Newman brings classics, new works to Fox

2014-08-14T00:00:00Z Newman brings classics, new works to FoxBy Gerald M. Gay Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Two Academy, six Grammy and three Emmy awards.

Those are a few of the high honors composer and songwriter Randy Newman has received for his work over the years.

Since the release of his debut, self-titled album in 1968, Newman has been a prolific figure in film, music and television.

Songs such as “Short People” and “I Love L.A.” made him a household name in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and earned him an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.

He’s perhaps best known to younger generations as the fella who developed the ear-pleasing music for the animated “Toy Story” and “Monsters, Inc.” franchises.

Expect a healthy retrospective of his works — including music from his upcoming album due out next year — when Newman performs at the Fox Tucson Theatre on Tuesday.

The pianist spoke to Caliente last week from his home in Southern California.

Tucson is one of only a handful of dates on your schedule. Do you have any ties to the city? “I have relatives who have lived there. I just had a niece who graduated from the university. I went up and saw the big letter on the hill there, the A. I saw the awards in the gym, the space sciences building. I’ve always liked the town.”

You’ve been writing songs for decades. Does it ever get any easier? “It doesn’t get easier. On this new album, I am having trouble finishing. I have ideas that are worth pursuing, but don’t finish. I jump from one to the other with concentration difficulties that I haven’t had before. Sometimes you get on a roll. It pours out. You start writing a song and you can see the end of it right from the beginning. I am not sure you get as many of those as you get older.”

Where do you do your best writing and composing? “I have to sit at a piano. I very rarely have an idea when I am not trying to have one. I don’t see something and say, ‘That would make a good idea for a song.’ I’ve always had to sit down and try to do it.”

Many artists at the point you are at in your career rely solely on their hits, but you continue to produce. Do you feel it is important to keep creating music? “It is for me. There is a tremendous amount of evidence that says people do their best work before they are 30. In my case, I don’t think it is true. I think the records of mine that people maybe noticed the most were from the 1970s. I think I’ve made records that were just as good or better in the 1990s and 2000s. I think I’ve gotten better at arranging lyrics over the years.”

You’ve had plenty of hits. Have you ever had a song that you felt was overlooked? “The public reacts the way it reacts. I wish I had made a better go of ‘Baltimore’ (from ‘Little Criminals’). The major hit on that album was ‘Short People.’ It is like having a hit with ‘Purple People Eater.’ I don’t know what the hell I was thinking.”

Your songs cover a range of topics not generally covered by other artists. Have you always strived to be different? “I never paid attention to hooks and that kind of thing. Occasionally, I stumble into one. I never analyzed what people were doing. When I was writing for someone else, I would do it, if that was what was required. But it is not my style.

“If it weren’t for the Disney stuff and writing songs like the theme for ‘Monk,’ I would be way outside the mainstream. My stuff is really kind of weird. I’m glad I got a chance to write stuff like ‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me.’ On my own, I don’t think I would have ever written something like that.”

Is there a theme or direction with your new album? “Not really. There will be some strange stuff. There usually is.”

Will we hear any of the new tracks during your visit to Tucson? “I have a song about Putin that I’m done with. I wrote it before he was in the news all the time. I’ve had to adjust it since he has been the big newsmaker.”

Contact reporter Gerald M. Gay at ggay@tucson.com or 807-8430.

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