Dan Furman: Cabaret HotTrax Featured Artist
by David Sabella
Dan Furman hails from Old Hickory, Tennessee (just outside Nashville). He began playing piano and composing music at an early age and went on to study composition and jazz piano at Oberlin Conservatory. After moving to New York in 2003 to play jazz, he began writing for music theater as well. He spent four years in the BMI Lehman Engels Musical Theater Workshop. Furman is director of Brooklyn Tavern Theater, which puts on original musicals in taverns in Brooklyn and beyond. He is composer/lyricist/bookwriter of “Impossible But True,” and composer and lyricist for Ybor City (with Anita Gonzalez, bookwriter) and Sign In the Six O’Clock Sky (with bookwriter Arnold Schulman). He is currently developing “The Proust Virus,” a musical about video game characters who come to life when Proust is uploaded into their game and “Joe Hill,” the next Brooklyn Tavern Theater musical. He lives in Brooklyn with neuroscientist Kim Allen. He works as a jazz pianist and music directs cabaret shows in Manhattan. (www.danfurman.com, www.brooklyntaverntheater.com)
I interviewed Dan about his musical life, songwriting, and inspirations. Here’s what he had to say.
Hi Dan, Thanks for doing this. Let’s start at the begining. What drew you to become a songwriter? Did you know as a young child that you wanted to do this? And if so, did your parents or family support your artistic desires?
I started playing piano when I was 6…and started writing music at the same age. My parents were always very supportive.
What was the first song you ever wrote, and how old were you when you wrote it?
I wrote a song called “Spring is Here” in the first grade, I think. It was probably in the spring.
Who are you musical influencers, both writing, and performing?
I have been inspired by Thelonius Monk, Johannes Brahms, Stephen Sondheim, Kander and Ebb, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Fred Hersch and many, many others
Do you have a favorite song or a project?
Probably the one I’m working on, although I do have a special place for my first musical, Impossible But True.
Tell us about your process, even your daily schedule when working. Do you write every day? Are you inspired by current events or things around you?
I write whenever I can. It’s one of my favorite things to do. Usually I’m inspired by ideas. Sometimes very abstract ideas, and the challenge can be to make them work as a show or a song! I love writing music to other people’s lyrics as well.
What has been the hardest song or project to finish, and why? And, how did you finally get out of this song-writers block?
Musicals are the hardest to finish, because they’re such big projects. I have to put them down sometimes and come back to them sometimes to figure out if it’s worth it. I’ve been collaborating (for 10+ years, on and off) on a show with lyricist Kristin Maloney based on the lives and art of Edward and Jo Nivinson Hopper. I hope we’ll finish someday! On the other hand, a few shows went really quickly and the music, at least, seemed to write itself. Ybor City has been a collaboration with book writer Anita Gonzalez and the songs came fairly easily. I wrote the songs for Sign In the Six O’Clock Sky (a collaboration with playwright Arnold Schulman and director Shela Xoregos) in a few months.
What’s next? Are you currently working on a new project?
I’m currently writing a new show for Brooklyn Tavern Theater, “The Joe Hill Revival.” It is based on the story of Joe Hill, a songwriter and IWW organizer in the first years of the 20th century. It will be about finding unity and light in the struggle for a better world.
Thank you Dan for taking the time to answer our questions and for being a valued member of the Cabaret HotTrax Vendor family.