In anticipation of the first annual Crossing Bridges Music Fest, we sat down with curator Paul Guzzone to discuss his career, the NYC Americana music scene, and his role in bringing together artists for our two night only festival.
SC: You’re a musician, performance curator, professor – have I missed anything else?
PG: Yes, I am a musician and performing songwriter, music producer and composer, educator.
About 10 years ago I began producing small concerts and festivals near my home and along with my wife Mary Ellen Bernard produced a big festival for a corporate client. Five years ago, I was invited by Martin to consult on music programming for Schimmel. That led to the development of If These Walls Could Talk: The Life and Times of The Bottom Line. That led to Crossing Bridges.
SC: Where did you start?
PG: New York City.
SC: You’ve said that you consider yourself an electronic troubadour. What exactly does that mean?
PG: The idea of calling myself an electronic troubadour actually refers to two things:
- As a contemporary songwriter I play guitar and sing but, I also produce my music in a home studio as so many others do. Creatively, I am drawn to the sounds we can generate from our computers. My release Chasing The Moon is filled with electronic textures that, I hope, support the songs.
- The original definition of a troubadour is a poet who writes verse in music. Over time and especially in the 1960’s and 70’s people like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchel and James Taylor were described as troubadours. They travelled the world singing to fans and their music was heard on terrestrial radio. Today we distribute music on the web through streaming services. We connect to fans through social media. Electronic Troubadors! Actually you might call Jonathan Coulton one of our first electronic troubadours.
SC: How many instruments do you play?
PG: Primarily bass and guitar and I sing. I also play keyboards for composition only. I tell people I play the computer.
SC: What is your process in writing songs?
PG: Sometimes I am contracted to write something so I am given a topic or some kind of input about music style or genre and begin there. A deadline works wonders!
For my own material, it can happen several ways. I might stumble upon a title in conversation as I did with Singing Karaoke in The Motherland, which was something my nephew uttered at a barbeque and I thought it was a cool title. Sometimes I’ll hear music in my head grab a guitar and try to capture it and later come up with a lyric that suits the mood. If there’s no instrument handy I’ll sing it into my iPhone. Getting back the electronic troubadour thing again, I might fire up the computer and put up a drum loop and some synth textures and explore until I hit upon something.
SC: You’re the bassist for The Bacon Brothers, the musical duo of musician Michael Bacon and actor Kevin Bacon. What is it like to work with them?
PG: Honestly, it’s been one of the blessings of my professional life. It started as a no-pressure thing when they were invited to perform at the opening of a restaurant owned by one of Kevin’s friends. Michael whom I knew for w few years called me up and said: “my brother and I are forming a band and you’re the bass player.” Twenty-five years later, we’re an honest to god touring band with a catalog of songs and a fanbase around the world. In the beginning it was a little rough on the guys especially Kevin who was seen as a poseur. Another actor who wanted to be in a rock band. He ignored it all a pressed on. This is only my opinion, but I think it’s because he loved the freedom of self-expression. Actors perform someone else’s words. As one of the songwriters in the band he gets to be the storyteller. I’ve had a front row seat watching them grow as writers and performers. Last year we the Tonight Show for the fourth time as a band. It still as exciting as the first.
SC: Any other notable acts that you’ve performed with?
PG: Tom Rush is not a name that most people are familiar with today but from 1962 until the early 1990’s he was quite a draw on the folk-rock circuit. He’s a legend in the biz because he was the first to record the songs of Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Jackson Brown. As part of his backup band we got to play behind people like: Joan Baez, Judy Collins, David Bromberg, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, and so many others. In 2012 we did Tom’s 50th anniversary show at Symphony Hall in Boston which is where I met Dom Flemons.
SC: Tell me about your role as a professor? Is that rewarding?
PG: Oh yes! I’ve been at Pace for 35 years. I was asked to jump in at the very last minute to teach Rock and Contemporary Culture. About 18 years ago Mary Ellen and I developed the class How the Entertainment Industry Works. This was long before Lubin began its Arts and Entertainment Management program. In that class we explain that the entertainment biz boils down a very simple thing: a person telling a story and an audience listening. I find teaching is very much like performing. My lectures are stories. I want to engage my students and make them as excited as I am about ideas, music, creativity and business. I don’t like the idea of online teaching at all. Students are online and looking at screens quite enough thank you. Just like in the entertainment business, there is nothing that compares with a great live performance. I want to be in the same room with my students. Face to face to see the lightbulb go off over their heads when they “get it.” My students have educated me on new music trends as well. I’m way ahead of my music biz colleagues on what is current.
SC: As a curator, you’ve helped Schimmel Center piece together some amazing concerts. Last year we celebrated famous nightclub The Bottom Line with many talented musicians including Paul Schaeffer and Darlene Love. This season you performed with the amazing all Female alt-country group Farewell Angelina. And you’ve curated our upcoming Crossing Bridges Music Fest that you will also host both nights Friday May 10 & Saturday May 11 at Schimmel Center. Can you describe your role as a curator and what these projects mean to you?
PG: The Bottom Line Show was one of the first ideas I brought to Martin. It was a very emotional night for me personally. The owners of the club Alan Pepper and Stanley Snadowsky were probably the most important people in my professional life. They were my first managers, got my band our first record deal in 1973 and educated us about how the business works. Before colleges offered entertainment degree programs, being at the club and talking with Alan and Stanley was my grad school. I felt I owed them this night. Actually, everyone onstage AND in the audience felt that way. You could feel it in Schimmel on both nights as the audience rose to its feet. The club will never open again but it lives on in people memories. To be honest, the idea of the club is alive in our Crossing Bridges Music Festival. As the curator of the fest I am, in a sense carrying on the tradition of The Bottom Line. For Alan and Stanley it was always about the music and giving the audience something fresh. What makes me a little different is that I’m also a performing musician and connect with the folks onstage. I hope that gives the fest a bit of an edge and makes it an attractive event that performers want to be a part of.
SC: What excites you most about Crossing Bridges Music Fest at Schimmel Center?
PG: Starting a new music tradition in my home town New York! It’s an honor to be given this opportunity. Schimmel is an ideal venue for an urban Americana music festival. It’s intimate like a big coffee house. Great sound and crew. Good transportation options. I’m hoping this is our lift off!