When you think of INSPIRE, the philanthropic event hosted at The Venetian that raises money for the Sands Cares Accelerator Program (a community partnership designed to supercharge local nonprofits), there is a handful of names that come to mind as a fitting musical headliner. One is Jewel, who headlined last year’s event. Another is Jason Mraz, the crunchy acoustic pop-rocker responsible for a song—the song—that likely played at your wedding or a wedding you recently attended: “I’m Yours.”
Mraz knows about philanthropy. He has his own Jason Mraz Foundation, which supports arts education for young people. Moreover, he has, in his 16-year career in music (during which he’s released five albums), championed social justice and equality. The only thing that’s changed in all that time is he’s fully embraced his role as a servant of song, touching people’s lives with music in a meaningful way. This mission is apparent in his recent single “Have It All,” the lyrical sentiment of which is the result of having encountered a Buddhist monk during a trip to Myanmar a few years ago. The monk bestowed a blessing upon Mraz, which the singer-songwriter used as a lyrical springboard. Indeed, with its buoyant, reggae vibe, it’s the perfect song for the current moment, reminding us to shrug off despair and to reach for greatness, to embrace the unlikely path. (Mraz even paraphrases the poet Robert Frost in “Have It All”: And may the road less paved be the road that you follow. It feels suspiciously like Mraz wrote the song for a child—a nephew, niece, godson or goddaughter.
“My wife and I have yet to have the experience of raising kids, but I do have nieces and nephews, quite a few of them,” says Mraz during a recent phone chat with Vegas Seven. “I think a lot about the world in which they’re growing up. But I tend to write for my inner child. We beat ourselves up as adults in our pursuit of happiness. I find that if I keep a playful attitude when writing, I connect musically with children of all ages.”
Middle-school kids surround Mraz, 40, in the video for “Have It All,” which was filmed in Mraz’s hometown of Richmond, Virginia. He admits, though, that being a preteen wasn’t easy or much fun—it is, after all, an awkward age.
“I like visiting different schools and showing students that you can make a living in the arts, and that being imaginative and creative will help you in any field. I laugh when the students say they’re too cool for school, which is an attitude many kids can throw at you. But I can I bring them back down to earth with a song.”
Mraz had his own ego checked last year when he joined the cast of the Broadway musical Waitress for 14 weeks in the role of Dr. Jim Pomatter. Mraz always dabbled in musical theater, but now you can detect in his voice a new elasticity and confidence.
“Yeah, I loved it,” he says. “My whole career has been about me pushing myself to secure work on my own. Doing the Broadway thing was about me working for someone else so I couldn’t just phone it in. I couldn’t cut corners or be lazy. The show was already a hit and I wanted to keep it that way. It transformed me in such a short time and brought a new energy to my latest songs.”
You’d think he’d have outgrown the acoustic-folk coffeehouse scene in which he cut his teeth and be happy not to be interrupted by the sudden hiss of a cappuccino machine. Instead, Mraz continues to bask in the open-mic format.
“Man, I still play those venues,” he says. “I still perform at the Java Joe’s in San Diego once a month when I’m home. It’s an opportunity for me stay in touch with my instrument, to feel like I really know what I’m doing. If there’s a long period of time between tours, I stay grounded by playing open mics. I feel like I have the best of all worlds: I can play big shows and intimate ones.”
Does he ever worry he’s being too positive? Does he ever yearn to don a black leather jacket and dark shades and play the bad boy?
“I tried that costume on a couple of times and it didn’t work with who I am,” he says. “It’s hard to carry that much baggage around, that much ego. The only songs of mine that make it to the finish line are the ones that have a positive vibration.”
When I mention that Wikipedia confirms his other occupation—avocado farmer—he admits that it’s time for him to pen an original avocado jingle.
“You know, you’re not the first person to tell me that,” he laughs. “I’ve written other food songs, songs mentioning coffee and chocolate. So I should probably get around to doing a guac ’n’ roll tune.”
Maybe just change the words in the Eagles hit “Desperado” to “Avocado”?
“No, that could get really expensive,” he warns.
Jason Mraz headlines INSPIRE at The Venetian on Friday, May 18, at 8 p.m. For tickets and info, go to venetian.com.