Artistry and power

A folk rock duo pays tribute to Simon & Garfunkel

PUTNEY — Forever Simon & Garfunkel, a musical tribute group, will perform at Next Stage Arts Project on Wednesday, July 12. This duo of Sean Altman, 62, and Jack Skuller, 27, has been called a “Spring-Winter musical bromance,” since the two have a three-decade age difference.

Next Stage co-founder Billy Straus, a Putney resident, met Altman in college in the early 1980s. The two have enjoyed a lifelong friendship and musical collaboration, including work on the PBS television series Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? - Altman wrote the famous theme song - as well as numerous albums.

Straus recalls the genesis of Altman and Skullers' Forever Simon & Garfunkel work when he was sharing a cab ride with the two musicians, who perform together as The Everly Set, a tribute act honoring the work of the Everly Brothers.

“We were on our way back from scouting a recording studio in Queens and riding through a blizzard in a yellow cab,” Straus recalls. “Passing the sign to get on the Ed Koch Bridge, I remarked that 'any New Yorker of a certain age will always know this as the 59th Street Bridge.'

“Sean, who is of that age, started riffing: '...slow down, you move too fast...' and Jack immediately kicked in with the harmony part - a perfect, impromptu a cappella rendition of 'Feelin' Groovy.'”

Straus goes on to say, “The vocal blend was seamless and it planted the seed of putting together a whole night of this songbook. They had already dabbled in S&G material. Their first time singing live together was in NYC's Losers Lounge tribute series when Jack was just 14. They did a stellar performance of 'Mrs. Robinson' - also a highlight of the current show.”

Altman, widely regarded as “the Father of Modern A Cappella” for his 11 years of work with Rockapella - an American a cappella music group he formed in 1986 in New York City - has also released six albums of original songs. His work has been featured in TV and radio, including Saturday Night Live, NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, and Schoolhouse Rock.

Altman has twice performed at the White House, has shared concert stages with Billy Joel, Steve Miller, Whoopi Goldberg, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Jay Leno, and Joey Ramone, and has recorded with Steve Miller, XTC, John Cale, Richie Havens, and They Might Be Giants.

Skuller lives in Union City, New Jersey, and signed his first recording contract at 14 years old. His debut single, “Love Is a Drum,” was called “arguably the best single released by anyone [that] year” by The Examiner, and The New York Post labeled him “a mini Jack White.”

As a teen, Skuller performed his original music for thousands of people across the U.S. as a Disney recording artist. He's appeared on FOX-TV's Good Day New York, on Amy Poehler's Smart Girls, and with the Grammy Foundation. His music was selected for an ASPCA campaign. The Songwriters Hall of Fame recognized Skuller with the Buddy Holly Prize.

He found early success and had a blues rock band, The Skullers, which is still played on the radio today. Then he put out his first full-length solo album of originals, Draw the Lucky Card.

When reached at home, Skuller adds, “Sean and I are very lucky we get to perform our favorite songs and be ourselves for a couple of hours. It's really special to be able to elicit such a profound response from the audience with these classic songs and rich history.”

“When I met Sean in N.Y.C. at the Losers Lounge, we were paired to sing 'Mrs. Robinson,' and we had such a great blend. We kept the friendship alive, and whenever we ran into each other through the years we picked up a guitar and sang Everly Brothers songs.”

About their chemistry Skuller notes, “When I'm performing with Sean, it's really pure joy because we love the music and we love singing together. We truly started The Everly Set for fun. I didn't expect us to be on the road for most of the year. It was kind of a lucky thing.”

Skuller adds, “We're different kinds of performers but it works. We appreciate and respect each other a lot. There's a lot of humor in the show and we can be self-deprecating. Sean is one of the youngest people I know at heart!”

Keith Marks, Next Stage Arts Project executive director, notes that Simon & Garfunkel's legacy “can't be understated - they forged a new chapter in American music. This tribute to Paul [Simon] and Art [Garfunkel] is beyond an evening of great music - it's a celebration of the artistry and power of the music.”

Skuller concludes, “If Paul and Art were to see our show today, I hope they would appreciate our dedication to the integrity of their music. I think they would really like our Everly Brothers show since that is the music they grew up on.”

“We are always thrilled to perform at Next Stage in Putney. The acoustics are great, we love the town and we always hang out at the Putney Diner. We love to have fun and we are unapologetically ourselves. We hope to transport the audience to a time when these songs first took the world by storm.”

The Commons spoke with Altman to talk about Forever Simon & Garfunkel and The Everly Brothers tributes and the “musical bromance.” Here's an excerpt.

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Victoria Chertok: I'm interested that you have ties to the local area. How did you and Billy Straus first connect?

Sean Altman: Billy and I met when he recorded my folk duo, my college a cappella group and my new wave band at Brown University.

My band idolized Billy's band Redline, so we were friends and he was a mentor. When I was out of school and formed Rockapella, Billy was our first producer and frequent song collaborator. We still work together on a lot of projects.

V.C.: Tell me about your two tributes and what you're doing musically today.

S.A.: Jack and I created our Everly Brothers tribute, The Everly Set, in 2015. We created Forever Simon & Garfunkel in 2020.

The Everly Brothers were Simon and Garfunkel's biggest influence. In 1957, when their “Bye Bye Love” and “Wake Up Little Susie” first hit the airwaves, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were 15 years old and were huddled over their transistor radios in Queens, New York, mesmerized by the sound of Phil and Don.

They were signed as a teen duo called Tom & Jerry and they had a top 40 single “Hey Schoolgirl” which was basically an Everly soundalike, but they were still dropped by their record label within a year.

They both went off to their respective colleges and didn't reunite until 1964, after Paul had polished his songwriting chops and had become infatuated with Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and the burgeoning folk movement.

It felt very natural for me and Jack, having mastered the Everly hits, to add the Simon & Garfunkel repertoire.

V.C.: Right! You're still touring with the Everly Set, as well as Forever Simon & Garfunkel?

S.A.: Yes, in fact, it's interesting because in any given week we'll be doing both concerts, so it keeps it fresh for us.

V.C.: What is your vocal part?

S.A.: As a middle-aged man, I've somehow figured out how to sing the high parts of twentysomething Art Garfunkel, which has its challenges!

V.C.: I'm sure. You met Jack at a variety show?

S.A.: Yeah, In 2010, 14-year-old Jack and I were paired to sing one song at a variety show, and we had an instant vocal blend. We started guesting at each other's solo concerts, and we formed The Everly Set when he was 18. We started out doing house concerts but soon signed with an agent in Los Angeles and have been touring together for six years.

V.C.: How many shows do you perform in one year?

S.A.: Last year we probably did almost 100. It was our biggest year because we had full national tours. Maybe 50 shows each of both acts.

V.C.: That's incredible! What is it about this music that keeps people wanting more?

S.A.: Simon & Garfunkel's music helped define many people's youth, including my own. I feel privileged to be able to perform these songs, as I'm such a fan myself! There are so many hits that Jack and I had to really work to squeeze in a few of our favorite deep cuts.

Of course, we do all the classics: “Sound of Silence,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “The Boxer,” “I Am a Rock,” “Cecilia,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “Hazy Shade of Winter,” “Only Living Boy in New York,” “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy),” as well as a few of Paul Simon's solo songs that lend themselves to two-part harmony.

V.C.: Do you think it's also a kind of nostalgia for that time - the '60s and '70s?

S.A.: Yeah, absolutely! And I was at the 1981 Central Park concert when they reunited. Over a half a million people were there, and it's now considered one of the greatest shows of all time.

Simon & Garfunkel was the first group that I really fell in love with. And when I was a kid, I was listening to those records. My parents had them, and I was subconsciously memorizing all the parts. It was very useful when Jack and I started working on the vocals because I already knew both parts.

Learning the guitar parts was a lot more challenging. That's where Jack really shines, because Paul's guitar playing was very inventive. Jack was more of a rocker than a folk picker, and he had to study Paul's parts. He does a wonderful job of recreating some of those beautiful guitar parts.

Jack and I do a lot of shows as a duo, and we also do a lot of shows with a bass player and a drummer. The duo shows have a particular intimacy that we love, and it's also more authentic to Simon & Garfunkel heyday performances.

We don't try to look like them and we're not dressing like them. We feel like we're leading the audience on a celebration of the music.

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Forever Simon & Garfunkel performs, Wednesday, July 12 at 7 p.m. at Next Stage, 15 Kimball Hill, downtown Putney. Tickets are $20 in advance ( and $24 at the door, or $10 for livestream. Next Stage will provide a beer, wine, and cocktail cash bar. See the website for more information, or call 802-387-0102.

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