For all the platinum albums and Grammys that he’s accrued, being a performer is what really revs Jason Mraz’s creative engine. He’ll be bringing his “Good Vibes” tour to the McGrath Amphitheatre in Cedar Rapids on Sunday night (8/26).
Another aspect of his creative drive landed him on Broadway, playing the role of Dr. Jim Pomatter in the Sara Bareilles musical, “Waitress,” during a 10-week run he completed earlier this year.
For someone who lives to play before a crowd, “Waitress” was the perfect opportunity for Mraz to put his performing skills in a different context.
“It has been a dream gig that I never thought would come in my lifetime, but I’m so glad it did,” Mraz said in a recent phone interview. “It was a blast. As a performer, the greatest part was just being able to perform. With Broadway, you get to do it eight times a week and you don’t have to travel. You don’t have to sleep on a bus or an airplane. You just go to the same place every day and perform to an excited crowd. There’s no better deal than that.
“I got to leave Jason Mraz upstairs in the dressing room and I got to be Dr. Pomatter and sing his songs that were written by Sara (Bareilles). And that’s a joy, too, as a performer because when I have to do my show, I have to figure out my set-list and what the narrative and story that my audience is going to go through,” he said.
“There’s so much ego, narcissism and neuroses that goes into being a performing songwriter, and I got to put all that aside and go downstairs and just be a performer, which is all I ever wanted to do in the first place. So this was a thrill.”
Born and raised in Mechanicsville, Va., Mraz was back in New York City for Broadway on a temporary full-time basis for the first time since the mid-1990s, when he attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. He’s found the second time around to be fulfilling and certainly more lucrative.
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“When I was 18, I did come here for music theater school and I spent a year here from the summer of 1995 to the summer of 1996. But I dropped out of school immediately and I just started playing guitar and being wowed by drummer circles, poets and guitar players in Washington Square Park and Central Park,” he said.
“I didn’t have a dime in my pocket. I was working in Barnes & Noble bookstore up on 81st or 82nd Street on the Upper West Side. I was spending all my free time at the park and I decided instead of being competitive and auditioning for jobs, I was just going to write my own songs and play in the park or a coffee shop, because it was instant.
“Since then, I’ve come back a lot to play in all the theaters in the city and I’ve spent time here as a vacationer and a tourist visiting friends. But to be here with a job feels very special. I’m not just hanging out. I’m here with a purpose. I’ve got a little walking around money in my pocket, which doesn’t hurt and which I didn’t have when I was 18. I feel very privileged. I know it’s such a rare opportunity that this is for anyone. It feels pretty darn special.”
Mraz first met “Waitress” composer Bareilles at the 2009 Grammys, when both performers were nominated (and subsequently lost) while attending with their respective moms. It was a fortuitous meeting that led to greater things down the road.
“We’d both known each other through the radio scene and some mutual friends, but that was the night that we actually met. And I found out how hilarious, kind and down-to-earth she is and we’ve been acquaintances since then,” he said. “We’ve become friends more in the last couple of years through the community and obviously even closer now that we’ve been collaborating on this show.”
Mraz was well established as a solo music artist by the time he attended the 2009 Grammys. His 2002 album, “Waiting for My Rocket to Come,” produced the hit single “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry).” Then his career hit a new peak in 2008, when his song “I’m Yours” cracked the top 10 on Billboard magazine’s all-genre Hot 100 singles chart, and that success was followed by another top 10 multi-chart hit, “I Won’t Give Up,” from his 2012 album, “Love is a Four Letter Word.”
With his Broadway run having ended, the Virginia native has gotten back to music and has released “Know,” his first new album since 2014’s “Yes!,” on Aug. 10.
The new release will feel comfortable to fans of Mraz’s other albums. It features the same kind of easygoing, melodically inviting folk-inflected pop that has always defined his music, whether it’s on the bouncy “Have It All” and “Making It Up,” the sunny romance of “Let’s See What the Night Can Do,” the sweet balladry of the single “More Than Friends” (which features Meghan Trainor trading verses with Mraz). Any of the aforementioned songs sound like they could go on to add to Mraz’s collection of hit singles.
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For now, extensive touring, both solo and with a band, will fill up much of the rest of 2018. Between his creative success and a couple other major projects, the singer-songwriter feels he’s in a really good place in his career.
One of those soul-filling efforts is the Mraz family farm. “My wife and I practice regenerative agriculture and we do the best we can to make the farm itself sustainable — environmentally and economically,” he said. “It’s a new passion project.”
He also pours time and energy into the Jason Mraz Foundation. “We spent all of last year digging and digging into more than 100 programs in San Diego to see what exists and to see where there’s a need. This year, we are partnering and staffing, and in 2019, we’ll be launching some programs in San Diego,” he said.
He also felt some urgency to get his new album finished.
“(My label and I) know that this show (“Waitress”) has brought a lot of attention and awareness to us, so we shouldn’t wait any longer. It’s been four years since I put an album out,” he said.
WHAT: Jason Mraz with Brett Dennen
WHERE: McGrath Amphitheatre, 475 First St. SW, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sunday (8/26)
TICKETS: $58 to $98 reserved seating, $44 general admission; U.S. Cellular Center Box Office, 1-(800) 745-3000 or Mcgrathamphitheatre.com/events