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Tom Kitt on creating his album ‘Reflect’ amid the pandemic

Tony, Grammy, Emmy & Pulitzer Prize Winning Composer Tom Kitt, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the drive behind creating his studio album ‘Reflect’, how the pandemic impacted his career, and what’s to come in the coming months as Broadway reopens.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

RICHARD HAMMOND: I'm the bass player in "Hamilton."

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOUROS: Talk to me about the COVID protocols you as musicians have had to take.

RICHARD HAMMOND: "Hamilton" is taking COVID protocols really seriously. We all have to be vaccinated. Fortunately, none of us are playing wind instruments. So it's all strings or percussion.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOUROS: Oh, OK. So everybody can stay masked while playing the music?

RICHARD HAMMOND: Right.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOUROS: What are you looking forward to the most when the curtain goes back up?

TOM KITT: The feeling, the anticipation. Hearing those first few opening bars, it's pretty cool. And that was Hamilton musician Richard Hammond excited to be back at work and in the pit.

Of course, music is a huge draw on Broadway. And I'm joined now by one of the people who does it best, Tony, Grammy, Emmy, and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Tom Kitt. Tom, thanks so much for being here.

TOM KITT: Thank you for having me.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOUROS: Now, 2020 was supposed to be a huge year in your career. You had two shows that were going to open, "Flying Over Sunset" and "The Visitor." "Jagged Little Pill" was already open. And then it all stopped in March of 2020. Bring us back to that time and what it was like for you.

TOM KITT: It was quite traumatic. A lot of work, obviously, going into getting those shows right to the place where they were about to open and also suddenly realizing the fear of how you've been moving around New York. You've been congregating with your fellow artists, family, friends, and the uncertainty about going home and quarantining, how you were going to be feeling.

Were you sick? I have three children and my wife. Were we all OK? Were the people I care about?

It was just a very uncertain time. And a lot of things come at you at once. There's a feeling of loss. You're mourning what is not able to be. And then you're quite fearful and sad.

And New York, overnight, turned into sort of an unrecognizable city. Lots of people left, people walking around in masks. And you have a fear of even leaving your apartment.

So it's really hard to put into words. But it was very, very hard to get through.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOUROS: Very different situation behind us now. I mean, I know this town was a ghost town. I'm a native New Yorker. And it was eerily quiet and deserted during the pandemic. But during that time of reflection, you actually came out with some music. And your new album is aptly named, "Reflect." Talk to me about that.

TOM KITT: Well, one of the things that pulled me out of this initial state of not feeling like I wanted or could create something was this urgency, suddenly, to speak to this moment. And it was a conversation I had with my wife Rita, saying, the world needs artists now more than ever. We need to be speaking to this moment.

And I had actually run into somebody, or someone had recognized me in Central Park from "Next To Normal" and thanked me for that show and said it was really speaking to them in this moment. And that really made me feel like I had a responsibility to anyone that's going to find something to connect to in my work.

So I embarked on creating a song cycle which became an album, this album "Reflect." But I also knew it had to be a collaboration because my experience is just one. I wanted to speak to so many of the different experiences that my fellow artists, my community was going through in this moment. And I'm very proud of the songs that I have co-written with my fellow artists about a number of important feelings, issues, thoughts that they wanted to express in this song that has become the album "Reflect."

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOUROS: And you have some Broadway greats who you have teamed up with here. And did they write the lyrics? And they're also performing the songs?

TOM KITT: So I basically said to them, contribute anything in words, whether it's a poem, an essay, a monologue. Just write down something you want to express. And then I'll go craft a song, present it to you. And if you feel good about it, we'll record it. And that's basically how it went.

And everyone was always just-- it was so wonderful to see the response when I presented them with the song. There are a couple of songs also that were written before this moment that I felt were really, really spoke to it that I wanted to include.

And the other great thing is that my children, who have taught me so much in this moment, are all on the album.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOUROS: I'm with you, right? Because they're so resilient. And they somehow always find the brighter side of things.

TOM KITT: They had a great courage and resilience that I didn't have at first. And I really-- it was a moment where I realized I have to be dad again. I have to be part of this family unit and bring strength. And that was a wonderful realization. But it really came from their strength.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOUROS: How did you get this album even off the ground? Were you able to go into the studio? Did you all do it remotely? How did it go?

TOM KITT: We did it in the studio. And I have to give a major thanks and gratitude to Sony, Sony Masterworks, who made this album with me. From the beginning, my friend Scott Farthing said, we're going to do this from the studio. We're going to bring musicians and singers back. And I have to say, it was so emotional to see your friends and get back to this muscle memory of creating in the same space.

And this was before vaccines. So really, the protocols were safe. We felt wonderful. The Power Station took great care of us. And we were able to make an album in the way that we all love making records.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOUROS: So I guess you guys were tested regularly and lots of social distancing because people were singing--

TOM KITT: Exactly right.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOUROS: --which, I mean, was an bigger threat during COVID.

TOM KITT: Yes, yeah, so social distancing, testing, and of course, a constant maintenance to disinfect and make sure that, if anyone is going into a booth, they're having new stuff to sing with. So just making sure everyone was safe. That was the most important thing.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOUROS: So talk to me about the future. Here we are. We're reopening. What is the status of the shows that you were about to bring to the stage before the pandemic?

TOM KITT: Well, I'm happy to say that I began rehearsal for "The Visitor" at the Public Theater. This is actually my wristband to be able to get into rehearsal because we're all testing. And we have apps that we just make sure that it's safe for us all to be at rehearsal.

And "Jagged Little Pill" is going to begin performances in October. But we have a number of things that we're already starting on. And "Flying Over Sunset" at Lincoln Center also will begin rehearsals in October and start previews in November.

So I'm so grateful that these goalposts that have been moving around have firmly landed. And I can't tell you what it means to just be back on the train, going to rehearsal, being with my community, creating in the room. You realize what you've been missing.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOUROS: You feel like yourself again. And I can relate because we haven't been able to do this for a very long time, be out in the field and report. And it feels good. You're yourself again.

TOM KITT: Yes. It certainly feels that. So many things-- but there's just a gratitude and a sense of accomplishment at the end of your day that had been missing.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOUROS: Yeah. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, you're nominated for a Tony for "Jagged Little Pill?"

TOM KITT: Yes, correct.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOUROS: Coming up, the Tonys are going to be held in-person on September 26, I think at the Winter Garden Theater.

TOM KITT: Correct, yes.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOUROS: I mean, we started this segment by saying you're a Tony, Grammy, Emmy, and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer. Does it ever get old, Tom?

TOM KITT: It never gets old to be recognized by your peers, to be contributing to the world of theater in ways that have connected and moved people. And I've had a number of shows-- I'm very thankful-- on Broadway, some which have brought nominations, some which haven't. So you just realize, when this light shines on you, to really appreciate it, live in the moment, and just celebrate everyone who's a part of this, whether you're nominated or not.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOUROS: What would you tell young people coming up who want to get involved on the musical aspect of things, they want to compose or orchestrate for Broadway? If you could briefly just tell us what your path was. But what would your advice be to those people?

TOM KITT: My advice would be to just bring your voice, your authentic voice, the things that you feel, the things you care about and you want to write. About always bring that to what you're doing, no matter what the subject matter, no matter what the tone. Just spend this time learning, absorbing, and finding the artist that you want to be. And then do whatever you can to realize that voice and create something that is going to move and is going to be an important part of this world.

And I would say to all those young artists, we need you now more than ever, we truly do. This has been a really difficult time. I've spoken to a lot of young artists. And I want to be as supportive as I can to anyone that is dreaming of this. We need you now more than ever.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOUROS: Important message. And thank you for all the great work you do. Tom Kitt, we'll be watching the Tonys. I'm pulling for you.

TOM KITT: Thank you.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOUROS: "Jagged Little Pill." Thanks so much for being here.

TOM KITT: Thank you for having me.