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Bill Murray Made My Friday Unforgettable

During a windy, sunny, brisk Friday morning on the monument steps at Sydney Opera House, the one and only Bill Murray appeared, slowly walking towards us, a small group of photographers and only four reporters.

Dressed in overalls over a button down short sleeve summer shirt and a classic pair of Ray Ban’s, he was alongside colleagues, Cello extraordinaire Jan Vogler, amazing Violinist Mira Wang and triumphant pianist Vanessa Perez of Venezuela. In his own words, “It’s a far ranging show and we do a lot of things. We dazzle all at first.” Then jokingly adds, “Before sending our people through the audiences to empty their pockets and purses.” Enthralled sold out crowds around the world have been awed by the unique Bill Murray, Jan Vogler and friends music, literature show. Speaking with the great man and Jan was a thrill. 

I asked Bill how they met. “At an airport,” he says. “I noticed Jan’s oversized cello on a flight and I said, ‘Are you going to put that in the overhead compartment.’ And he looked at me as if I had a head wound, the cello got its own seat in first class, it has a window seat. That’s when I thought, OK I don’t know what I am talking about with this fella.”

Mr Murray went to see Mr Vogler play and then invited him to a poetry event in Manhattan and allegedly as Bill puts it, “He heard me singing in The Jungle Book.” Jan pipes up to say, “Yes I took my kids to the movies and thought wow, this is great, we have elements here.”

They got together to make an album New Worlds (released 2017) with outstanding accompaniment, Vogler’s wife Mira Wang (Violin) and striking pianist Vanessa Perez. When asked if it was hard to choose or write music to famous literature, he famously deadpanned to me that thankfully the music was also already written by famous composers in the show, with comedy to be had even with solemn literary readings. We were all affected by the the music we use.

Jan tells us that there has not really been any creative differences through the process and chemistry in tact between the pair. They also attempted not just to create a show with only music so as not to become boring. Jan explains, “We assure audiences who assume it is just literature readings to composed music that it is entertaining with surprises. Bill can sing, act, read astonishingly broad to quiet to wide. We had fun creating and now performing.”

Bill then mentions that the group all saw things the same way, naturally. Also remarking that although it is a serious show at times, you can’t help but be funny sometimes. Even some people who are not funny ‘are’ funny. “We shape the show to how the room feels,” he continues. “Interaction or direct response is important to us. It is rare to get to play this kind of material while touching all parts of people’s emotions or even memories. Their playing is so good (Jan, Mira, Vanessa), it is kinda dazzling.“

I ask if there is a set list, both gentlemen respond quickly, “Yes.” As Mr. Murray continues, “They have a regular show they perform however once they have won everyone over and get to encores, we really surprise sending audiences crazy.” Jan makes an observation that usually when couples come to a concert, one of them generally enjoys it very much as the other slightly falls asleep. This show has something for absolutely everyone.

It was only Bill’s second visit to Australia. His last trip to our shores was 1980 and when I asked if it was for a Caddyshack promotional tour (the film was released that year), he smiled and said, “No it was just a holiday.”

Concerning the singing voice of Bill, praise from Jan is high, “I noted it already that The Jungle Book had my attention with Bill singing, timing is everything, in music it is essential. He has a big voice.” Is there drinking involved when doing Hemingway, I ask. Both laugh then tell me they are not giving everything away just now.

Wondering if they expected flowers to be thrown on stage at their concert being something that happens on a regular basis at the famous Opera House, the pair laughed while Murray quipped, “I don’t really know what happens here, maybe some kind of rare animals will be thrown at us. I saw a quokka.” The tour goes from Sydney, to Brisbane, then Melbourne and beyond.

On a side note, due to wind, much of the audio became muffled, missing aspects of the questions and answers. What’s transcribed above is what was left as audible. Afterwards as we had a photo together, I shook Mr Murray and Mr Vogler’s hand, while congratulating Bill on his baseball dream coming true last year (Chicago Cubs winning the World Series). He thanked me, gave me a significant smile and for a short moment before heading back inside the Opera House concourse doors, waved to passing fans while even signing a ticket passed to him by a person who said she was going to the show. Legend!

Shane A. Bassett

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