, I really enjoy the self-exploration involved in songwriting. They are very different disciplines. In general, I find that the more I approach my work with humility, the more confident I feel. It's paradoxical but somehow true. And learning to pursue honesty instead of perfection seems to make everything work better.
10. What's the best advice you've ever received? I heard Dr. John say in an interview to avoid shortcuts. That really resonates with me.
11. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? I guess I better say my wife...but Penelope Cruz is certainly on that list!
But if I think of that question in a less lustful way...I guess I'd like to spend time talking with someone who I could learn from that I haven't met or can't meet in real life - someone I've lost like my grandmother (who was an artist and sculptor) or someone I haven't met in real life (Obama), a historical figure (Jesus, Buddha, Lincoln etc.) or a musical influence (Paul McCartney would be good).
12. Favorite way to spend your day off? Playing with my six-year old son Max in the playground.
13. Favorite way to stay in shape? Running and swimming.
14. Boxers or Briefs? Boxer briefs.
15. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? Flying is pretty tempting, but being eternal would give me the time to finish all the projects that I want to do, so I'd have to pick that.