There she is. Cherchez la femme! The one and only Anouk Aimee in Jacques Demy's 1961 film "Lola" (which was inspired by Marlene Dietrich's Lola Lola). Did you know? The movie was a break-out, of sorts, for film composer Michel Legrand. Yet as renown as he became for his movie scores, he's a serious jazz artist, too; composing, performing, arranging work composed by others, and allowing his own music to be interpreted by a who's-who of jazz musicians. There's really nothing he can't do (okay, so maybe he should stay away from disco) (far away). The variety of his output still astonishes me, and it all started in 1954 with his first LP.
"I Love Paris," a buoyant orchestral romp through traditional Gallic tunes ("La Vie En Rose," "April in Paris"), was arranged and recorded by Legrand when he was just (wait for it) twenty-two. It quickly became one of the most popular instrumental LPs of all time.
If you hit once, why not hit again with the same formula? Luckily (for us), this was a smart move. 1955's "Holiday In Rome" and "Vienna Holiday" are just as charming as the Paris LP; the former with vivo Italian tunes like "Luna Rosa," the latter with wunderbar Viennese waltzes. And I know what you're thinking, it all sounds so-o-o-o cliched. It is, of course, but then it's never sounded this good, either.
Not enough Legrand for you? Don't worry, there's more! Ready? As much as I love Legrand's orchestral LPs, it's his jazz work that I find myself listening to the most. In 1995, he was behind the piano with his trio in "The Warm Shade Of Memory." The opening track, "Watch What Happens," is one of many highlights in this blissful LP.
1985's "After The Rain" is a brisk, six-track jaunt through some of Legrand's best tunes with a septet of performers, including Legrand - again, at the piano - and Phil Woods on clarinet and alto. It's probably the best known Legrand jazz record, and there's a reason for that. It's perfect.
Miles Davis joins Michel Legrand on "Legrand Jazz," a 1958 LP that's long been considered a classic. Here, Legrand takes tunes, like "'Round Midnight" and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," and brilliantly arranges them for three different combos, which include not just Davis, but John Coltrane, Herbie Mann, Phil Woods and more.
Here's a real treat. 2004's "I Will Wait For You: The Music Of Michel Legrand," is easily one of my favorite CDs. Period. It's also ridiculously unheralded. Kuhn, a post-bob pianist, along with his trio, gorgeously reinterprets Legrand's most noteworthy tunes ("The Summer Knows," "I Will Wait For You"). It's probably one of the most elegant modern jazz efforts you're likely to hear.
Pure, unadulterated fun is the best way to describe "Dingo," the soundtrack for a little-seen 1990 Australian movie starring...Miles Davis (as an aging jazz great) (what else?). I haven't seen it, but the music, composed by Legrand and Davis, is light and beautifully phrased.
Another favorite of mine is "Legrand/Grappelli," an atypical 2002 CD that brings Legrand together with violinist Stephane Grappelli. Some might find the overall effect a bit sticky-icky, but I think they largely avoid that pitfall. It's a fine, gossamer-light experience. And these days, that's rare.
Is there more? Of course there is! I don't know many performers who can make Legrand's theme for "Wuthering Heights" ("I Was Born In Love With You") such a stirring, even haunting experience, but singer Melissa Errico not only pulls it off, she makes it her own. I wasn't that familiar with Errico until my Cuban Luvuh began playing "Legrand Affair," but now I'm a fan. This is a dreamy-sounding collection of Legrand tunes - you really do feel as if you're hearing them for the first time - and unlike a lot of vocalist CDs these days, Errico's backed by a luxuriant, magnificent-sounding orchestra. Really, it's like buttah.
Speaking of buttah! Though I've largely avoided Legrand musicals in this particular post, I had to include "Yentl." Why, you ask? Because it's the crown jewel of his work for the screen - as if every musical or movie he'd ever worked were leading up to this 1983 masterpiece. As some of you know, the soundtrack was first issued on LP, then a badly transferred, muddy-sounding CD. But just for you - in this Oy! Cheerful Exclusive! - here's "Yentl" in all of its crystal-clear, LP lossless glory.
Legrand is talented, this we know, so it goes to follow that a sibling of his might have talent, too, don't you think? If you think, "Why, yes!" then you're right. His sister Christiane was the lead female vocalist with "The Swingle Singers," an early 1960's a cappella group. From the start, they knocked just about everyone's socks off by reinterpreting Bach's classical melodies with their vocals and scat. But this isn't some kitschy one-off (not by a long shot). It's enchanting and wholly unpredictable. In other words, it's great jazz.
If Legrand were buttah, would he be whipped? Salted? Me, I'm thinking beurre noir.
Spread it on toast in the comments, if you like!