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Eight Real Estate Guys Who Rock the Mic

New York

These guys may have opted to keep their day jobs, but they stay active in the music scene, too. There are jazz and piano in the mix, but classic rock (or just rock, as it was known when they were young) tops the Billboard commercial real estate charts.

LES Legend Jimmy Kuhn


You may know him as Newmark Grubb Knight Frank prez, keyboard player and backup vocalist for classic rock cover band Square Feeet (three Es because the URL for Square Feet was taken, next playing The Red Lion on March 28), or, if you hung around Stuy Town in the early ’60s, as lead singer of Jimmy & the Jelly Beans. Jimmy’s Stuyvesant High bandmates were well known on the LES, he says, because they were four redheads, three of them with Beatles ’dos (Jimmy’s hair was too curly), who threw jelly beans into the crowd. Jimmy also played with E Street Band keyboardist Roy Bittan during Rockaways summers as a kid. Square Feeet, meanwhile, started in-house to play the Newmark Christmas party and evolved into the group above, snapped at their first gig, in 2002: Mike Levy (who’s since relocated to Tampa), David Katzman, Jimmy, Nick Cangemi, Billy Mendelson, and Mike Stein. They practice once a week and play at venues like Prohibition and, recently, their first wedding reception after party. What Jimmy really wanted to be was a songwriter, but student debt led him to real estate.

Carl Schwartz, the New Bob Geldof


Steve Friedman

The Hunton & Williams global real estate co-head and his band Normal by Day headline the annual Real Estate Rockers for Relief (this past October’s concert, the third, pulled in $80k for JDRC). Carl’s been playing bass since he was 12 (he’s now a lead singer, as well), and he's been playing with some of his bandmates for 30 years. At Union college, he was part of The Edward Fox Blues Band (Carl lived in Fox Hall dorm and his guitar player in Edwards House). Now Normal by Day plays three or four times a year, often at 55 Bar on Christopher Street. He and Procida Advisors’ Billy Procida also played a few songs with The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir in Orlando, including "Good Lovin’" (Carl borrowed the Wallflowers’ Greg Richling’s bass for the opportunity). His kids are musical, too: Andrew sang in the Metropolitan Opera’s children’s choir, and Emily Warren is a successful indie pop artist.

Deadhead Billy Procida


Procida Funding’s founder plays guitar and offers vocals for his band billypaluzza, which plays five or six times a year, but his street cred really stems from his Grateful Dead connections. He’s seen the band and its spinoffs more than 1,000 times and claims Bob Weir and Dead manager and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti among his company’s investors. Billy also went into business with Jeff and Dead instrument tech AJ Santella after they invented a padding for a sleep apnea mask, turning the $50k company into a $5M one in a year. Then there was a time Billy took Lil' Kim to a Dead concert. Rather, it was Bob’s spinoff band Furthur, and the sold-out concert came hours after Billy, Bob, and Lil' Kim co-hosted a fundraiser for Table to Table.

From CBGB to CMBS: Chris LaBianca


Before he was a banker, Chris was a bass player for a new wave/mod band called The New Breed. It was high school, his favorite band was The Jam, and he played venues like CBGB, which closed in '06, and Kenny’s Castaways, which shuttered six years later. When a record contract didn't materialize and the chance to open for Cheap Trick fell through, the group disbanded. If he’s playing Paul Weller a little loud in his UBS office, pay him no mind; he’s just dealing with slightly damaged hearing from his club days. Chris joined UBS in May, returning to his CMBS roots after five years at RCG|Longview, where he spent the post-recession years running a high-yield debt fund. CMBS production doubled from 2012 to '13, and while that acceleration can’t continue, he says, the momentum bodes well for his industry.

The Man Who Chose Real Estate Over Music: Jedd Nero


This CBRE retail EVP had established himself as a professional musician, touring stadiums, Carnegie Hall, even the White House as the drummer with his father, famed pianist and conductor Peter Nero (40 albums and 1961’s Grammy-winning Best New Artist). Jedd also was doing songwriting on the side. He got his first drum set when he was 7 and taught himself those and the piano—and he was a paid musician by age 13, the youngest to join Woodbury’s Steven Scott Orchestra. Above, Jedd (on the right) and Peter were on a three-week tour with Mel Torme that played a formal White House dinner on Feb. 28, 1984, for Austria president Rudolf Kirschlager, the Reagans, and guests like Phyllis Diller and Dom DeLuise. Eventually, Jedd decided being on the road was not for him. A friend who was making oodles of money in residential real estate encouraged him to get into the industry, though he says commercial real estate, especially retail, truly is creative, too.

Jazz Afficionado Jim Wacht


We snapped the Lee & Associates NY prez (right) with attorney Adam Leitman Bailey and latin jazz great Arturo O’Farrill (son of big band leader Chico O’Farrill) backstage at a concert at Symphony Space on the UWS. Jim was always a jazz fan, and after college, he worked for a year as a Wisconsin public radio jazz DJ. Lacking the depth of knowledge public radio donors/fans demand, Jim moved on to real estate, whereupon one of his tenants, manager for Arturo’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, introduced them. They became fast friends and remain so (they had dinner together last night), and Jim has sat on Arturo’s Afro Latin Jazz Alliance board in past years, helping bring instruments and music teachers to Bronx and Brooklyn public school students.

Musical Philanthropist Joel Breitkopf


This Alchemy Properties principal started playing guitar nine years ago and plays in a Westchester-based band called Maybe, whose logo is similar to that of Yes. Joel also says the name recalls the classic rock band members’ commitment to practice. In December, he launched a musical therapy program called Helping Our Heroes at the Music Conservatory of Westchester. Long a fan of the idea of music therapy, he was picking up his daughter from a dance class there last March and looking at the bulletin board for vocal lessons (Maybe was about to debut at a battle of the bands). That’s when he saw that the conservatory offered therapy for kids with autism and seniors. He asked whether it had a program for vets. The conservatory didn’t but had gotten VA approval, and thus Joel became sponsor for the program, now serving 10 vets in the Bronx-to-White Plains corridor (a dozen are on the waiting list). Above is Joel on the Intrepid, where he, one of those vets, and the conservatory’s executive director closed out the Veterans Day celebration with "Amazing Grace." He also caught a Neil Young concert last night at Carnegie Hall.