Michel Legrand, still a legendary ‘Man About the World’

Thursday, November 12, 2009
By Chris Neidenberg / Reporter

NEW YORK — You’ve heard about the “Man About Town?”

Perhaps, legendary French music wunderkind Michel Legrand, who will make a rare appearance Nov. 21 to play Avery Fisher Hall, can best be described as a “Man About The World.”

The Grammy and Academy Award winner, who spoke with The Leader by phone from Montreal to promote his Big Apple visit showcasing special guest star Dionne Warwick, readily boasts he knows no boundaries — not only national geographic borders, but also in musical styles and the energy and enthusiasm he shows for his work.

Legrand’s accomplishments encompass a wide spectrum. They include composing, conducting, arranging, song writing, piano playing and singing.

Born in a Paris suburb, he burst onto the international scene in the 1950s with his album, “I Love Paris,” considered one of the best-selling instrumental albums ever released.

Since then, maestro Legrand has composed more than 200 film scores (“Yentl,” “Summer of ’42,” “The Thomas Crown Affair”), various television scores (“Brian’s Song,” “The Jesse Owens Story,” “A Woman Called Golda”), stage musicals and recorded well over 100 albums.

In 2004, the American Film Institute named a signature song, “The Windmills of Your Mind,” from “The Thomas Crown Affair,” one of America’s Greatest Movie Songs.

He’s also worked with some of the world’s biggest music stars spanning an amazing maze of genres. They’ve included: Miles Davis, Barbara Streisand, Neil Diamond. Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Edith Piaf and Rosemary Clooney.

Be it excelling in French chanson, classical music, composing pop hits or producing jazz albums, Legrand has thoroughly enjoyed his many endeavors. And the timeless musician assures us he’s far from done.

“I have a vivid memory of the things I’ve achieved except when it comes to dates,” noted Legrand, who with Warwick, will be joined at the event by famed French-Canadian singer Mario Pelchat, along with Legrand’s wife, Catherine Michel, a harp soloist with Opera de Paris.

“That’s a good thing,” he continued. “Because, for me, time is frozen. Precisely when something happened is of no importance. I have no memory of years because it makes no difference to me. I just keep moving forward to the next project.

“I don’t even know how old I am. I think I may be 15 or 16.”

For the upcoming Lincoln Center event, Legrand promises it will be as eclectic and freewheeling as his own life and career. He, Warwick and Pelchat plan on performing as a trio, as well as solo, in showcasing their individual talents.

This, during a performance without a set repertoire. The three stars will be backed by a quartet of musicians, including Legrand’s wife.

The event starts at 8 p.m. It is generally expected to feature classical film scores from Legrand and jazz and Hollywood hits built around the romance and nostalgia of chanson.

Chanson stands out from the rest of pop music in France; it follows the rhythm of the French language rather than English. The genre gives the music a distinctive French feel.

“This is the first time I’ve had the privilege of working with Miss Warwick and it is indeed an honor,” said Legrand, noting the iconic pop superstar very much admires Pelchat, and, thus, jumped at the chance to work with him.

“We’ll see how it goes,” the maestro added. “We’re using the event as a test to see if all three of us might want to record an album together. If all goes well, that would be a strong possibility and we’d initially release it in England.”

Warwick’s own legendary career hit the big time in 1962 with her first hit, “Don’t Make Me Over.” A long list of hits followed for the five-time Grammy winner. She rocketed to fame with help from the songwriting duo of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

Pelchat broke into the music business in 1981. Since then, the Quebec native has recorded 12 albums, most of which have hit platinum or gold status in Canada. He has performed all over the world.

Pelchat teamed with his idol, Legrand, on an album. Following its successful debut, and their subsequent Canadian tour, they will continue with a worldwide tour through 2010. It will include stops in Paris, Asia and Russia.

“He’s great, wonderful,” Legrand said. “Mario had desired to do an album of songs with me. So I had my agent send me some of his CDs. I liked the way he sang, and was delighted to collaborate with him.”

Legrand cannot remember the last time he came to New York to perform. Yet he expressed a great affinity for the city, where he lived for three years.

During the period, he worked as a producer with jazz icons including Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane. Legrand eventually moved to Hollywood, to score major American movies, in 1966.

“It was a great time in my life,” recalled the musician, who, when not on the road, splits much of his time between homes in Switzerland and France. “These were very talented, legendary musicians who were a joy to work with.

“New York offers many special memories. I always enjoy returning here.”

In fact, Legrand did not rule out spending more time in Gotham during his next major career phase.

He said he’d like to concentrate on writing musicals for Broadway. An early project, “Amour,” earned a Tony Award nomination in 2003.

“There’s so many more things I want to do, so many more talented musicians and singers I want to work with,” Legrand marveled. “I expect to keep going for another 60, 70 years.”

Tickets for Legrand’s upcoming event can be purchased by calling 212-721-6500, logging on to www.lincolncenter.org or visiting the box office. Avery Fisher Hall is at Columbus Avenue and 65th Street.

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