Michel Legrand Biography

24 February 1932, Paris, France. Legrand grew up in a musical environment - his father was an orchestra leader and film composer - and studied formally at the Paris Conservatoire. In the 50s he was an active pianist but was most successful as an arranger. Later in the decade he moved to New York and continued to arrange, but now with a strong orientation towards the contemporary jazz scene, for leading artists such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane. In France he had occasionally led his own bands and did so again in the USA. In these years he was also a prolific composer, writing material performed by Stan Getz, Phil Woods and others, and occasionally playing with jazzmen such as Shelly Manne. He had begun to compose music for French films in 1953, and, in the 60s, developed this area of his work on productions such as Lola; Cleo From 5 To 7, in which he also appeared, and My Life To Live. In 1964 he received the first of his many Academy Award nominations, for the score to The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg, which contained ‘I Will Wait For You’ and ‘Watch What Happens’ (English lyrics by Norman Gimbel). His second Oscar came for his work on the follow-up, The Young Ladies Of Rochefort (1968).

In the late 60s he began to compose for US and British films. His score for one of the first of these, The Thomas Crown Affair, included ‘Windmills Of Your Mind’ (lyric by Alan And Marilyn Bergman), which became popular for Noel Harrison (son of actor Rex) and Dusty Springfield, and won an Academy Award in 1968. Another collaboration with the Bergmans produced ‘What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?’, from The Happy Ending (1969). Throughout the 70s, Legrand continued to write prolifically for films such as The Go-Between, Wuthering Heights, Summer Of 42 (another Oscar), Lady Sings The Blues, One Is A Lonely Number and The Three Musketeers. He teamed with the Bergmans yet again for Barbra Streisand’s film Yentl (1983). Two of their 12 songs, ‘Papa, Can You Hear Me?’ and ‘The Way He Makes Me Feel’ were nominated, and the Complete Score won an Academy Award. Legrand’s other film music included Never Say Never Again, Sean Connery’s eagerly awaited return to the role of James Bond; Secret Places (title song written with Alan Jay Lerner); the amusing Switching Channels (theme written with Neil Diamond), Fate and The Burning Shore, and Prêt-A-Porter (1994). In 1991 Legrand was back to his jazz roots for the score to Dingo, which he wrote with Miles Davis. Davis also gave an impressive performance in the movie.

At his best with lyrical and sometimes sentimental themes, Legrand’s writing for films remains his major contribution to popular music. Besides his feature film credits, Legrand also worked extensively in television, contributing music to Brian’s Song, The Adventures Of Don Quixote, It’s Good To Be Alive, Cage Without A Key, A Woman Called Golda, The Jesse Owens Story, Promises To Keep, Sins (mini-series), Crossings, Casanova, and Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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