Interview with Brian Newman – Bandleader & Wine Lover

IN THE DRINK with BRIAN NEWMAN – BANDLEADER – HIP CAT – LADY GAGA & TONY BENNETT 

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I recently interviewed my dear old friend rocking bandleader Brian Newman for Rock Your Wine World about his music journey and almost becoming a career Sommelier. I’m happy he stuck to his music! 

How did you get started in the music business?

I started playing trumpet when I was 10. When I was 12, I started improvising with the school band. They were reading music, and I was jamming. I didn’t even know what I was doing. After the band director scolded me many times, he was like, why don’t you try my jazz class? So I went to summer jazz camp and learned to play the 12-bar blues. Ever since then, I have wanted to be a New York City musician. I started playing gigs in coffee houses when I was 12, and I played Italian restaurants when I was 13. I had to try everything. I moved to New York in 2003. I literally walked the street in a suit and asked every restaurant. Are you hiring?

The stuff you are doing with Lady Gaga, it’s pretty complex.

Honestly, between Quincy Jones and Count Basie, that’s the kind of charts we’re writing for her. We’re not fooling around.   I arranged one of her songs, Paparazzi. We put a really heavy backbeat on a 30-piece orchestra with 12 strings, 15 horns, and my quintet from New York. It’s bombastic. It’s huge. There has been a show like that since Frank Sinatra and Quincy in Las Vegas.

You almost became a full-time sommelier!

I worked for six years without playing music full time. I worked at BLT and was a manager at BLT prime. I remember standing on the floor at BLT Prime. The chef Laurent Tourondel saw me in a suit, and he was like, I told you that you would be in the restaurant business and not a musician. But you gave me a shot, and he gave me a shot. I was in New York City, doing what I wanted to do. I got myself together, and I was the best I can be after that. You guys kept me alive in New York City.

How did the Lady Gaga thing happen?

Every Friday night, I was going to this bar, St. Jerome’s, on the Lower East Side after closing BLT Prime. There was a Friday night party there, and I would be the only guy in the Lower East Side in a suit. Gaga had a party called Lady Starlight/Lady Gaga. They were both DJs and go-go dancers. I was hanging out with them to see her shows at The Bitter End, carrying her disco ball to shows. She left and went to L.A. to make that first record, and we kind of lost touch. Then she started doing jazz stuff and asked me to do the Today show with her. That started our professional relationship to where we are today.

You’ve worked with Tony Bennett too.

I was doing a gig with Gaga for the Robin Hood gala. Tony Bennett was there; he came to the dressing room and said to Gaga, hey, we should do a record together! They did the single, and they did a whole record. They had the whole orchestra on the record, and she wanted to do something different. Half the record was that modern Lower East Side punk/jazz, and then the other half had the classics on it.

Tony Bennett and Brian Newman

What wine reflects you most: Burgundy or Bordeaux?

When I think of Burgundy, I think of Herbie Hancock’s Chameleon. There’s nothing like French wine. There’s such a complexity to it. It’s funky, like a Herb Alpert funk classy.

Bordeaux has the jamminess, but it also has the old-world dirt. That’s my favorite part. It’s earthy and funky. It reminds me of Edith Piaf at four in the morning, having dinner and drinking after the show. I think I’m more Bordeaux. It’s stronger. It stands up to anything. You can pair it with any strong tasting food, and it’s going to be good.

What’s next for you?

For the Preakness Cup, we’re going to be performing with no audience, just the orchestra. We’re getting back to some gigs in New York as well, once the restaurants start opening up. It’s not about the money; it’s about rebuilding this beautiful city we love. I love being with people. That’s the most important thing.

Thanks for the time, Brian! 

You rock, brother! 

Cheers, Fred Dex, MS 🤘🥂🍷

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