In this week's paper, Bruce Hornsby chatted with Matt Wardlaw. Hornsby and his band the Noisemakers are at the Pageant tonight. He's no longer just the dude who soundtracked dentist offices in the '80s ("Mandolin Rain," "The Way It Is") -- and hasn't been for a long time now, as the interview reveals. Among other things, Hornsby is working on a Broadway musical and focusing on education at his alma mater. Below are some interview outtakes.
Hornsby on SCKBSTD, the Broadway musical that he's been working on for the past few years: It's inspired by a local story - it's not a jukebox musical - there are no old Hornsby hits in there. It's an original story, not something where we're recycling some old formerly successful scenario. We'll sink or swim on our own merits, and it's a slow process. We're making a deal to have this musical produced in Virginia and Pasadena, California, by two different stage companies - starting out of town and getting the kinks out. We have a reading in January, I think. I still have one song to write. We have nineteen [written], and we're going to have twenty. It's a lot of work, but it's enjoyable - I like where it's led me songwriting wise. I'm writing most of the songs with my old childhood friend Chip DeMatteo. We had Zappo Productions in junior high and high school where we booked only the worst bands in our town!
As you're aware, there are musicians that have tried the musical thing before, and flamed out fantastically, and my first thought was that I don't want to see Bruce Hornsby eat pavement on this one. Well look, I don't have high expectations either - as you say, the streets are littered with amazing writers that have stiffed on Broadway. I don't have high expectations, but like I said before, I like where it's led me musically. I think what we're writing is of some quality, and it's unique. That's what I think. If I didn't think that, I wouldn't keep working on it, I think it's good work. And you must have gone the same way when you heard the songs. A lot of it's funny, a lot of it's a little dissonant musically, and those are two areas - humor and dissonance - that I tend to mine more as I get older. The Broadway area is my way of dealing with it - writing "musical" style music that deals with humor and dissonance.
Hornsby on the Creative American Music Program - the educational program that he's established at the University of Miami, his alma mater: I always wanted to do something for the school. I was only there for two years, but I got a whole lot out of it. I had a teacher - I still consider him to be my teacher - I had breakfast with him last week when I was there. He's a heavy guy, Vince Maggio - he's a heavyweight musician, still great at age 70+. I was going to just give them a scholarship, but I thought, "Why do I want to just give some money for somebody to come learn how to play like Charlie Parker again when nobody cares about that?" It's unfortunate that nobody cares about that, but they don't.
I was reading a book of Bob Dylan interviews, and in several interviews when he was asked, "What does it take to be a great songwriter?" he would often have a similar answer, which was basically, you go back to the traditions. You study the traditions and origins of American folk music that informed and inspired rock, country, blues, and R&B music. I thought, you know what? There's sort of a huge hole in the academic curriculum - certainly at Miami, and probably at most music schools. I called them up, and we were going to have a conference call about a certain thing that I wanted to do, and I said, "You know what, hold everything - I've got this different idea, let me run it by you - before anybody says anything, just let me talk." So I talked for about fifteen minutes and when I was done, the dean and everyone else said, "Wow! That's incredible - it sounds amazing - we'd love that!"