Bill Murray played a most unlikely Army recruit in the 1981 movie "Stripes." These days, he's on the road in a very different role, as a song, and yes, even dance man. Jane Pauley has our Sunday Profile:
At the Napa Valley Festival this past July, a sell-out crowd gathered to witness something a bit different. It was the U.S. premiere of "New Worlds": an evening of chamber music, great literature, and Bill Murray -- singing "It Ain't Necessarily So," from Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess."
"By myself, in the shower, I'm just as good as anyone else in the shower," he said. "Well, better than some, maybe! But on the stage with these three, I'm elevated. You can't stand next to this music and not be affected by it."
And the artists he works with are indeed world-class. At the piano, Vanessa Perez; Mira Wang is the violinist; and Jan Vogler makes his Stradivari cello sing. Any one of them could fill a concert hall.
Murray's instrument is less visible, but no less powerful.
I feel pretty, oh so pretty,
I feel pretty and witty and bright,
and I pity any girl who isn't me tonight…
From "West Side Story"
"He's making us poke fun at ourselves, too," said Perez. "I let my hair down. Like, this is so refreshing, too, you know?"
To watch a trailer for "New Worlds" click on the video player below.
This all began a few years back, when Murray and Vogler met on a transatlantic flight.
"Bill started talking to me about the cello I was transporting -- I think he was amused that the cello had its own seat," Vogler said. "So the cello was in the window, I was in aisle, across the aisle was Bill."
Pauley asked, "Did you know who he was?"
"Not right away, I have to confess. And then he started joking. When Bill jokes, you are laughing. There is no doubt about that."
When told Vogler didn't know who he was, Murray offered that he didn't know who Vogler was. "Not one bit. I knew he was the guy with the case. That's all I knew."
Long story short: they became friends, and their friendship became a collaboration, which became a show.
"He really has done all the work," Murray said. "I'm just riding with these people."
Pauley said, "Not to exaggerate the depth of our bond, but we were youngsters together at a different place -- and you haven't changed."
"Well, good news, bad news."
Pauley first met Bill Murray when she was on a program that aired weekday mornings; His was on Saturday nights. You may recall he sang a bit back then, too...
"Soon, you'll be in Carnegie Hall," said Pauley. "But that crowd ... Bill Murray can sing. And I'm thinking, 'Well, they've never heard him sing "Brandy."'"
"They've never heard me ruin a lot of songs," Murray replied.
Brandy, you're a fine girl,
What a GOOD wife you would be …
"Now, I can't even do it as badly as I usually do it 'cause I'm with you," he said. "I like to butcher that one."
You might say Bill Murray grew up singing: in high school, he fronted a garage band in his hometown north of Chicago. But now, at 67, it's hard for him not to sing well.
"I really love singing 'Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,'" he said. "Because it's so painful. And these notes are so perfect that, you know, the emotions just hang on them and just glisten. They just glisten. They have a viscosity, where they just stay on your heart."
The chemistry here is undeniable, as in Murray's dance number with Mira Wang. "When Bill Murray asks to dance, who isn't looking forward to it?" she exclaimed. [For the record, Wang is actually married to Jan Vogler.]
And there are a few other things the audience doesn't see coming, like the passage from "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," complete with that word, about Huck helping Slave Jim to freedom.
"Conscience says to me, 'What had poor Miss Watson ever done to you that you could see her n****r go off right under your eyes and never say one single word?'"
Murray said, "You could feel the audience, the discomfort of the audience … and I thought, 'Oh, God. Now I gotta have some gumption here. 'Cause they're not ready for this.
"Twain made this point that just 'cause things are the way they are doesn't mean that beauty and decency can't rise and shine through that."
"You and Twain might'a had a little in common, I think," Pauley said.
Whatever it takes to fulfill his mission
That is the way we must go
But you've got to do it your own way
Tear down the old, bring up the new …
From "When Will I Ever Learn to Live in God" by Van Morrison
They're taking the show on a very limited tour this fall. There's also an album if you can't get a ticket.
Pauley said, "So you were the lead singer of a band in high school. And you're the singer in a band again."
"You know, whenever I've seen rock-and-roll singers I go, like, saying to myself, 'You know, I could'a done …' But I've kinda liked what I've done. I've enjoyed my job. I really do like my job."
He says he'll get around to making movies again -- but right now, Bill Murray has so much more to give.
When will I ever learn to live in God?
When will I ever learn?
He gives me everything I need and more
When will I ever learn?
You can stream the album "New Worlds" by clicking on the embed below (Free Spotify registration required to hear full tracks):
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