January 6, 2022

One-On-One With Larry Farber

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Arts+ recently sat down with native Charlottean and a serial musician of sorts, Larry Farber. Founder of Middle C Jazz Club, Music with Friends concert series, and a performing pianist, Farber recently published his first book, “Noted Memories: How a Kid from Charlotte Had A Moment with Tony, Aretha, Bonnie, Sheryl, and More.” The debut novel chronicles some of his most exciting experiences brought on by a lifetime of music and having the courage to chase his dreams. Before starting his own bands and touring with celebrities, Farber was just a kid who wanted to learn the piano. Here, he shares what inspired him all those years ago and why he places such a high value on music education today.

Q: You took an interest in piano at a very early age, do you remember what/who inspired you to pick up an instrument?

A: That’s an easy question to answer. I was immersed in music from an early age, so there were some critically important people in my life. From a family standpoint, my Uncle Jack (Oberman) was a famous big band jazz pianist living in Philadelphia. He and his band actually toured all over South America. As a kid, we would visit, and he’d sit me on his lap and play — and that, to me, was the best present.

His brother, my Uncle Lou (whom I’m named after) pursued a professional dancing career — he sort of reminded me of Fred Astaire. Now my cousin Davida (Jack's daughter), became a star in her own right. She truly was a great violinist, playing with the likes of Elvis and Wayne Newton. So my mother’s side of the family really had quite a few musical geniuses (though I’m not one of them).

Growing up in Charlotte, I remember going to my buddy’s house and seeing a baby grand piano, so I asked my parents if I could play, and that’s where my own journey began at age 11.

As I look back, the person who may have influenced me the most was my piano teacher and mentor, Ziggy Herwitz. He committed himself to showing me the world of music outside of just playing the instrument. He showed me how to make music a part of my life through the business side of things. That opened the door to a whole world of possibilities.

Q: How would you describe Charlotte’s current music scene?

A: I’m glad to see that Charlotte’s music community is sort of reviving itself, in my opinion. A lot of groups are really giving it their all with venues such as Neighborhood Theatre, Visulite, and Petra’s. Though some staples have recently closed, I am optimistic that new venues will continue to come on the scene post-COVID. Also, it’s worth noting that Charlotte Center City Partners have a project called Music Everywhere and are striving to see Charlotte’s music scene grow similarly to that of Austin or Nashville — so there’s a lot to be excited for. When I opened Middle C Jazz Club, it was really my gift to the city. I want people who travel to Charlotte and think about live jazz, in addition to its eclectic sound.

Q: What is Charlotte’s sound?

A: Years ago, folks might be surprised to know that Charlotte was expected to be the home of country music when Arthur Smith Studios was still here. Then, the Carolinas became widely known for their beach music trend, so throughout the 70s and 80s, that’s what Charlotte also gravitated to. Today the sound is much more varied and eclectic. We don’t have one genre that comes to mind like a city like New Orleans, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Q: What moment made you decide to write a book?

A: I’ve been blessed to be a musician, manager, agency founder, club owner, promoter, recording studio operator, and founder of the private club, Music with Friends. I have been on ALL sides of music. I’ve accumulated a million experiences and stories that I didn’t want to die in my head. I’d have these stories from time spent with James Brown, Smokey Robinson, and Diana Ross — and people just couldn’t believe it. So I knew I had something to tell.

My true inspiration is my three loving grandchildren — I just want them to know their Pops. I want them to see that I did it and to leave with them the evidence that you really can accomplish whatever it is you dream. It’s great if others enjoy this book, but that’s a bonus. My world is my family and close friends.

Q: Are there any unexpected friendships that have blossomed from your career in music?

A: Wow, there are so many. I was just a kid from Charlotte who never expected any of these opportunities that I had. I was in awe of so many of the people I’ve shaken hands with. One person that comes to mind especially is Phillip Bailey, lead vocalist for Earth, Wind & Fire and who many consider to be the voice of R&B. One night he walks off the tour bus, and we struck up casual conversation. We quickly discovered we had a lot in common — we both love golf, we’re born 10 days apart, and we each even started a music company around the same time. So that friendship naturally grew, and since then, we’ve continued to play golf and have vacationed together with his wife and son.

Last year for his 70th Zoom birthday, I was invited to be on the Zoom call, and I remember looking at so many notorious musicians on the screen and thinking to myself, “Are you kidding me? You wanted me on this call?”

I’m also good friends with Darius Rucker. We met when he was still with Hootie & the Blowfish and have stayed connected ever since. He’s also been golfing with Phillip and me and was kind enough to write the back cover blurb for the book.

Q: Why is music education so important to you?

A: Music education is as important as any other education you get — coming from a person who’s lived it. It’s math. You learn notes, how to keep time, how to work with others. Being a part of something greater — whether an orchestra or a small band. It taps a part of your brain that other subjects don’t. Tony Bennett, for example, suffers from Alzheimer’s and got on stage with Lady Gaga and remembered every song and note without any assistance. That’s incredible. Music activates a part of your brain that is incredibly important, especially as you age.

Also, it gives kids an opportunity to try something and feel good about themselves as they improve. Learning an instrument builds an immense amount of self-worth and confidence in a child. One phenomenal jazz musician is Adrian Crutchfield. A product of Arts+ and now a regular at Middle C Jazz, I want more of the “Adrians” in this community to be identified.

Purchase Your Copy of Noted Memories

Find a copy of the book online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble or at local retailers including Park Road Books and Middle C Jazz Club. A portion of all proceeds benefits Arts+ and helps to continue our mission of providing a quality arts education to students of all backgrounds.