Jessye Norman sings Michel Legrand
All music by Michel Legrand
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ==========
Jessye Norman sings Michel Legrand
- Mike Zwerin
Jessye Norman and Michel Legrand teamed together make one of the best examples extant of what has come to be termed "classical crossover". All these categories separating music from itself. It's not even clear... Is classical music being crossed over to or is it doing the crossing over? We'd all be better off if more of us paid attention to Duke Islington, who said: "There are only two kinds of music... Good and bad".
You have to call music something, now. don't you. Inventing words about music is really lough and getting tougher all the time. There lias been an explosion of styles, sub-styles and post- and neo-styles and pinning them down accurately can be complicated. It can also he. strangely enough, . tougher than actually making the music itself. Are there any right words to apply to music? Music speaks for itself, doesn't it? Music is the universal language.
I Was Born In Love With You is one line blend of styles. Two exciting musicians both on top of their respective fields of endeavor. A major diva teams up with a pop composer, arranger and pianist par excellence. A duo of a special kind. "Crossover" in a deeper, more meaningful configuration. Roth of them have profited from very different roots (and routes) and are eager to exchange them to benefit from the oilier. Without profiteering from them, as it were. Absorbing rather than exploiting them. Call it "double-crossover".
Jessye Norman's voice was described by the Washington Post as "huge, expressive, opulent". The renowned critic John Gruen called her "an artist of sumptuous vocal powers". And Norman herself, getting it right, answered a journalists question with a question: "What makes my voice different from your voice? Only the angels can say". And the journalist Alien Hughes wrote: "Jessye Normans ascent toward that stratosphere entered only by truly great singers appears to have encountered no obstacles". It has been said that Norman is a "force of nature", her presence has been called "larger than life". It is also true that she is a "phenomenon", and "one of a kind". French President Francois Mitterrand awarded her the Legion d'honneur. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar named her Honorary Ambassador to the United Nations. And Mayor Giuliani declared a "Jessye Norman Day" in New York City.
Born into a middle-class family in Augusta, Georgia, one of five children. Norman was encouraged to sing from the beginning. Singing was a part of her daily life - at home, in church, in school, with the Girl Scouts, at openings of recreation centers and supermarkets. She attended Howard University on a full scholarship and graduated cum laude. Followed by a year in the Peabody Conservatory and a Masters degree from the University of Michigan.
The young singer soon departed for Europe. After winning the Munich International Music Competition, she made her stage debut at the Berlin Opera in Wagners Tannhauser. Her credits are literally too many and too long and would take up too much space to mention here. Although dropping the names of some of the cities she's performed in might at least give us some idea of the range of tier appeal. In no particular order: Detroit, London, Boston, Paris, Edinburgh, New York, Vienna, Chicago, Lyon, San Francisco, Salzburg, Stockholm, Cleveland and Tel Aviv. "I must be fully involved in everything I do." she told John Gruen. "It's the only way."
The five-time Grammy and three-time Oscar winner Michel Legrand is perhaps the greatest songwriter active today. Songs like "Windmills Of My Mind". "You Must Believe In Spring" and all the other ones that raise goose-pimples on this album back up such an extravagant claim. A musical prodigy, he enrolled in the Paris Conservatoire at 11. Later, he studied conducting with Nadia Boulanger: "An old lady by then", he explained to The Independent, "but sublime. Alert, with a dry wit". He graduated with a first prize in composition. Still in his 20s, he led his own band. He wrote his first songs. He wrote music for and conducted the Roland Petit Ballet. His music for a Catherine Sauvage recording earned him a prize from the prestigious French Academic Charles Cros.
Having served as Maurice Chevalier's bandleader and conductor, he described the French variety-music hero as "a nice man, a professional, wanted lots of rehearsing. But solitary, not Finally someone who enjoyed life". Legrand seems to have the knack of Finding the right words when he chooses. This may help to explain why. once he started to write film music, it was immediately clear how good he was at marrying music to dialogue, and images. His soundtrack to Jacques Demy's Parapluies de Cherbourg won him worldwide recognition. He moved to Hollywood in the late Sixties.
Legrand spent three decades splitting his time between France and Hollywood, while making music for Films by Demy. Agnes Varda, Joseph Losey, Jean-Luc Godard, Norman Jewison. Robert Mulligan, Richard Brooks, Francois Reichenbach. Orson Welles and many others.
He is also an acclaimed and experienced conductor, having conducted the symphony orchestras of Pittsburgh, Vancouver, Montreal, Atlanta and Denver. Few other recording artists have made more than a hundred albums with such an eclectic list of collaborators: Johnny Mathis, Sarah Vaughan, Neil Diamond, Aretha Franklin, Stan Getz, Ray Charles (sorry for all these names but they are an essential part of the story), Barbra Streisand and, now, Jessye Norman, And Frank Sinatra, Oscar Peterson, Nina Simone, Tony Bennett and Rosemary Clooney, among others, have covered his songs.
These days Legrand is based in Switzerland, from where he told a journalist by phone: "I want to compose film music, popular music, to play jazz. I want to compose symphonies and sonatas. I've recently recorded Gershwin, Satie. I work very hard. I want to do everything". 'Everything", for him, includes the pleasure of working with his jazz trio in small, honest clubs like London's Jazz Cafe.
One of the great and special chairm of I Was Born In Love With You is the relaxed, comfortable feeling of improvisation. "Of course the lyrics were followed faithfully," says the producer John Patterson, "but I think that Michel made up much of his accompaniment there at the sessions. And 1 know that Ron and Grady were improvising all the way through."
Talk about a team. Ron Carter, bass and Grady Tate, drums, are one of the best rhythm sections of the day. As is often said about great athletes, they make it look easy. In this case sound easy Which does not make it any the less hard to do or rare to hear. That this album swings is no coincidence. There is a special looseness that only comes when the musicians feel totally comfortable with one another. Organic to this kind of chamber context, there is a minimum of formal direction and score to pay attention to. And while you can be sure all four of them are being "as serious as your life", as someone once described jazz music, about the endeavor, still, you can hear that they are enjoying it tremendously.
On I Was Born In Love With You, jessye Norman and Michel Legrand come directly together as people and as musicians in a way that is neither better nor worse than, but wouid simply be impossible in, an opera production or the recording of an orchestral film score. They have so much confidence in each other, there is so much musical joy. that there are no longer any questions of right and wrong. There just "is".
- Mike Zwerin is also a musician who has played the trombone with Maynard Ferguson, Eric Dolphy and Earl "Fatha" Hines, among others. As pop music critic for The International Herald Tribune, be has written a weekly column for twenty years. He lives in Paris.