Greg Schatz — better known as Schatzy — is back! The multi-instrumentalist was born in raised in Ithaca but moved to New Orleans to pursue music, and he returns at least once a year to visit friends and family, as well as play a show or two. This is a lucky boon for locals, as there are few performers quite like him. Adept at least three instruments: the upright bass, accordion and piano, Schatzy is a lot of things to a lot of people — channeling Randy Newman, James Booker, Louis Armstrong. Using versatility in song structures and stylistic approaches, the Schatzy Band is a one-man band with three talented members. Imagine if Stephin Merritt was a lot more self-effacing and a lot less precious.
Friday, Schatz will be joined by his old high school buddies A.J. Strauss, Max Buckholtz and Felix (F.T.) Teitelbaum for a fun musical family reunion at The WildFire Lounge; the show starts around 9pm. Schatz grew up in Tompkins County, and was educated at ACS and then Cornell. When Jeremy Lyons, his friend and musical cohort moved to New Orleans, Schatz followed him and stuck around for many years. The man-made disaster of Hurricane Katrina forced Schatz to move to Brooklyn, where he resided for a few years. But that displacement allowed him to spend time in Boston, Brooklyn, Ithaca and New Orleans. “It started out that I would go down to New Orleans for a week and stay a month. Or plan on staying a month and be there for two. Eventually you stay where you can play.”
Schatz has returned to New Orleans almost full time, where he has a day job with French Quarter Festivals, Inc., the organization responsible for a massive April celebration and three smaller ones. But he still finds time to make it back to New York.
“The lucky ones get to go to Europe for the summer, but I’m in NOLA for most of the year,” Schatz said by phone from a show in New York. “Actually, I’ve been doing a lot of city gigs lately in New Orleans. One of the areas I was lacking was these restaurant gigs —almost tourist places — so I’m doing that three times a week. It’s been good for me: to do New Orleans’ R&B that I don’t generally play when I’m focused on my own material.”
Much of the Schatzy Band’s material is characterized by a good dose of humor. His most recent CD — now a bit old — Nocturnal Wild Life Journal, leads off with a track called “Your Mama” which is more homage than ad hominem attack. “Who brought you the stars and moon? Who made you go clean your room? Who carried you in her womb? Your mom!”
Schatz chuckled while describing the song’s origins. “I wrote that one because I had a gig on Mother’s Day. And I thought that I should come up with something for Mother’s Day called ‘Your Mama.’” The fact that the song has a buoyant Eastern European feel to it only adds to the humor, though Schatz explained that it was simply an innate quality of the accordion. “A lot of songs are like that. When I pick up the accordion, it naturally lends itself to a Swamp Pop thing. Even if it isn’t Balkan music.”
Schatz noted, quickly, that many of his songs were serious rather than humorous. “But the thing is, those songs tend to stick more.” He explained that “How is the Housecat,” a lovely ditty about neurotic pet owners was originally simply about his own cat, something he thinks was just about “goofing around.” “But those songs tend to go over live well,” Schatz said, adding: “Humor can also be a tool for dealing with things. Tragedies and other more minor mishaps.”
Before Katrina, Schatz served as a core member of the well-received blues outfit the Deltabilly Boys and plays pick-up for a list of groups that could fill a city’s musical directory of who’s who. After recording with Jeremy Lyons and the Deltabilly Boys, Schatz formed the side project that was later christened the Schatzy Band. He released Macaroni & Bees in 2002, Unraveling in 2004, and Nocturnal in 2007.
Bluegrass, swamp pop, folk rock, piano slide, Balkan beat and honky-tonk scratch the surface of the idioms Schatz explores, but just barely. “I’ve been a little bit slow in coming out [my next record]. I have material for at least two other CDs. Part of the reason is that I have a day job.”