Brian Newman Talks Jazz, Cars and Tattoos

How cool is Brian Newman? Let’s just say, if there were a trumpet player in Goodfellas, it would have been played by Brian Newman. And if he were to get matching tattoos with someone, it would be with Lady GaGa and the tattoo would have been designed by Tony Bennett…and that’s exactly what went down with Brian and Lady GaGa. Meet Brian Newman — this cat’s got the chops to blow the roof off the joint, while dressed to the nines and droppin’ dimes with a lady named Gaga! Oh yeah, and did we mention he rocks some killer ink?

Photo by Cassie Zhang

Photo by Cassie Zhang

Why do you think people have so much “trouble” with jazz? I think a lot of people don’t really know what jazz is. Most people think Kenny G or some weird style of music they can’t relate to. Jazz gets a bad rap. I believe a lot of the blame falls on the musicians in the jazz community. They treat it like it’s high art and that intimidates a lot of people. And schools nowadays are teaching kids about jazz like it’s some stuffy, high-brow art form where they are taught to repeat patterns over and over again created by other musicians. These kids never get a chance to really find their own voice.

But, for me, jazz is a form of entertainment and I am an entertainer. It’s about bringing people in. I think certain jazz artists over the years have turned their own fan base away. Their attitude is just come see me and this is what you’re going to get. As soon as you start getting all, I’m an artist, it’s like, I don’t care anymore. You’re not interesting to me.

I feel anyone that is trying to do something better in their lives, they quickly realize how little they actually know. So, you should always be trying to get better and push yourself to be better. That’s the key for me, knowing that you don’t know everything...you know?

Photo by Cassie Zhang

Photo by Cassie Zhang

How would you categorize your style of jazz? It’s entertainment and it’s people’s music. I feel like anybody can listen to it. You can be young, old, any color, any creed, you know, we’re accepting of everyone and we want to make them feel part of what we’re doing. I want them to leave there thinking that they were part of an immersive thing. That they were in the moment with us creating and enjoying.

Did you know you wanted to be a jazz musician even at a young age? I was playing in the school concert band, and I was getting bored. I started improvising during class and concerts… so I kept getting in trouble. One day, I got called into the band director’s office and he said, “You’ve got to stop doing this. You should try my jazz course over the summer.” I said, ‘Yes, of course,” and I just loved it. It was like the first time I got to play music that wasn’t just on a page. I create my own melodies. It opened up a whole new world for me. Then I started listening to Dizzy Gillespie and a lot of the early 1930s swing stuff.

It was the early ‘90s and all the punks traded in the leathers for zoot suits and started playing swing. So, here I was a 13 or 14-year-old kid who could read music, playing in resurgence swing bands with these musicians in their 20s and 30s who couldn’t read music.

Photo by Cassie Zhang

Photo by Cassie Zhang

The license plate on your ‘66 Caddy reads “SHOWBOAT”. I had that plate on my previous car, too, a ‘71 Oldsmobile. Both cars are over 19-feet long, and I was super surprised to be able to get that license plate. The “SHOWBOAT” to me is about a way of life. I love that era when everything was big. You know, big lapels, big cars. The sounds were big. The bands were big, you know, it’s like that, ‘60s and ‘70s vibe. It was a different lifestyle.

You can look in the manual of my ‘66 Cadillac and it shows you how to get wine and whiskey stains out of the upholstery of your interior… in case you spilled your drinking while driving. Not that we should drink and drive, but it’s a clear insight into a very different era.

Photo by Cassie Zhang

Photo by Cassie Zhang

Let’s talk tattoos. My first tattoo is kind of embarrassing. I got it on my 18th birthday, I went to this scratcher in Cincinnati, on College Street. It was in the back of a head shop. You know, exactly where you’re not supposed to go. But I did, and I got some Japanese writing on my arm that said jazz in Japanese. There was a kid in the classical department who spoke Japanese; she wrote it out for me and then we went and got it. So, I knew it was the right thing. That was my 18th birthday and then I didn’t get another tattoo until I was probably 26. That was my second tattoo. It was to cover up the “jazz”.

My dad gave me a lion ring, you know, the kind with diamonds in the eyes and the mouth. I got that tattooed over the Japanese writing. That was from a great tattoo artist named Becca Roach. She was in New York, but is now in Hawaii. After that, I got a bunch. I filled up a whole arm from Becca and I got my chest done. And then I took a break for a while. Then when our new drummer, Joe Perry started with us and he’s all tatted up by some great people, like Bert Krak, Rich Fie, Michael Perfetto, and Tony Pollito — all these New York legends — I got back into it with him. That’s how I met Rich VFie.

I really love Rich’s style. His art is traditional and his level of craftsmanship is outstanding. We’re working on finishing my back piece — an American traditional style dragon. It’s been really fun.

Photo by Cassie Zhang

Photo by Cassie Zhang