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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Michel Legrand--An appreciation

Michel Legrand performs "The Windmills of Your Mind"

Michel Legrand, the French composer and winner of Academy Awards for the song “The Windmills of Your Mind” from The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) and the scores for Summer of ‘42 (1971) and Yentl (1983), died yesterday at 86.

“Michel Legrand wrote the music for one of my most treasured songs to perform, How Do You Keep the Music Playing?’” tweeted Tony Bennett, whose concert version of the Oscar-nominated song from the 1982 romantic comedy film Best Friends (sung by Patti Austin and James Ingram and written with Alan and Marilyn Bergman), invariably brings the house down.

Legrand was recognized by the Songwriters Hall of Fame with his induction in 1990.

“He was one of the first international composers to be inducted,” says the organization’s president/CEO Linda Moran. “His beautiful compositions have left us with indelible memories as a reminder of his awe-inspiring talent, not only as a composer but as a pianist and an arranger as well.”

Moran’s husband Mike Moran, a recording engineer, recalls working with Legrand and Lena Horne on the 1975 album Lena & Michel, which Legrand co-produced and arranged.

“They mutually admired and respected each other and had a great working relationship,” says Moran. “Michel was a phenomenal composer, arranger and pianist, and during the sessions his focus was totally on the music--and his cigar, which he would smoke down to the barest stub. The only time I saw him get upset was when I put the tiniest stub imaginable out and threw it away thinking he was finished with it. He yelled in French at his wife, who pointed the finger directly at me! That was the last time I ever did it.”

Legrand was a composer affiliated with the Association of Songwriters, Composers and Publishers (ASCAP), and Lena & Michel included songs by three future ASCAP presidents: Legrand co-wrote three with Hal David and another with Marilyn and Alan Bergman--David and Marilyn Bergman both later to lead ASCAP. Current ASCAP head Paul Williams co-wrote two songs with Kenny Ascher.

“He was wonderful,” Williams says of Legrand.

The Bergmans, meanwhile, were major song collaborators with Legrand.

Marilyn Bergman, in a 2014 interview quoted in the Hollywood Reporter’s Legrand obituary, said that he “writes like you turn on a faucet,” and rapidly wrote eight melodies for “The Windmills of Your Mind” tailored to the Thomas Crown Affair scene in which it would be used before the threesome agreed on the award-winning final one.

Legrand said he especially loved working with the Bergmans, and Barbra Streisand, for whom they wrote the songs for Yentl, including two that were Oscar-nominated (“The Way He Makes Me Feel” and “Papa, Can You Hear Me?”

“I had the pleasure of first working with Michel in 1966 when he arranged my French album Je m’appelle Barbra, and we worked together many times since,” Streisand tweeted yesterday. “He wrote the music for Yentl. His beautiful music will live on forever. I will treasure the memories I have of working with him.”

Legrand also collaborated with the estimable likes of Miles Davis, Quincy Jones, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Frank Sinatra.

“Ever since I was a boy, my ambition has been to live completely surrounded by music,” he wrote on his website. “My dream is not to miss out on anything. That’s why I’ve never settled on one musical discipline.”

A statement issued by Legrand’s management company noted that he “changed the meaning of music in films with his sense of rhythm and his absolute passion for life.” French President Emmanuel Macron called him an “indefatigable genius [who composed] unique tunes that run through our heads and are hummed in the streets [and] have become like the soundtracks of our lives.”

Legrand’s music, concluded Tony Bennett in his tweet, “will last forever and we will keep singing it. He was a wonderful composer and beautiful human being and he will be missed.”



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