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Jamie Notarthomas, Nonetheless

I’m at a rehearsal on the eve of a concert paying tribute to the music of George Harrison.

Jamie Notarthomas

I’m early, so I’m basically loitering with a few of the other early arrivers —each enjoying catching up with the other, when Jamie sort of saunters in, assertively, with intent … pointing assignments as he fills himself into the room. He’s an intense dude when it comes to things like this. Art things. Music things. Producing shows. Making a new album

I remember working with him on a show where he called me and asked me to cover a rather hefty vocal harmony assignment in a challenging short amount of time.

“Dude, you’re crazy,” I politely pointed out.

“C’mon! … We can do it. How about I come over and we can work on it together,” he enthused.

Well. Being a softy for people who make the personal investment of their own fine
effort in order to walk their big ol’ talk, I changed my tune about it and made an appointment to work out some ambitious vocal arrangements. Besides, as singers, we are both aware and have both acknowledged that we sing from a very same place as the other does. And here was the opportunity to put it together.

So, he came over. I made us a coupla’ cheeseburgers, slow-sipped some nice reposado while working out the arrangements and talking art, music, and the work at hand. I don’t get to talk to too many people about art in a way where I feel compelled by the mutual conversation. (Sorry, I don’t know how else to say that with out being a total prick). Nonetheless Jamie, to my surprise, turned out to be the total exception. We exchanged a few book titles on art, spiritual matters and music. A few films …

I think it’s important to note all this because this is the sort of stuff that brings tangible depth to a body of work. And tangible depth is important to Jamie. He really wants his music to resonate with you in the most positive way, possible. You might already know he’s a helluva musician who can sing his ass off. And you might know that he’s got a history of solid material. Now, he’s releasing 15 new gems in his latest effort.

He took a few minutes to chat about it.

Chuck Schiele: Hey
Jamie. I’m excited to see that you’re releasing new material. You’ve come a long way to get here. Just how long have you been playing
music? How did you become a musician?

Jamie Notarthomas: I’ve been playing a long time – over 35 years professionally and had a pretty early start. Have had almost 8,000 shows to date. Like millions of other kids, I was in love with the Beatles and their music. Born in 1964, I could sing along with all of their songs by the time I was in the 1st grade. Maybe that’s why I had to repeat it. I have a very musical family and that made it normal to play music  through a variety of instruments. My dad, who was an insurance salesman, spent his free time
pouring over classical
pianists —Chopin, Beethoven, Van Cliburn & Gershwin— so there was always music in the house. My brothers and sisters all played instruments and sang and I benefited from raiding their record
collections. Whereas many of my musical family learned music in a
traditional, structured model I was the one who got kicked out of Junior High school band for not playing the trombone well enough and was delighted that I broke my arm in gym class to get me out of piano lessons with my Aunt Jane which I now regret because she was Vinnie Falcone’s teacher who went on to be Frank Sinatra’s music director. However, I did truly learn a lot in my high School vocal jazz ensemble; and I met great musical peers there.

To me, music is like visual art..It’s kind of like painting a picture with sound.

I saw James Taylor as a teen and was transfixed by the honesty and eloquence of his songs produced by a single voice and a piece of wood with strings on it. I thought how incredible that this one amazing primate could do that with his fingers and make sounds prettier than a bird. –How special our species is! It made me realize that I wanted to be something like him —bringing joy and healing with his creations— like flowers made of sound that grow into the conscience of the masses. I was also profoundly impacted by the death of John Lennon. Soon after, I went to see a rising star and new hero, Bruce Springsteen. Energy beaming out of him with pure guts and the faith in his God-given right to live on this earth as he chose –he was celebrating life’s greatness in music. I remember him locking eyes with me as I danced my ass off. I left that concert with a burning desire to claim my place in this world. I eventually taught myself guitar and piano. Still dreaming, not knowing but a few songs on guitar, I was too shy to take it seriously, but oh, if only … I continued to write and practice singing in private. I wrote lyrics from a young age but hid them for fear of being mocked by my siblings. By 1986 I was ready and I began my professional music career.

CS: What instruments do you play?

JN: My main passion is singing, and I play guitar, piano, harmonica, and sometimes bang rocks together. Anything can be an instrument. As I said before, I failed at formal lessons and taught myself guitar and piano entirely by ear. I remember trying to make my guitar teacher, Chuck Cavalaro, proud of me by teaching myself “Mood For a Day” by Yes. Instead of being pleased with me, he was pissed that I couldn’t even read the notes to Frére Jacques from a piece of paper. I realized then that that wasn’t the road I was going to take. I have now developed recording skills and become deeply fascinated with structure, arrangements and various drum rhythms and styles. I love everything about the actual music itself.

CS: How would you characterize your music?

JN:  To me, music is like visual art —which I am a serious student of— I guess I would say that I blend the best of what I perceive in the various styles of music (that span throughout history) into my own signature voice. It’s kind of like painting a picture with sound. I feel as if I can see the music. Music is its own language and it has a magical ability to transcend the ordinary. Lyrical and poetic content is as important as the melodies and instrumental performance.

CS: What or who inspires you?

JN: I have what I call the twelve apostles of Rock and Roll, sort of mentors – in addition to The Beatles (together and individually), James Taylor and Bruce Springsteen, I’ve memorized over 160 of Bob Dylan’s songs so far. I love Elvis Costello, Van Morrison, Bob Marley, Peter Gabriel, Bruce Cockburn, Neil Young. Personally, I’m inspired by nature and the mystery of life and also have a desire to resolve internal and external conflict with music and lyrics.

CS: You have a new album. Please tell us about it.

JN: I’ve been working on my 5th album for quite some time and am in pre-production for the 15 new songs that I have, right now. I’ll be performing some of the new songs at the CNY Legends show at RidgeRocks on August 4th.  There is a connection throughout all my past work that continues to evolve. At the same time, I’ve made great efforts to try and break new artistic ground both musically and lyrically. The only way to understand it is to hear it. Just like a painter, I work relentlessly to create something that will stand the test of time like a DaVinci or a van Gogh. My goal is to contribute something that even my 12 apostles of rock and roll would be inspired and impressed by.

CS: Your thoughts on the CNY music scene …

Music is its own language and it has a magical ability to transcend the ordinary. Lyrical and poetic content is as important as the melodies and instrumental performance.

JN:  It’s a double-edged sword for sure. The positive side is the tremendous talent pool – people from all over the country say “what is in the water in CNY that produces so many great musicians?” –And there is some very healthy competition which pushes us to a very high standard. The negative side of the sword can be quite a distraction and there are plenty of politics and cliques that are driven by those who aren’t even musicians and make other factors more important than the true quality of the music. I’m sure many others have felt this, but, we survive in the face of it by ignoring it and putting the music first. More and more musicians have grown above and beyond the fray and overcome their early stages of insecurity to make great friends and create a growing, collaborative community of artists here.

CS: Please share a career highlight or two.

JN: I hesitate to name-drop great artists that I’ve opened for, met, or been complimented by, because the true highlights are between the audience and the artist. When the power of your songs manifests as you hoped it would, when you meet the children of couples who met at your show, when you are told that your song got a person through a difficult or even life-threatening time, and on a more personal level, the feeling you get when you just wrote a great song. –These are the highlights for me. But one worth mentioning in particular is writing a song called “Hope for The World,” just before I decided to go for music as a career. I remember listening to my roommate’s album “Empire Burlesque “ by Dylan and felt inspired to write the song. I wondered if it was any good? What would Dylan think if he heard it? Would anybody like it for that matter? Four years later I was performing it on stage as I was opening up the show for Dylan himself at Darien Lake and there he stood on the side of the stage watching me and listening to that song. He sent his assistant after the show to let me know he enjoyed it. Later, I found out that a friend who lived in Frankfurt, Germany said he read an interview in the newspaper where Dylan was asked what new musicians he liked and he replied “Jamie Notarthomas.” That felt pretty good.

CS: That must have been the coolest thing, ever, to hear of and find out. Please share a funny war story (the time aliens stole your beer in the middle of  your ABBA medley on the New Year’s Eve gig and there was nothing you could do about it cuz you were airborne while stage-diving.) [I’m looking for fun/funny story]

JN: I’ve got a million of them and it’s so hard to pick, but, I wrote one of the funniest stories I had on the road into my new song, “Spy On Yourself When You Talk.”

CS: Hot title. Can’t wait to hear it.

JN:  It’s about George Rossi —who played piano on my first two albums and will be joining me on August 4th, for the first time in over 20 years— and is pretty much summed up in the 3rd verse of the song … “after a gig in New York City, on Bleeker Street, near Washington Park, next day, woke up, got messed up and went to MOMA for some modern art.  With his nose up to a master’s painting, Lil’ George pretends his last name is Seurat, and runs away by looking backwards to see what he has captured and rushes back to paint another dot.  As he repeats this charade, we’re all laughing, almost hit the back wall ‘cuz he did not know, the guard had to jump in on him, to keep him from knockin’ down Starry Night by Vincent VanGogh.  I hit the floor, laughing, so hard I couldn’t breathe as they escorted him to the door. …”  That really happened.

CS: Advice to budding musicians:

JN: When I was a budding musician, I asked Sam Moore from the famed Sam and Dave what advice he would give me and he said, “just know that it’s a loooootttt of work and that you have to enjoy being challenged and not intimidated by it.” I’d pass that same advice along.

CS: Damn straight advice. Whats’ on the horizon for you and your music?

Find Jamie and his music on his facebook, his site: www.jamienotarthomas.com, Spotify, YouTube Top Tracks and iTunes.

JN: To take my new songs to 5 different studios with 5 different producers in 5 different parts of the country and return to serious pursuit of my original career. And to focus everything I have learned thus far into the most powerful manifestation of my music yet. Personally, I’ve continued to enjoy a sense of home by helping to build the amphitheater at The Ridge (RidgeRocks) and by managing and producing a series of very unique music events with the growing community of musician friends that’s developed there. One of those series is an all-original series which I mentioned earlier and features three long-standing original artists from Central New York – my band, The Jamie Notarthomas Band reunited with special guest George Rossi (of Lil’ Georgie and The Shuffling Hungarians) Screentest reunion and CD release, and Simplelife. I’ll be performing songs from all of my albums including an unveiling of new material from my future release. The concert will be from 6-10pm and tickets are available on my webpage or at TheRidgeRocks.com.

CS: How do we stay in touch with you and your music?

JN: In addition to my webpage – jamienotarthomas.com – and Facebook, you can hear most of my music on Spotify, YouTube Top Tracks or on iTunes. If you can figure out how Alexa pronounces my name, you can play it on your Amazon echo. Lots of people reach out via email too – jamie@jamienotarthomas.com.

CS: Ok, Jamie, looks like you have a lot to do. Thanks for taking a little time to share your music with Sounds of Syracuse.

JN: Thanks, Chuck. Nice chatting with you.

Chuck Schiele
Chuck Schiele is a lifelong, award-winning musician, art director, producer, editorialist, artist, activist, member Quatrocollective.com and fan of the CNY music scene. To be considered for this column, please write chuck.schiele@gmail.com.