Yazbek Jumps From 'Full Monty' to 'Damascus'

David Yazbek plans to use the notoriety he gained through "The Full Monty" -- even without winning a Tony -- to push "Damascus," the July 10 What Are Records? (W.A.R.?) release by his rock band, simpl

When "The Producers" swept the Tony Awards June 3, one man wasn't cheering: David Yazbek, composer of "The Full Monty." His Broadway show, nominated 10 times, was beaten by "The Producers" in every category. Yazbek himself lost the prize for best score -- to Mel Brooks.

"Here was Brooks, rolling the hype machine, and there was nothing I could do against it," Yazbek says, railing against the "inbred theater types" who voted for Brooks' musical.

If Yazbek seems bitter, he has found a silver lining. He plans to use the notoriety he gained through "The Full Monty" -- even without winning a Tony -- to push "Damascus," the July 10 What Are Records? (W.A.R.?) release by his rock band, simply named Yazbek. He says, "Thanks to 'The Full Monty,' my fan base will grow."

Yazbek is seldom seen without his trademark fedora. But over the years, he has worn many hats -- literally and figuratively. He won an Emmy Award as a writer for NBC's "Late Night With David Letterman" in the mid-'80s -- working on such skits as "Male Models Say the Darnedest Things" and "Fun With Velcro" -- before taking a job writing TV commercials.

"I have a propensity for writing catchy melodies, and unfortunately, I proved to be very talented at writing jingles," says Yazbek, who created spots for everything from beer to feminine-hygiene products. "You name it, we lubricated the suppository of commerce. I knew it was wrong, but it's hard to deny those checks in the mail."

Worried about his credibility, Yazbek left jingles behind. Writing music full-time, he created his best-known tune: the theme song for the PBS kids' game show "Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?"

After working with several rock bands, he formed his eponymous group and released "The Laughing Man" in 1996 and "Tock" in 1998, both on W.A.R.? Label president Rob Gordon says the albums "didn't do much" in the sales department.

Then a former bandmate recommended Yazbek to the creators of "The Full Monty," a musical based on the film about unemployed male factory workers who try to earn money by stripping. Aside from a college production, Yazbek had never written show music -- nor aspired to Broadway.

"I, along with many people of my generation, looked down on Broadway because the music that came out of it in the last 20 years was crap, this inbred musical theater lexicon that blows," Yazbek says. But he took a chance on "The Full Monty," hoping to make "the kind of show that I would like."

The show opened on Broadway last October, becoming one of the season's biggest hits. Yazbek was lauded as a hot new composer, winning a Drama Desk Award for his music in May.

Once "The Full Monty" opened, Yazbek returned to the studio to work on "Damascus." While the singer/songwriter says he remains "the czar, the pimp, president for life, and dictator," his band includes five other musicians -- all of whom play in the orchestra pit in his Broadway show. Paul Vercesi, Tony Orbach, and Kevin Batchelor play horns and reeds, while Chris Smylie joins on bass. Drummer Dean Sharenow also co-produced "Damascus" with Yazbek.

The band brings brash energy to Yazbek's sardonic lyrics and rollicking piano riffs. The tone of "Damascus" ranges from the wistful "A Million Miles" to the tongue-in-cheek "Sandy Koufax," featuring Yazbek singing to a cha-cha rhythm: "Is it good for baseball? Is it good for the Jews?"

The album's harmonies and driving tempo are reminiscent of Squeeze or XTC -- not surprising, since XTC leader Andy Partridge is a friend of Yazbek's and collaborated on the band's first two albums.

The label will release a single to triple-A radio stations in August. Yazbek -- who calls radio "a crapshoot" -- names "Everything You Want and Then Some" as a likely choice.

Yazbek's band won't mount a traditional tour. But as "The Full Monty" opens in Toronto, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, and around the world, he explains, "I can go any of these places, bring my band, play two or three gigs in that city and piggyback publicity."

Gordon admits that it's unusual to link a rock album to a show, but adds, "Anyone who enjoys "The Full Monty" will enjoy David's other music."

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