Singer, songwriter and keyboardist Greg Schatz works both sides of the musical tracks.
By day, Schatz is an entertainment manager for French Quarter Festivals Inc. He books musicians for the French Quarter Festival, Satchmo SummerFest and the Christmas-season concert series at St. Louis Cathedral, “Follow Your Joy.”
By night, Schatz is a versatile working musician, playing local gigs as both a front man and supporting player. These gigs include every third Wednesday of the month at Three Muses (with his band and original songs) and three days a week at Poppy’s Crazy Lobster Bar and Grill (playing New Orleans classics with a changing cast of local musicians).
Schatz is a recording artist, too. Three of his five albums are credited to Schatzy, the band he formed in 1999 as a vehicle for his songwriting. More recently, he performs and records as Greg Schatz.
Friday night at Siberia, Schatz is playing an album release show for his latest album, “Everything That You Wanted.” He’ll be joined by The Friggin’ Geniuses, the all-star core band he works with on stage and in the studio. The Friggin’ Geniuses features guitarists Alex McMurray (Tin Men, Royal Fingerbowl) and Dave James (Gal Holiday), drummer Doug Garrison (The Iguanas, Panorama Jazz Band) and bassist Dave Stover.
“Everything That You Wanted” also features notable guest stars. Susan Cowsill and John Boutte sing backup. Guest instrumentalists include saxophonist Jason Mingledorff, trumpeter Eric Lucero and cellist Helen Gillet.
“There are so many musicians on the album,” Schatz said before Friday’s album-release show. “That’s one thing I’ve always loved about New Orleans. People are supportive of each other’s projects. If somebody is available, chances are they’re game to try something out.”
Except for temporary exile in his native upstate New York following Hurricane Katrina, Schatz has been a New Orleans resident since 1995. A trip to the city during his 1994 spring break from Cornell University convinced him he should live here.
In 1994, Schatz visited a friend then living in the Crescent City, singer-guitarist Jeremy Lyons. They’d both grown up in Ithaca, New York, and played in a band together during high school.
“I had some music from Louisiana, the Neville Brothers and Professor Longhair and Dr. John,” Schatz said. “I was intrigued by it and wanted to explore it further.”
New Orleans charmed the young musician, a cultural anthropology student in New York.
“Everybody Jeremy introduced me to was playing music in clubs or on the streets,” Schatz recalled. “They were having barbecue parties every night. It was a magical experience. Within a week, I met 20 different musicians and heard all this music.
“I knew that I had to go to New Orleans for a longer period of time. I didn’t imagine that I’d be here for 20 years. One thing leads to another. The longer I stayed, the more roots I put down.”
Schatz moved to New Orleans in early 1995. He joined the street band Lyons performed with, the Big Mess Blues Band, as accordionist. Soon he picked up a new instrument, upright bass, playing it in Lyons’ newly formed Deltabilly Boys.
Schatz’s shift from accordion to piano began during his post-Hurricane Katrina return to New York. For practical reasons, the piano was better for the duo gigs he began playing there. Upon his return to New Orleans, piano remained his principal instrument. Schatz played small gigs with a drummer, approximating a trio sound by emphasizing the piano’s bass notes. And he was learning more about New Orleans piano music.
Through the years, the local piano history that includes Professor Longhair, Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint, James Booker, Eddie Bo and Huey “Piano” Smith, plus the city’s music in general, became part of Schatz’s music foundation.
“I’m a sponge,” he said. “Even bands I hear in small clubs, I’ll listen to them and hear something interesting, a harmony or a groove or arrangement. I take note of what everybody’s doing.”
Playing a different role in the scene as entertainment manager for French Quarter Festivals Inc., Schatz said, complements his own music-making.
“It gives me different perspective on performing and songwriting,” he said. “And it makes me appreciate how many talented musicians there are out there.”