Michel Legrand — 1932 - 2019

January 28, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

As a callow youth, I dismissed Michel Legrand as a guy who wrote pretty tunes and scores. In fact, he did write 200 or more scores for movies and TV. Then I heard Legrand Jazz (1958) with his arrangements for three different groups — 1. a big band, 2. a group centered on Ben Webster and four trombones, and 3. the core of Miles Davis’s 1958 sextet (Miles, Coltrane, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers), Phil Woods instead of Cannonball, plus a few other instruments including flute and harp.

The tunes were  eleven jazz classics, from Dixieland (Louis Armstrong’s “Wild Man Blues” ) through swing (Benny Goodman, “Stompin’ at the Savoy”) to bebop (Dizzy’s “Night in Tunisia”). The arrangements were “far out” for the time, and even 60 years later, they hold up well.

Legrand later described the recording session with the Miles.

Everyone said to me: “Miles will come to the meeting and stand near the door, keeping his trumpet in his closed case. He will listen for five minutes, and if he likes music, he will sit down, open his case, and play. If he does not like, he will leave and he will never again contact you.” I was so afraid that I had flare-ups of sweat! I started rehearsing with the orchestra. The door opened, and Miles listened by the door for five minutes. Then he sat down, opened his case and began to play. After the first catch, he asked me, “Michel, is my game [playing] suitable?” That is how it all began.

Here is that group playing Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz.”

The record went out of print and out of sight. I rarely met anyone, jazzers included, who knew of it. It was something of a collector’s item. Somewhere along the line, I lost my copy and wound up paying the equivalent today of about $75 for a used copy. Eventually, the album was re-issued as a CD, and now you can stream it anytime, anywhere.

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