Jason Mraz talks NAMM award, ‘SHINE’ live show, Bernie Sanders

Jan. 16 (UPI) — Singer-songwriter Jason Mraz received the National Association of Music Merchants’ Music for Life award Thursday — an honor that encourages the musician, even if he feels a little young to receive it.

Mraz has been a pop radio mainstay for two decades, with hits including “I’m Yours,” “Lucky” and I Won’t Give Up,” but the 42-year-old singer told UPI in a recent interview that he feels overwhelmed to receive an award that has gone to musical mainstays Robbie Robertson, Nancy Wilson and Yoko Ono.

“The previous winners tend to have multiple decades under their belt of creating music, and I’ve only got two decades so far,” Mraz said. “So I feel a little young, but at the same time I’m encouraged and inspired to continue, thanks to acknowledgments like this.”

The Music for Life award “honors pioneering artists who, through their careers and artistic expression, have inspired others to pursue a more musical world,” the association said. Throughout his career, Mraz has worked to promote music and arts education through the Jason Mraz Foundation.

“I was very honored and privileged to grow up in a public school system that had arts education,” he said. “I’ve seen school systems that don’t have it and there’s a striking and dramatic difference. So I feel like all kids deserve that opportunity and a healthy, safe and fun environment.”

Mraz said arts programs contributed in a major way to his success.

“It’s what kept my grade-point average up,” he said. “I feel like I failed every other course, but art, music, instrument, vocal, drama — all the different performing arts, and even visual arts, gave me an interest unlike any other.

“So I wanted to make sure that my career had some version of making sure that programs like that continue to live in this world.”

Latest effort

Mraz’s latest effort to promote music education is SHINE, a two-day show Feb. 15-16 in San Diego that will feature performances from Mraz and arts students from several area programs.

He said the stage show will allow young artists “to be showcased in a big way,” but it’s “really secondary to what’s going on behind the scenes.”

“Behind the scenes, we’re empowering San Diego arts education programs to either create the kind of inclusive programs they’ve always wanted to create or to help them sustain their programs,” he said.

The singer said he was honored to have the opportunity to help create new arts programs as part of preparations for SHINE.

“For example, Malashock Dance, a longtime dance company in San Diego, has always wanted to create a program for students of all abilities, and through our partnership, we can help them create that program. And they will be featured in the SHINE performance,” he said.

“Similarly, San Diego Pride had always wanted to create a youth chorus, so through our partnership, we get to create a brand new program, the Queer Youth Chorus with San Diego Pride. So with programs like that we’re shining a light on arts education as a path to advance equality.”

‘Music is a unifier’

In 2019, Mraz was named the Recording Academy’s first District Advocacy Ambassador, leading a group of industry representatives in meetings with federal lawmakers. He said his discussions with senators and members of Congress included promoting the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2019, which would create a small-claims court to help songwriters in disputes with large corporations.

“There’s a lot of out-of-court settlements and unfairness happening in music today that could be better served with a small-claims court,” he said.

Mraz said his group also discussed an overhaul of how royalty payments are handled in the United States.

“Most people think if you’re on the radio, you’re making it big, but the only people who get paid off radio are the copyright owners,” he said. “All other countries in the world give royalties to artists, but not the U.S., so we were just asking the U.S. to get on board with every other country in the world and start acknowledging the artists that make music.”

The meetings took place on the same day that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced the Articles of Impeachment against President Donald Trump, making for a “tense time” on Capitol Hill.

Mraz said he was impressed to find that “it was still a time where these senators and congressmen were talking to us about our issues, which reminded me that music is a unifier.”

“Music is loved by all people, all sides. It doesn’t matter what party you’re affiliated with. Music touches all. And it was a real honor to be in D.C. as a representative for music to keep legislators … unified so they can continue to have resolvable conversations, to help hopefully advance a more equal and just America.”

Mraz said his desire for equality and justice is part of what drew him to U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and his run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“The way it’s skewed right now with capitalism having no limits, we’re a capitalist democracy and a lot of people are losing. We’re losing jobs, we’re losing health, we’re losing a lot,” he said. “A lot of people are homeless. It’s just sad.

“Whereas, in what is referred to as a socialist democracy, there would be more saving. We’d make sure the wealthy get taxed so there can be more money for the government to take care of its people. I think sharing is caring, and the more we share, the more we have. That’s really why I’m on his team, because it amplifies those messages of sharing.”

‘Look For The Good’

Mraz said the idea of unity plays heavily into his new music, which is expected out later in this year.

“I don’t want to say anything too soon because I don’t want to make promises or jinx it, but all I can say is it’s called Look For The Good, and I’m trying to breathe life into the goodness in this world,” he said.

“Because so often in the media we’re only shown what’s wrong, and everyone gets mad sometimes, and maybe they should, but it’s also important that we look for the good,” he said.

Mraz, who debuted the title track from the album at a live show in October, said the details of Look For The Good are being kept tightly under wraps, but the artist, who frequently records duets with other popular musicians, shared that his ideal partners for future collaborations include Neil Young, Willie Nelson and Dave Matthews.

“For some reason I always end up singing a love song with a female artist. So it might be nice to mix it up and see if I can get a love song with Dave Matthews in the catalog,” he said.