Le­gendary Legrand

Michel Legrand has writ­ten hun­dreds of film scores and col­lab­o­rated with many renowned mu­si­cians and singers. Ahead of the French com­poser’s 85th-birth­day show at Dubai Opera, Rob Gar­ratt re­flects on a re­mark­able ca­reer

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ichel Legrand is a man with strong opin­ions. Dur­ing a 2011 in­ter­view, the com­poser de­scribed Bar­bra Streisand as “very tem­per­a­men­tal and very de­mand­ing – peo­ple don’t like it very much”, and dis­missed all of Ital­ian opera, say­ing “most of it you have to put it in the bin”.

What­ever you think of his out­spo­ken views, the French­man is a pro­lific tal­ent. Best-known as a film com­poser, he claims to have scored more than 250 movies, work­ing with di­rec­tors rang­ing from Hol­ly­wood icons Or­son Welles and Clint East­wood to art-house leg­ends Jean-Luc Go­dard and An­drzej Wa­jda.

Also a re­spected pi­anist, per­former and band­leader, the di­verse mu­si­cal tal­ents he has worked with in­clude Streisand, Miles Davis, Ray Charles and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.

Born in 1932, Legrand’s first mu­si­cal love was jazz. His fa­ther, con­duc­tor and com­poser Ray­mond Legrand, left when his son was very young.

Dis­play­ing an in­nate tal­ent for the pi­ano, Legrand en­tered the Paris Con­ser­va­tory at the age of 10, where he stud­ied un­der Na­dia Boulanger – also an in­flu­en­tial men­tor to Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, As­tor Pi­az­zolla and Quincy Jones. How­ever, Legrand of­fended his tu­tor by mov­ing to jazz and pop­u­lar song, be­com­ing mu­si­cal di­rec­tor to Mau­rice Che­va­lier and or­ches­trat­ing songs for Édith Piaf and Yves Mon­tand.

In 1954, when he was 22, Legrand was paid US$200 (Dh734) for his de­but al­bum I Love Paris, fea­tur­ing easy-lis­ten­ing ar­range­ments of jazz stan­dards. It was a hit in sub­ur­ban Amer­ica, sell­ing seven mil­lion copies in two years. The de­lighted record com­pany re­warded the achieve­ment by giv­ing Legrand a blank cheque for his next pro­ject. He used the money to re­cruit a dream team of the best jazz play­ers in the world – Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans – for three band ses­sions that would be re­leased as Legrand Jazz in 1959. Be­fore that, he com­posed his first film score in 1955, for French movie The Lovers of Lis­bon. In the early 1960s, he po­si­tioned him­self as a key ar­chi­tect of the sound of the French New Wave. His work in­cluded Go­dard’s A Woman Is a Woman, My Life to Live and Band of Out­siders, Jac­ques Demy’s Lola and Bay of

MThe di­verse mu­si­cal tal­ents he has worked with in­clude Bar­bra Streisand, Miles Davis, Ray Charles and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa An­gels, and Agnès Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7.

He found in­ter­na­tional suc­cess in 1964 when he scored Demy’s mu­si­cal The Um­brel­las of Cher­bourg, star­ring Cather­ine Deneuve, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and was a sur­prise hit in the United States. The film also spawned a song that would be trans­lated into I Will Wait For You, a stan­dard later cov­ered by Frank Si­na­tra, Tony Ben­nett, Louis Arm­strong and Liza Min­nelli.

Af­ter scor­ing Demy’s 1967 fol­low-up The Young Girls of Rochefort, again star­ring Deneuve, Legrand moved to the US, where he made an in­stant im­pres­sion.

One of the first gigs he took was scor­ing The Thomas Crown Af­fair, star­ring Steve McQueen and Faye Du­n­away, and he won his first Os­car in 1968 for the film’s theme song, The Wind­mills of Your Mind.

“In the ’60s I made a hun­dred French movies – in the ’70s and ’80s I made a hun­dred Amer­i­can movies,” Legrand said dur­ing that same 2011 in­ter­view, with The Arts Desk. Two more Os­car wins were to fol­low: Best Orig­i­nal Dra­matic Score for the com­ing-of-age drama Sum­mer of ‘42 in 1971, and Best Orig­i­nal Song or Adap­ta­tion Score for Streisand’s self-directed mu­si­cal, Yentl, in 1983. The same year, he wrote the mu­sic for an­other block­buster, Sean Con­nery’s re­turn to the Bond fran­chise in Never Say Never Again. Through­out all this main­stream suc­cess, Legrand never lost his love of jazz. In 1972, he made duet al­bums with two greats: Sarah Vaughan with Michel Legrand, and sax­o­phon­ist Stan Getz’s Com­mu­ni­ca­tions ’ 72, which he or­ches­trated and ar­ranged. In 1991, Legrand co- wrote the mu­sic, with Miles Davis, for the movie Dingo – made shortly be­fore the jazz leg­end’s death – and a year later recorded an epony­mous duet al­bum with gypsy- jazz fore­fa­ther Stéphane Grap­pelli.

In the twi­light of his ca­reer Legrand has found suc­cess with the stage, writ­ing the score for 2002 Broad­way mu­si­cal Amour, and Mar­guerite, a 2008 mu­si­cal by Alain Bou­blil and Claude-Michel Schön­berg, the cre­ators of Les Mis­érables and Miss Saigon.

In 2013, Legrand proved his en­dur­ing ap­peal with En­tre Elle et Lui, a duet al­bum with French opera great Natalie Des­say, which was a gold-sell­ing hit in his home coun­try. Which mu­sic from this sto­ried ca­reer will be per­formed in Dubai re­mains to be seen, but we do know that he will bring a jazz big band, all the mu­si­cians will be French and he will play only his own mu­sic.

With such an in­cred­i­ble wealth of ma­te­rial, choos­ing what to play must be a chal­lenge in it­self.

Michel Legrand will per­form at Dubai Opera on Thurs­day, 8pm. Tick­ets from Dh250 at www.dubai­opera.com

Jordi Vi­dal / Red­ferns / Getty Im­ages

Vet­eran com­poser, pi­anist and band­leader Michel Legrand will cel­e­brate his 85th birth­day with a per­for­mance at Dubai Opera on Thurs­day.

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