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Jazz-Fest chat with Brian Newman / BEDFORD & BOWERY

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The man sitting next to me at the Black Penny in the French Quarter is very tall, pencil thin, in a black T-shirt and trousers with a skull-and-cross-bones belt buckle. He leans into his Vieux Carre cocktail with his tattoo sleeves propped on the bar, his pin-striped jacket hanging under it. In New Orleans, he could be anybody-a rocker, a random tourist, just a guy. But in barely 24 hours, he'll be headlining Jazz Fest with a jazz legend and a pop superstar: Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga.

So I have to ask: is he nervous?

"I'm not nervous," Brian Newman says, and I believe him. "Anxious may be the right word. But I feel at home up there. Partly because I got all my boys with me, we memorize the music-there's no charts. I'm not nervous, but 40,000 people tomorrow? It's gonna be a little crazy. But I'm excited. It's like you spend your whole life getting ready for something like this, so when I get there I'm not nervous. I do drink a couple glasses of champagne, though, before. Just to take the edge off." He laughs, a hitching Midwestern laugh that is genuinely contagious. Turns out Newman laughs a lot. And he should-he seems to have arrived, and he and his wife, the burlesque star Angie Pontani, are also expecting their first child.