We’re so excited about Lady Gaga’s upcoming film A Star is Born (which itself gives off great retro energy, with its long legacy) that we’re flashing back to a time when the Mother Monster first showed her love for old Hollywood glam. Check out this interview with her frequent collaborator Brian Newman, one of the last of the old-school New York City jazz men.
As a crooner and trumpeter Brian’s played legendary music nights at the Oak Room and Feinstein’s, before becoming Lady Gaga’s bandleader. He worked with Gaga and Tony Bennett on the Cheek to Cheek album before joining them on a worldwide tour. Erin O’Brien caught up with Brian to talk about his journey from bartending to bandleading.
Interview by Erin O’Brien
ERIN O’BRIEN: So I met you back at the club Corio in Soho where you were performing in 2010. I’ve attended shows with Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse and fallen in love with the magic that a trumpet produces alongside a woman’s voice. They are a very select group of woman musicians that exude the vocals to be next to the strength of a trumpet. Lady Gaga is also one of these women. Tell me your feeling at the end of a performance with her and Mr. Tony Bennett – you must feel proud!
BRIAN NEWMAN: Corio was a really great time! I definitely learned a lot of my showbiz chops at that crazy place. I met my wife Angie there too! I kept coming back because the level of production, talent and style was always on point. Plus, she’s super hot.
Being a singer myself, performing with Gaga is always an inspiring experience. Her voice just soars. I love when her and I get a chance to sing together as well. Such a great dynamic. I know that she learns from Tony. My band and I all have learned so much from him and have such reverence for him. It is truly an American made music and it formed the music we listen to today. It’s an indescribable feeling being on stage with them and it’s something I’ve dreamed of my whole life. I am honored and humbled for the opportunity to arrange, record and tour with two legends. When the show’s over I just can’t wait to do it all again! When we were on the road my band and I would always have another gig after – Gaga would come and sit in most of the time and Tony came once too! I couldn’t believe it when I looked over at the Rock Center’s Sixty Five Bar and I saw him having a champagne and diggin’ the music.
What is your view on the music scene in NYC today seeing as you have been traveling around the world?
Music in New York is and always was what you make of it. When I moved here in 2003, I struggled for years working every job imaginable to cover rent so I could take as many gigs as possible. It was probably not till almost 2010 when I quit my last bartending shift at St Jerome. To have a scene you need support from a community of musicians that work together through creativity and nurturing to make it grow. A true scene is about entertainment. What I see mostly is little cliques around town that have their spots, their crowd and their musicians. Don’t get me wrong, there are bands that I love in New York but it’s so spread out at so many different venues it would be great to have one place to go to see a variety of entertainment in an old school way. We actually are talking to few spots right now to showcase some of this old New York talent in one venue every night of the week.
Congratulations on your family, a beautiful wife (famed Queen of Burlesque performer Angie Pontani) and a little girl – Sistilia Josephine. Do you look back to your childhood and have any encouraging words for those young artists out there who aspiring to come to New York and “make it” too, like you and Frank Sinatra?
Thank you Erin! I must have done something good in a past life to get so lucky. Angie and Sistilia are doing great and we are having a blast being new parents. I never ever thought I’d say that but it’s an amazing feeling. As far as advice for young artists coming to New York? “Don’t give up.” It’s a tough town but it’s music that’s the tough part. You have to learn your craft and the business of it. The idea of making it can also be a little misguiding. Once you have a little bit of success you have to keep going even harder to stay where you wanna be and get better too!
You are a damn sharp dresser – who are your favorite designers and what are you wearing right now? Yes, right at this very second!
I do love a fine handmade suit, but right now I’m working at the studio wearing an Adidas tracksuit and a pair of Cazals. I’ve only been using one tailor, my friend Craig Robinson, the past few years just because he always makes me what I like and they stand the test of time. I perform in the suits every night so they take a beating. I can pick the fabric, lining, shape, cut, pockets. Every detail is made by hand by real tailors in New York.
“Some guys dig ditches. I have a band. It’s what I do.” –Woody Herman.
If you could trade places with anyone who has passed for one day, and be in NYC, who would it be and what would you do?
I would probably want to go through a day as Frank Sinatra in New York around 1950 or so! Sing in the studio all day and hit some night clubs with the boys afterwards!
Thanks Brian! It’s people like you that keep NYC’s integrity alive and this amazing city shining!
Thank YOU Erin! Great talking with you. See you soon at one of our gigs – our upcoming dates on my website. We also have a record coming out soon (Eyes on the City) with my band that features original music and some more obscure American standards. It was engineered by Dae Bennett at Avatar Studios – can’t wait for you to hear it!
Brian Newman recently released his single, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.” You can listen to it here. Find EYES ON THE CITY here and his track “Sunday in New York” here, as well as more information at briannewman.com, or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Erin O’Brien is a prop stylist, props master, window artist, freelance writer and Jill of All Trades who lives and breathes music. Learn more about her at erinobriennyc.com or follow her on Twitter at @emorocksnyc.