If you could pick anyone and any place to reinvent the classic Las Vegas lounge show, you could do a lot worse than trumpeter and singer Brian Newman and NoMad Las Vegas.
The bandleader for Lady Gaga’s Jazz & Piano shows at Park Theater will open a residency of his own this week: Brian Newman After Dark at the NoMad Restaurant, a jazz-infused ode to vintage Vegas with plenty of craft cocktails and guest performers from New York City, Las Vegas and beyond. (One could safely assume Gaga might visit since her residency shows are running concurrently.)
Newman is a bright light on the NYC club circuit and recently released his debut album Showboat, a genre-spanning record that’s equal parts Miles Davis and Nirvana. His musical sensibilities seem like a perfect fit for the NoMad Restaurant, a two-story library that has quickly defined itself as one of the most unique spaces on the Strip.
Have these NoMad Restaurant shows been in the works for a while? Yeah, for sure; we were just waiting for the right time and getting all our ducks in a row to make sure we can present the great show we want. It’s a long time in the making for a kid from Cleveland, a pretty humbling honor. And it always feels that way for me.
What can we expect from these shows? We’ve been in New York a long time doing our thing at the Rose Bar and the Gramercy Park Hotel, and before that at the Oak Room, and before that there was a burlesque show in Tribeca. It’s just a throwback, classic show like what’s been happening in Vegas that I’ve admired my whole life and I’m excited to get back to that. We also throw in some of our newer influences—Thin Lizzy, Nirvana, The Police, stuff like that—mixed in with the American songbook, but it’s always an original take on those songs.
Catching some jazz in a casino lounge used to be a big part of Las Vegas entertainment. Do you think this can be a jazz hotbed again? I always had this picture in my mind, although I’m too young to have experienced it, of seeing Sinatra at the Sands and then hanging out in the lounge after the show and seeing Louis Prima and Keely Smith. It’s a dream of mine to re-create that atmosphere, where there’s just all this great music and it’s fluid. It’s about bringing the audience into the experience and making them feel like they’re part of it; that’s what we do everywhere we go. I can only do what I do, but I know there are a lot of great musicians in Las Vegas. We had a great time hanging at the Dispensary last time with Santa Fe and the Fat City Horns, and there are so many great players doing that [stuff] in Vegas. That’s where it belongs.
It’s almost a cliché that jazz musicians will talk about keeping the music alive and presenting it in a way that will expand its audience. Is that important to you? That’s the most important thing, and it’s all in the way it’s presented. A musician can play anything they want to play as long as it has that connection to authenticity. The older guys I learned from lived that scene, and that was much a part of their music as practicing their craft.
You’ve been working with Lady Gaga for a while now. How did you meet, and how did that relationship develop? We met on the Lower East Side back in the day, all of us just hanging out, before she went to LA and made that first record. She came to a lot of our gigs and other friends’ gigs before all that, and it really just snowballed. I’m so lucky to be playing with her. Because of her I got to work with Tony Bennett and got signed to Verve Records, and now there’s this residency at NoMad. I’m like a kid in a candy store.
What was it like to know Gaga and watch her explode as this force in pop culture? Surreal. Just hearing her on the radio everywhere was so great, because she’s just a consummate musician. When she first sat in with us, it was just, "What do you feel like?" And she called the key and counted it off and that was it. Every time I see her play piano you just know she’s a real musician, and it’s such a great thing to be around. Doing the Jazz & Piano shows is really fun, and we tell her all the time how it’s such a great thing that she’s doing. When you’re doing those shows, or when we were on the road with Tony and you’re standing in the Hollywood Bowl looking out and seeing kids in their 20s singing along to Cole Porter and George Gershwin, that’s really surreal.
BRIAN NEWMAN AFTER DARK May 30-31, June 1, 2, 6-9, 12-15, 11 p.m., $49. NoMad Restaurant at Park MGM, 833-706-6623.