Few cities have a musical history like New York City.
If there is any city on earth that can boast a popular musical soundtrack, New York has got to be it. Certainly many musicians have name-checked the city in their writing and even used the unique personality of the place to inspire their greatest musical compositions. Broadway musicals were the incubator of popular music for decades in the 20th century and when North America moved on from that, Tin Pan Alley and the Brill building on Fifth Avenue provided most of the songs on AM radio throughout the 1960s and 70s.
When it comes to telling the musical story of New York, one can either try and explain it or sing us the songs. This where Canadian troubadour Micah Barnes comes in.
“I found myself getting really inspired by the musical history of the city,” says Barnes. “I started a romance in New York City, which meant I was travelling back and forth to the city and I found myself overwhelmed by it.”
Barnes was not a simple country bumpkin shocked by the big city. He grew up in Toronto and by this point he had already toured the world as a member of the prolific a cappella group, The Nylons. He had also begun a successful solo career as a jazz singer-songwriter. This feeling wasn’t just being impressed. It was something else.
“I was trying write an album; sitting in these little writing rooms off of Times Square,” Barnes explains, “And I was just feeling the musical history of the city coming up through the floor boards.”
The result was the 2016 album, New York Stories.
“What I think I was able to do, was pay homage to this great tradition of jazz, blues, cabaret and Broadway,” said Barnes. “I literally couldn’t sleep at night, I was so inspired.”
The album of original music takes the listener on a tour of New York’s musical history. From the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theatre all the way down Broadway, past Tin Pan Alley to the old Jazz clubs in Greenwich Village. Barnes brings the album and it’s accompanying stage show, complete with a fantastic jazz trio, to the Rose Theatre. In addition to the songs from the record, the show includes classic selections inspired by his time in New York.
“The songs I’ve chosen help me tell the story of my romance in New York, which, in turn, tells the story of my romance with the city and its musical history,” says Barnes.
This themed approach to music and performing is something Barnes likes a lot.
“I like to make song cycles to fit a concert evening,” he adds. “That’s really what I do. I’m a bit of a throwback. I’m a cabaret artist in that way.”
The approach has served him well. So much so, his next project has taken on a similar form.
“For the next album, we’re moving the party down to Vegas,” he laughs. “I’m trying to capture the dynamic energy that the legendary Vegas performers had.”
This time around, most of the music will be covers of Vegas classics, but of course, the voice will be all Barnes.
“I really can’t wait for people to hear it.”
Micah Barnes and New York Stories performs at the Rose Theatre April 7. Tickets are available online at rosetheatre.ca or by calling (905) 874-2800.