After meeting on a plane, Murray and celebrated German cellist Jan Vogler have teamed up for a quirky show that includes readings from the likes of Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and Walt Whitman backed by chamber music, as well as songs by George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Foster.
“We were boarding an Air Berlin flight from Berlin to Newark,” Murray said. “I saw Jan carrying this strange-shaped box and I said, ‘Are you going to be able to fit that in the overhead compartment?’.
“He looked at me like I had a head wound or something and said, ‘It has its own seat. And not only does it have its own seat in first class, it has the window seat in first class.’
“That’s when I thought, ‘Ok, I don’t know what I’m talking about here with this fella’.”
Vogler’s Stradivari cello sparked a friendship that turned into a creative partnership after he saw Murray sing Bare Necessities in The Jungle Book.
“I took my kids to the movies and I thought, ‘Wow, this is great. We have a lot of elements here’,” Vogler said.
They released the album New Worlds last year and have been performing around the world with Chinese violinist Mira Wang – Vogler’s wife – and Venezuelan pianist Vanessa Perez.
The famously deadpan Murray said there was comedy even in a show that included solemn literary readings.
“Their playing is so good, too, that it’s kind of dazzling. We sort of dazzle them at first then we send our people through to go through their pockets and purses and take things.”
Speaking on the Opera House steps, Murray was looking forward to performing at the city’s most famous building.
“From this angle, which I’ve never stood at, it looks like a conquistador’s helmet,” he said. “You must enjoy getting to wake up to it every day because it’s always changing, right?”
Bill Murray, Jan Vogler & Friends is at Sydney Opera House on Friday and Saturday then in Brisbane on November 16 and Melbourne on November 17.
Garry Maddox is a Senior Writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.