One, Mr. Jeremy Schonfeld. He’s way too accomplished to list all his accomplishments here. But, if you head to his website, you’ll see for yourself that this guy is the real deal. He’s going to offer up a songwriter master class on Monday at the fabulous New Spire Arts. You can register for the said master class here. We caught up with him for a quick Q&A to talk about how he made music his life, what it was like playing Madison Square Garden, and how his relationship with Titus from “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” came about. If you’re looking to gain some perspective on crafting some tunes, this is definitely the guy you want to talk to. Come out and make him feel welcome, friends. You won’t regret it.
First, have you ever been to Frederick, Maryland? If so, are there things you are looking forward to revisiting? If not, what are you looking forward to the most about coming to town for the first time?
Have never been! Looking forward to getting a general lay of the land, seeing the New Spire Arts Center for sure, and catching the vibe of the area!
At what point did you decide you wanted to make music your life? And how did that decision/inspiration come about?
I’m one of those artists who believes the decision was “written in the stars” so to speak. Music has always been the inspiration, the way I work through things both high and low. I had and have other “likes,” but music has been my constant, my through line.
How long have you known Elizabeth? What brought you two together?
You may have to ask her to confirm, but I recall Elizabeth approaching me about my personal concept album-turned-show, “Drift,” back in, maybe, 2006? This was the early days of the New York Musical Theater Festival, and Elizabeth, one of the co-founders, was a fan of my work. I think it struck some emotional chords for her, and we bonded on a deeper level immediately. After tossing back and forth ways in which we might work together, we ended up collaborating (with several additional terrific writers and performers) on the movie musical, “Clear Blue Tuesday,” which Elizabeth directed.
I see you’ve performed with a great deal of notable people, but the thing that sticks with me is the video on your website featuring Titus Burgess, who some may know from “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” What was it like working with him? How long have you known each other and how did that collaboration come about?
The world of musical theater in NYC isn’t that big, eh? Titus and I were acquaintances traveling in similar circles, sometimes performing in charitable concert events where we were both featured, etc. But, I don’t think we actually officially worked together until we were both teachers and guest performers (and I was musical director) for the Broadway Dreams Foundation, which is a great organization that both teaches and inspires young and upcoming artists and performers to strive for greatness through intensive work with amazing professionals like Titus, Billy Porter and countless others. At various times I’ve had the pleasure of getting Titus to sing on my tunes, including a song I wrote for him as part of the wonderful Broadway in South Africa Organization. He is a lovely and seriously talented man!
What made you want to get into giving songwriters workshops? Is this a new endeavor or is this something you’ve done for the duration of your career?
I’ve done some workshops and master classes over time, and mentored/taught one-on-one with a few select students. Look, songwriting is tricky. We need each other! Every writer comes to the table with their own specific angles, desires and love for the craft. My job is to facilitate, not re-write or tell an artist how to write. I prefer to think of what I do as inspiring and validating the artist, and maybe helping to add a few tools to their tool belts. And for young writers, building a community of like-minded creators is a wonderful and supportive thing!
What do you think is the most perfect song ever written and why?
Wow. That is a very tough question! So many wonderful songs – and so many less-than-wonderful songs, ha! For me, a great song is one that not only stands the test of time, but structurally works, whether it is blown out or stripped down. Many would say that “Yesterday” is one of those tunes, and I would agree. Standards like “My Funny Valentine” or classics like “What’s Going On” are terrific, too. And man, we haven’t even gotten into the rock stuff! If we ran down each category, sub-category, and genre, I’m sure I could give you several answers – but that would take up too much print!
Who are some of your main influences?
Honestly, it tends to be more about the song than the artist for me. Coming up, there was always something in a song, chord structure, melody, lyric or story that would get me running to the piano. From George Winston’s left hand (a lot of arpeggiated 10ths), the aggression of Rachmaninoff, beauty of Debussy, to the moodiness of the Police ‘s “Every Breath You Take” (that droning piano). From the storytelling and creation of epic songs from guys like Billy Joel to the Beatles orchestrations and overall range. From the strings at the top of Christopher Cross’s “Sailing,” to the industrial drive of Nine Inch Nails’s “Head Like a Hole.” For me, it all comes down to good music, created and performed well, period.
You’ve traveled a lot. What do you think is the best music city in the world and why?
Another tough question! You know, it’s really more subjective than it is a factual, “one is better than the other” kind of thing. New York has amazing talent, obviously, but Nashville has incredible players as well. Different but equal, you know? Vienna, Berlin – again, a different kind of awesome musician. All based on background, what the gigs are in those particular places, and what skill sets are most valued. I will say this, though: I place a high premium on players who really know their history, respect the world of varied music surrounding them, and those who spend years honing their crafts on real instruments. No one should ever feel like they know everything or can do everything. You can always strive for more, learn more, and improve!
What’s it like playing Madison Square Garden?
It’s a big freakin’ cavern of a room with tons of space and concrete. Sound bounces all over that joint. That being said? Very cool gig.
What can everyone expect from your songwriters workshop here in Frederick?
Good talk, a community-building atmosphere, shared music, perhaps some impromptu writing, and hopefully, everybody (myself included) walks away with a smile and a spark!