The two-time Oscar winner is one of seven in his family to make a living writing music for movies -- three uncles, two cousins, one nephew. "I didn't think of it as the family business," Newman says by phone from New Mexico. He's on a tour -- happily interrupted by the Academy Awards -- that brings him to Tilles Center tomorrow.
"There are a lot of musicians in the family -- both sides," Newman understates.
As a kid, Newman, 67, didn't think he could write music. Fortunately, he says, "I outgrew my lack of confidence." Besides Oscars for "If I Didn't Have You" ("Monsters Inc.") and "We Belong Together" ("Toy Story 3"), he's earned a Grammy for "Toy Story 3" and an Emmy for "When I'm Gone," a song written for the "Monk" finale.
To his oldest fans, Randy Newman remains the sardonic political/social commentator with the Southern twang on such albums as "Sail Away," featuring the title song that poses as a slave-trader's sales pitch to prospective African "tourists." Or, from the same album, "Political Science," with the refrain: "They all hate us anyhow/So let's drop the big one now."
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Although the song is about nuclear weapons -- "boom goes London and boom Paree/More room for you and more room for me" -- and not nuclear reactors, Newman noticed his Santa Fe audience squirming during a concert following the disaster in Japan. "It usually gets a bigger laugh," he says.
"The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 2," recorded in the man-with-his-piano style that characterizes his concerts, is the excuse for the tour. But his playlist includes songs from each of his albums and many of his scores.
LONG AND SHORT
With all his mischievously funny songs (encouraging a striptease, he sings "You Can Leave Your Hat On") and astutely historical ones ("The World Isn't Fair," a lament to Karl Marx for being too idealistic), does it bother him that he's best known for "Short People"? "Not at all," he says. "The first sentence of my obituary will be about the Oscars. And the second sentence, 'Short People.' It's a good song."
Newman says he's 5-foot-11 1 / 2, "although I've probably shrunk a little."
WHAT: Randy Newman in concert
INFO: $32-$67; tillescenter.org, 516-299-3100