By Tanner Kent
The Free Press
MANKATO — Andy Stein is sort of like the Waldo of the musical world. You’ll spot him in any crowd.
There he is in the string section, playing the violin lick from “Georgia on My Mind” during a Ray Charles performance at Carnegie Hall. Now, he’s a 20-year regular on “A Prairie Home Companion” as the Powder Milk Biscuit Fiddler for The Guy’s All Star Shoe Band.
Over here, he’s opening for the Grateful Dead at the Hollywood Bowl as a founding member of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. Over there, he’s playing a solo in Disney’s “Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Elsewhere, he’s playing for two presidents, recording with Paul McCartney or accepting his first Grammy in 1978 in the category of Best Country Instrumental for his work with Asleep at the Wheel. (He’s since won a second as a member of Vince Giordana and the Nighthawks for their work with the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire”.)
Don’t blink — or you’ll miss Stein playing with the Mankato Symphony Orchestra during its Sunday concert “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”
“The performance will range from the sublime to the ridiculous,” said Stein, who has performed twice previously with the MSO. “I’m very psyched for this.”
In the case of Sunday’s concert, Stein said the sublime will come from the duo rendition of Mozart’s “Sinfonia Concertante” with MSO conductor Ken Freed — a man whom Stein said he has known for decades and praised as a “monster musician.”
Described on the MSO website as the “quintessential piece for two old friends to play together,” Mozart’s 1779 composition will be performed with Stein on violin and Freed on viola. A highly conversational piece, Stein said it is “definitely one of my favorite pieces that Mozart has ever written.”
Stein continued: “I was very flattered when (Freed) asked to play the piece with me. He could’ve asked anybody to play with him, I would think.”
The ridiculous portion of the concert, at least in Stein’s self-deprecating parlance, will comprise his selection of jazz standards. He’s re-arranged some of the tunes he played during his last appearance with the MSO and has added a few surprises as well.
“There will be a few novelty numbers I’m not at liberty to discuss,” he said.
With a manner of speaking and storytelling that is as colorful as the life experiences he’s gathered during a music career that began at age 3, it would be a shame not to include a few more of Stein’s musings:
-- On when he first met Ken Freed: “The first time we met, he was fresh out of college from Yale and he came to New York trying to make the scene. One of my friends was the conductor of a Broadway show I was doing and he needed a violin. (Freed) came in and wasn’t that hip yet in his green, straight-out-of-school life. But we stayed in touch. ... We have a lot of mutual friends from around New York when he was there just chopping. He knows a lot of people in my family. We go way back.”
-- On how he developed his eclectic tastes for music: “I’ve always been a misfit in my life. When I was 2 or 3 years old, someone gave me an ice cream cone. But instead of doing what every other kid does with an ice cream cone, I took a bite off the bottom. Everybody laughed at me.”
-- On recording “It’s Only a Paper Moon” on Paul McCartney’s 2012 album “Kisses on the Bottom”: “I got the gig because of Diana Krall. (McCartney) was looking for a violinist and she said, ‘Andy is your man.’ ... I worked the song up a bit but when (McCartney) showed up, he didn’t like what I did. Then I played it again and we got it on the first take after he told me what he wanted.”
-- On how cool it was to play for 22 years on “A Prairie Home Companion” with Garrison Keillor: “After 22 years, coolness kind of becomes irrelevant. It’s more like a feeling that you’re making a lot of people happy. You’re charged with the responsibility of making a great show and it can be stressful. We needed to come up with two hours of new material every week.”