A Spotlite on BRIAN NEWMAN

Brian Newman by Lori Zimmer

April 2011

It was a slow Sunday at our favorite dive–St. Jerome–my friends and I were almost the only customers, and we made our own dance party as we were accustomed to do since the music was always so good. As one dancey 60′s soul jam ended, another began, and Brian Newman flew from his bartending post, over the bar, and immediately into an intense jive dance session with a young lady. And damn! They were good.

We became friendlier as time went on, and when he started stopping in the bar decked in dapper three-piece suits, rather than his usual 50’s white-T and jeans, I soon learned of his Jazz-era musical talents.

A Swing resurgence happened in the 1990’s, but I was a bit too young to fully partake. I do remember using a fake ID to go to a bar called “King Snake Lounge” in Buffalo, New York, and ordering some sort of green martini that I thought looked cool. But with the onslaught of all those bands like the Brian Setzer Orchestra, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and (worse) the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, that old-time glamour became cheesy–something to be sold at Hot Topic.

I finally saw Brian in his element, performing at Duane Park on my birthday. The setting feels like a sitting room in Versailles (OK, slightly less fancy), the food is fantastic, and most importantly–the phenomenal show. Brian’s vocals are more velvety than Fred Astaire’s could ever be. He does all the standards that my grandfather used to put on mixtapes for me, while intermittently walking through the tables playing the trumpet. He is a talented musician in a way that is overlooked in pop culture–except for in a place like New York. Raw, unproduced talent that is also transformative–in that just by watching and listening you lose the sense of where you are, or WHEN you are.

He performs with his own band a few times a week, at the lush Oak Room Bar at the Plaza Hotel on Wednesday nights from 9 to 11pm (I’m still saving up for that $30 glass of champers), Duane Park on Fridays and rotating hotspots and galleries in New York, LA and abroad.

Lori Zimmer: New York is a city of dreams, cliché or not. Did you move here to pursue music? How long have you been here? How did you start out?

Brian Newman: I remember telling my mother when I was 12 that I wanted to be a New York City jazz musician. I started out as a trumpet player in concert band when I was 10. I loved playing, but didn’t dig the band that much. Then my band director recommended I take this summer jazz program. It was an awakening for me. Before that point I hadn’t realized that there was music off the written page. There was this other world of music without boundaries–the first and only form of true American music. That was it, baby. I spent the rest of middle school, high school, college and my early days in New York, playing as much as I could, in between paying my dues and the rent. I’ve been here almost 10 years now, and my life in the music business just keeps growing.

LZ: My grandfather was a swing musician, and turned me on to the romance of the Swing Era. How did you get turned onto that era?

BN: I grew up listening to a radio station in Cleveland that played all the greats: Sinatra, The Dorsey Brothers, Chick Webb, Count Basie…all the great tunes from the American songbook, like the Gershwin brothers, Cole Porter, Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne. I perform a lot of those songs nightly. With my own edge, you know? It’s not granddad’s high school dance, but appeals to young and old because of the timelessness of the music.

LZ: Do you think New York is ready for another glamour era, or do you think you have that niche filled?

BN: I think New York always was and still is the most glamorous place on earth. It’s not really about filling a niche, or playing a part–it’s just my lifestyle.

LZ: Have you always played old jazz, or are you a secret power ballad musician? What are your influences and favorites?

BN: Ha! Depends on your definition of power ballad. Johnny Hartman singing Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” with John Coltrane is the original power ballad…but I really dig that good old-fashioned Rock and fucking Roll too. That definitely comes out in my performances. I love jazz and American popular music the most but I’m a rocker at heart. Some of my favorite rock influences are Think Lizzy, ACDC (with Bon Scott), the Stones, KISS, Prince, Van Halen (with David Lee Roth), Bad Company…I could go on and on…I’m just a lover of great performers. These guys could electrify an audience all night long. True entertainers.

LZ: The old-timey era (I have a bad habit of calling it that) seems to be coupled with burlesque in modern times, you also perform with Burlesque dancers at Duane Park. Have you always been involved in the burlesque revival?

BN: When I first moved to New York, it seemed like a natural step to get involved with burlesque. In the Burlesque era, the jazz musicians that were playing society gigs in the evening were also playing the same music (albeit a bit dirtier) in the burlesque halls late at night. I still perform a lot of that music with cream of the crop burlesque ladies at Duane Park every Fridays. It’s hard work being surrounded by elegant, gorgeous, high-heeled, fish-netted women all time. Somehow I manage! Hahaha!

LZ: How did you get to the point of living off of music alone?

BN: In the beginning I worked waiting tables and bartending while at the same time hustling, getting gigs, and meeting people. It took a good amount of time for me to carve out my own way. I still am.

LZ: You perform with several different outfits , tell me about some of them.

BN: I’ll occasionally special guest with some of my favorite New York City artists, but I’m mostly focusing on my quartet right now.

LZ: What’s your typical day in the life?

BN: I’ll wake up around noon (maybe later, depending on how late the gig was the night before), then play a little trumpet just to keep me sharp. I work on my original music, set lists, and new songs every day to keep the show moving forward. Then I put my suit on and rip.

LZ: What’s next in the fabulous life of Brian Newman?

BN: I’m working on an album with the quartet of originals and standards that I’m really excited about. I’m always working on bigger and better things–new shows, new songs. I’m looking forward to a long career entertaining people with the music I love, and I’m enjoying ever step along the way.

Brian Newman is a New York City based singer and trumpeter, specializing in Jazz Era standards. He can be found every Wednesday at the Plaza Hotel’s Oak Room, Fridays at Duane Park, and various gig with  band The Dirty Pearls.



Brian Newman After Dark at Duane Park

The Dirty Pearls

Twitter: @briannewmanNY

Brian Newman interviewed by Lori Zimmer

Photography by Jonathan Grassi

Design by Marie Havens


Page 1/Cover:

Brian Newman, at the Plaza Hotel, on 5th Avenue & 59th Street, NYC, Photography by Jonathan Grassi

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Brian Newman, at the Oak Room, Plaza Hotel, NYC, Photography by Jonathan Grassi

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(L & R) Brian Newman, at the Plaza Hotel, on 5th Avenue & 59th Street, NYC, Photography by Jonathan Grassi

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Brian Newman, at the Plaza Hotel, on 5th Avenue & 59th Street, NYC, Photography by Jonathan Grassi

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(L & R) Brian Newman, at the Oak Room, Plaza Hotel, NYC, Photography by Jonathan Grassi

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(L & R) Brian Newman, at the Oak Room, Plaza Hotel, NYC, Photography by Jonathan Grassi

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