Art Garfunkel still master of his art

January 2, 2008
The Press Enterprise

Art Garfunkel remembers walking to kindergarten, singing Rodgers and Hammerstein's "You'll Never Walk Alone" from "Carousel," the rhythm emerging from the time he kept as he stepped over the cracks in the sidewalk.

After he finished the song once, he raised the melody's key and sang it again.

Garfunkel's first musical memory of his walk to school foreshadowed his career. He became a household name singing with Paul Simon, shifted keys to act in films such as "Carnal Knowledge" and "Catch-22," and changed notes back to a solo career.

Garfunkel, 66, will raise and lower keys literally Saturday at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert for a performance with the Desert Symphony.

"It's so much fun my job, I dig it," Garfunkel said in a telephone interview from his New York City office last week.

His enthusiasm for music is genuine. When he speaks, the words ever-so-slightly morph into melodies of songs. He knows the Simon and Garfunkel hit "Scarborough Fair" has 319 syllables. And goose bumps still appear on his arms when he has "living moments" onstage.

"The god of music is passing through the singer onstage. That's the lucky thing. I love when I get the visitation," he said.

"I love singing Paul's 'American Tune,' " he said about the song from Simon's solo career. "It makes me think we've come to America on the Mayflower," he paused, emitting a blissful sigh. "I get goose bumps every night."

Garfunkel released the solo album "Some Enchanted Evening," a collection of standards, last year, but he will only perform a few of those songs at his concert.

"I can't knock out 'Scarborough Fair' to make room for the new songs," he said.

He sings a few notes as he talks about how he keeps the songs interesting.

The Simon and Garfunkel classic "The Boxer" doesn't bore him. He just added it 30 shows ago, singing it for what he said was the first time in 15 years.

"It's new for me to do 'The Boxer.' 'El Condor Pasa,' " he paused as he sang a line, "is paling for me."

Working with new musicians always brings life into the songs, shifting the groove, he said. Like on his kindergarten walk, Garfunkel also will change the key of a song onstage to mix it up.

When he selects a set list, he tries to picture the audience. If he's played there before, he tries to throw in a few surprises, some key changes, such as switching from E minor to D major between songs and throwing in a Randy Newman cover.

"If I execute everything nicely, it's going to be a nice night," Garfunkel said about the Palm Desert date, which kicks off his 2008 tour.

Garfunkel doesn't know when he might enter the studio.

"The Internet has displaced the record business as I know it," he said. "I can't figure out how to reach the audience in terms of recordings now."

He does know how to connect with the audience onstage, and he doesn't plan to stop singing anytime soon.

"I remain a live act," he said, talking about his concerts. "You sleep that night with a good feeling that you're a giver."