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A New York Minute With Musician: Adlai Waxman

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It would be easier to write an introduction to Adlai Waxman’s music if I could tell you what kind of music he plays.  

I can tell you it’s the kind of music that landed several of the Toronto native’s songs on Canada’s CBC radio charts, and got him a gig at The Bitter End in NYC playing the same piano that Bob Dylan and Tom Waits played. But the fact that I can’t nail his music down so easily is one of the reasons I like it.  

Fluent in many genres, Waxman doesn’t seem too concerned about fitting into one particular sound. His songs mix latin and jazz with Springsteen and the Beatles. He has done a lot of work as back-up or a “side-man” in other bands, and this breadth of experience comes through in his music.  

He was once in a reggae band and was the only member who was not from Trinidad. He’s played in a country band, in a jazz band, even in a World music band. So how can I tell you what to expect from his music? 

Just listen to it.

I hear a lot of people talk about taking chances and doing their own thing, but Waxman truly lives it. It’s a bit of a paradox sitting across from a guy who seems so laid back and listening to him talk about working outside his comfort zone. Listening to his story, you truly get the impression of a person who has something in mind and purposely stretches his boundaries to achieve it. His most recent album “Circumstance and Dreams” is about arriving at that place where what you want to do and what you have the opportunity to do line up. 

NYMM: How did you get started in music, and where does this mix of sounds come from?

AW:  Being a “side-man” for so many different kinds of bands had taken on its own thing, and then I started wondering if that’s what I wanted to do or if I wanted to pursue my own thing as well. I took on the life of a side-man because I was good at being like a chameleon. I could play all these different types of music, and I could blend into whatever I was working with. I even did a stint in country. And that constant changing took on a life of its own. Then I thought, maybe I should branch out and try my own thing. I’m actually influenced a great deal by Joe Jackson. He does the same thing I’m interested in, genre-wise. Everything he does is a mixture of all different sounds. Each album is different. And I’ve always gravitated to those types of artists. I’ve never recorded anything myself that is just one specific genre or type of music. I guess I just try to find what works best for the song.  

NYMM: The new album is called “Circumstance and Dreams.” Where does the title come from and what were you trying to accomplish with it?
AW: It’s a line out of one of the songs.  It’s about wanting to take charge of “now.” I had become friends with George Marinelli (played with Bonnie Raitt as well as Bruce Hornsby and the Range) and Vince Santoro (played with Rosanne Cash and Mary Chapin Carpenter). George suggested that I start this process, and I almost said no, but then I thought I need to do this. And it was great to collaborate with George and Vince. The song “Lucinda” was co-written with my friend, David Newbould, and he’s doing a version on his album as well. For the most part, the whole album is George, Vince, and me. Just the three of us, playing all the instruments, just getting together and doing a creative outlay of what I’ve been accumulating for a while. 
NYMM: This is a direction you’ve been headed toward for some time then?
NYMM: Yeah, I grew up in a musical family, my dad was a musician, and I played from when I was very young. I played a lot of side jobs, supporting roles for other artists, but then I decided to pursue my own music as well. I had several songs that charted on the CBC in Toronto. But at the time it wasn’t a very organic process that was happening, and I wanted to push the boundaries of what I was doing. I thought there had to be something more than I was finding in Toronto, which is a great place, but I thought Nashville would be a place where I could really stretch. I needed to do it for personal growth.  
It was a risk. I literally just hopped in the car and went down to Nashville. As a person, I feel like I’m pretty mild-mannered, and doing music definitely always pushes my boundaries. I mean, I’m an introverted person and by doing music it forces me to push myself into the extroverted world.  

Right now, I’m doing what I love, and that’s a much better experience. I learned from my time doing country and backups, but I feel much better finding more integrity in saying no. Being able to say no has been one of the biggest areas of risk and growth for me. I have this feeling of quality over quantity about it, and I’ve found a lot of power in saying no to projects that don’t appeal to me.  
To me, who I work with is more about the camaraderie. I want to work on music that creatively interests me, but I can collaborate with anyone, from any genre who I can build a friendship with or who I can enjoy playing with. Collaborating is a huge part of that. I take the attitude that you should just treat people the way you want to be treated. 
JK: Thanks for the time, and best of luck with the new album.
His song “Katy (on the Red Line)” can be heard here.
You can find more from Adlai Waxman at:
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Photography by Jon

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