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Aloft In Translation: The Myriad Sides Of Bill Murray

On the upcoming album <em>New Worlds</em>, actor and comedian Bill Murray teams up with cellist Jan Vogler and friends for music by Bernstein and Gershwin and poetry and prose by Whitman and Twain.
Peter Rigaud
On the upcoming album New Worlds, actor and comedian Bill Murray teams up with cellist Jan Vogler and friends for music by Bernstein and Gershwin and poetry and prose by Whitman and Twain.

You never know just where Bill Murray might show up. From house parties to the White House, the actor and comedian has a penchant for crashing events and leaving everyone in his wake surprised.

Murray's latest surprise finds him on a new album called New Worlds, due out Sept. 29, belting out Bernstein and Gershwin and reciting poetry to the strains of Saint-Saëns and Schubert.

Cover of Bill Murray's new album, New Worlds.
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Appropriately, the project was born from a chance encounter. On a flight from Berlin to New York, Murray met German cellist Jan Vogler, which sparked a new friendship, fueled by music and literature. After a few subsequent discussions, sing-a-longs and rehearsals, the two — with help from violinist Mira Wang and pianist Vanessa Perez – crafted a concept for a laid-back evening of music, poetry and prose with a distinctly American flavor. Murray and the musicians are taking the show on tour, stopping in Hamburg, Toronto, Chicago (among others) with a final bow at Carnegie Hall on Oct. 16.

The two pre-release tracks here offer Murray in two familiar modes: serious and slightly silly.

'I Feel Pretty/America' from Bernstein's West Side Story

His delivery in Bernstein's West Side Story may trigger memories of Nick Winters, the ham-de-la-ham of lounge singers from Murray's early Saturday Night Live years. He's not much of a vocalist, but it doesn't really matter. There's plenty of trademark Bill Murray zaniness, and his honesty reinforces the notion that we might all enjoy singing, regardless of our ability.

Then there's Murray's wistful side, on full view in movies like Lost in Translation and Broken Flowers. Some of that nostalgia surfaces in his recitation of prose from James Fenimore Cooper's 1841 novel, The Deerslayer.

Excerpt from Copper's 'The Deerslayer' with music by Schubert

Set to an aching melody from Schubert's Piano Trio in B-flat, Murray adopts a somewhat flat read, as he renders a bucolic scene where Cooper's protagonist first beholds the beauty of Lake Otsego, in upstate New York. Murray allows the power of the prose to do the heavy lifting. There's even an awkward hesitation or two, lending an improvised feel.

It's as if Murray has again crashed the party, but this time he shows up in your living room, with an armload of books and a trio of fine musicians.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tom Huizenga
Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.