It was on a trans-Atlantic flight from Berlin to New York in early 2013 when actor and comedian Bill Murray met German cellist Jan Vogler. Through this chance encounter the pair struck up a friendship, sharing enthuse for each other’s artistic worlds and interests, and soon after, decided to work together on a musical project.
The result? An unexpected and enchanting collaboration of music and literature, marking Murray’s first classical music album.
“After we knew each other [for] a little bit, I invited him one night to go to this Poetry Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, and then a couple of days later said: You know, we could do this. We could do a show with this,” says Bill Murray.
The debut album New Worlds, features songs paired with literary readings, which are brought to life with classical music.
Murray – as both singer and narrator – brings his charm and wit to songs by George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein, and recites the works of Walt Whitman, Ernest Hemingway, and Mark Twain.
He is joined by musicians Jan Vogler (cello), Mira Wang (violin), and Vanessa Perez (piano) – each at the top of their fields to bring together an unexpected collective of creative forces.
“We are from four different continents,” Murray told The New York Times. “And when the continents come together, the music moves right across the peninsulas from one to the other. It’s just a short journey from one continent to the other.”
The 67-year-old Groundhog Day star recognises no limits. With a penchant for crashing parties or showing up in the most unexpected places, Murray has however had an ever-present passion for literature, particularly poetry.
He has also made past vocal appearances. A recent musical collaboration was with former The Late Show bandleader, Paul Shaffer for the upbeat song ‘Happy Street’, and performed festive tunes with George Clooney and Miley Cyrus on his 2015 Netflix special, A Very Murray Christmas.
Though the classical direction may be a bit of a surprise, the eccentric comedian and actor has forged an independent Hollywood career and seems to love exploring new and serendipitous opportunities.
“I am bathing in this experience, really. I can’t get enough of it,” Bill Murray comments.
One recording has Murray reading a painful passage from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as the group plays ‘Moon River’. The classical crossover showcases American values in literature and music, and the bridges artists have built between America and Europe.
Cellist Jan Vogler’s distinguished career adds credence to the concept, whose strong curatorial approach to his music making and contemporary style of performance has pushed the boundaries of classical music.
Tracks from the album include, Van Morrison’s ‘When Will I Ever Learn to Live in God’ and Stephen Foster’s ‘Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair’ as well as numbers from West Side Story.