With words and music, Art Garfunkel back in fine voice

Art Garfunkel will perform is at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Friday and Saturday nights.
Art Garfunkel will perform is at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Friday and Saturday nights. (RICK DIAMOND / Getty Images)
Posted: March 07, 2014

I had to ask.

Art Garfunkel is playing shows at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Friday and Saturday nights. On one of those nights - Friday, to be precise - Paul Simon, whose surname is forever hitched to Garfunkel's by an unspoken ampersand, is also in town, playing the Wells Fargo Center on his tour with Sting.

So . . . ?

"Now, Sam, I'm going to get very careful," Garfunkel deadpanned on the line from his home in New York. "Let's see what Mr. Adams wants to do with this connection." In addition to an angelic, virtually matchless voice that has finally mended after several years of vocal-cord trouble, it turns out Garfunkel is possessed of a fine, dry wit, which must come in handy when he's asked the inevitable questions about another Simon & Garfunkel reunion.

"Will I be at Paul's show Friday night?" he said. "No, I'm doing my show. I'll be busy working." That Garfunkel is working at all is significant news, given that he was forced to retire from singing for several years due to vocal-cord paresis, which left him able to sing but without the precision and the strength he'd been honing since he first heard his voice bouncing off the tiles in the hallway of his elementary school.

For most of 2010 and 2011, Garfunkel saw doctors who told him there was a problem with his voice - which he knew, thanks - but eventually he started booking concerts again, playing to intimate crowds with strict instructions not to make recordings or mention them online. The career-spanning two-disc compilation The Singer, released in 2012, made a compelling case for the significance of Garfunkel's entire oeuvre, not just as Simon's indispensable harmonist but also as a formidable interpreter in his own right.

But he couldn't drive the point home with the solo shows that would naturally have accompanied its release. "There is no word more important in the performing arts, in my opinion, than relax," he said. "It's from relaxation that you breathe and you have comfort in your voice and you have comfort in those high notes. But 20 shows later, by the late spring [of 2012,] I was starting to feel pretty good. I got my stage legs back, and I started relaxing."

The shows on Garfunkel's current tour break into three parts: Singing, accompanied only by Tab Laven's guitar; a post-performance Q&A with the audience; and between songs, Garfunkel reading from his own writings.

"They're these one-page or half-page things," he explained. "They aren't poetic, but they're prose poems." Lest it seem he's turned to writing the way a washed-up actor or retired politician discovers watercolors, Garfunkel has been writing for his entire career, from the liner notes to Wednesday Morning, 3 AM, Simon & Garfunkel's first album, to a prose collection, Still Water, published by E.P. Dutton in 1989.

"I'm an old Columbia College guy," he said. "I speculate philosophically. I look at show business from my interesting vantage point. And I'm really loving the fun of, I guess it's the art of saying your stuff. You can sing artfully. You can speak your bits with artistry. And I'm getting into that."


MUSIC

An Intimate Evening with Art Garfunkel

7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Van Pelt Auditorium, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Tickets: $65. Information: 800-298-4200 or www.comcasttix.com.

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