Today Harvey Granat, with the candid help of Terre Blair-Hamlisch, delivers part II of a look at Marvin Hamlisch – the talent and the man.
“Marvin Frederick Hamlisch (1944 –2012) was a composer/conductor/performer. One of only fifteen people to win Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards, the prolific, multifaceted artist also garnered Golden Globes and a Pulitzer Prize.
“Calling Hamlisch a child prodigy would be minimizing his outsized talent. Julliard judges of what is now the pre-college division expected classical music. Instead, the youngster played Eddie Fisher’s “I’m Yours.” It was his father who nudged him towards Queens College in order to learn music theory.
“Film scores (there would be over forty) came before Broadway. To the distress of agents who grew rich on multiple Hollywood projects, the composer insisted on straddling cinema with his first love, theater.”
The above is excerpted from my article on part I which contains some repetition, but also Terre’s wonderful story of the couple’s courtship.
“Marvin was recognized in such a major way at an early age,” Granat begins, addressing Blair Hamlisch. “Did he talk about that?” “No,” his widow answers. “He digested it and moved on. I had to try to find his awards, many of which were crowded into a drawer. Some I sent out for repairs. He didn’t even have them in the bathroom, which is where the so-called humble say they keep them. Marvin lived in the present.”
There are many stories about Hamlisch’s modesty and generosity. He once excused himself from a phone call with Blair telling her he had to change his shirt as he was going out. Later, she saw him on the news at The White House.
Liza Minnelli and Hamlisch were childhood friends. In order to prove to mother Judy Garland that she had sufficient talent to go into the business, he helped Minnelli make a record. The two went to Garland’s home, it got late, and the star suggested they stay. Hamlisch excitedly called his mother to tell her where he was and that he’d be sleeping on satin sheets! The young man was so intimidated, however, he slept on top of, instead of in the bedding. Blair-Hamlisch relates the story with tenderness.
When dear friend, pianist Lorin Hollander became ill, medical bills mounted. In order to take care of them without causing the musician to feel embarrassed by what might be construed as charity, he hired Hollander to play. Payment came in the form of a check which exactly matched that which was owed.
Performance starts with film title songs. Rebecca Garfein offers “Nobody Does It Better” from The Spy Who Loved Me (Lyric-Carole Bayer Sager). The vocalist’s alto embraces its lyric, eyes half closed. Her pop rendition exudes infectious pleasure.
Granat follows in rich, balladeer mode with “Life is What You Make It” from Kotch (Lyric-Johnny Mercer). “Isn’t this what he represented in life, the sunny side of the street on which he lived?” he rhetorically asks Blair- Hamlisch. She readily concurs. The song is pristine truth delivered in kind.
Next is pianist David Lahm’s lovely piano interpretation of Theme from Sophie’s Choice. It’s heartbreaking-sad, brave, proud. Tears in her eyes, Blair-Hamlisch reaches over and takes Granat’s hand. “When you hear the term hauntingly beautiful…” he muses trailing off.
Sensitivity must’ve been one of the qualities Hamlisch most valued in his wife. This is, after all, not a wilting flower, but rather an international broadcast journalist with solid pedigree. As I commented in my first piece, watching her listen to music or recall married life is an intimate experience.
“A Chorus Line (Lyrics-Edward Kleban), one of the greatest musicals of all time, started with extensive work-shopping, opened at The Public Theater, then moved to Broadway,” Granat notes. Leaving the west coast at the height of his marketability, Hamlisch moved back in with his mom earning $200 a week as the show’s composer. Blair-Hamlisch describes her husband’s breakthrough moment as the sight of the audition line drawn across the front of the stage. “We’ve all been on that line one way or another,” she reflects.
Garfein returns with a deeply invested “What I Did for Love,” vibrato verging on palpable. Granat then sings a bright-eyed portion of the iconic “One” encouraging us to join in. Some do. Verbatim. Blair-Hamlisch, clearly delighted, extends her microphone to us. “I was going to have you all line up,” the host quips. “If we had time, I’d have each of you take a bow.”
He turns to Blair-Hamlisch, “You told me that notes poured out of him. How did he work?” “It was in his head all the time,” she replies. “The car radio interfered. When I talked, he’d half listen while underscoring ran in his head. I’d get in the bathtub and the soap bar had all these notes on it. On planes, he’d write all over cocktail napkins, never drinking unless there was turbulence…”
Granat then introduces Valerie Lemon who toured with the composer and created a show celebrating him. With a thirty year friendship behind them, Hamlisch confided he was going to propose to Terre Blair before the event occurred. Lemon and Blair-Hamlisch share heart-on-sleeve vulnerability where the celebrant is concerned. They’re understandably close.
The song “A Woman’s Voice” (Lyric-Alan and Marilyn Bergman) was created for Barbra Streisand who wanted women to speak up: A Woman’s Voice can sing any song/A Woman’s Voice can be sure and strong/It can touch your soul/It can clear your skies/Singing battle hymns or lullabies./For the hand that rocks the cradle/Is the hand that rocks the world… When Marilyn Maxwell requested something to sing at her son’s school, it morphed into “A Mother’s Voice.”
Lemon performs from the heart and gut. Blair-Hamlisch sways. There’s nothing (fist comes down) like/a mother’s voice (hand on heart) Lemon sings. I’d lay odds every audience member is taking this personally.
We watch a documentary film clip wherein Terre Blair Hamlisch, Marvin Hamlisch, and Valerie Lemon describe how the Hamlischs got together and are shown some charming wedding photos. In his inimitable understated style, Granat performs a sincere “After All” from They’re Playing Our Song (Lyric-Carole Bayer Sager). Garfein and he then duet “The Way We Were” (Lyric-Alan and Marilyn Bergman). Her lyric hum opens like a slow fan. The two gaze into one another’s eyes. That song will live forever.
On Monday November 18, the first Marvin Hamlisch International Music Awards will be presented to emerging composers in the category of Film/Media Scoring. The event will feature a performance by the Aaron Copland School of Music and what Blair-Hamlisch calls a who’s-who of presenters. LeFrak Concert Hall, Kupferberg Center for the Arts, Queens College, NY. Click for more information.
“I think I’ll be remembered as the people’s composer.” Marvin Hamlisch
For further biography and stories, my piece on Harvey Granat’s Marvin Hamlisch Part 1.
Photos Courtesy of Mr. Granat
Photo of Marvin Hamlisch by Len Prince Courtesy of Terre Blair Hamlisch
Saluting the Genius of Marvin Hamlisch
Special Guest Terre Blair-Hamlisch
Vocalist Rebecca Garfein, Senior Cantor, Temple Rodeph Shalom
Vocalist- Valerie Lemon
Pianist- David Lahm
92 Y at Lexington Avenue
September 26, 2019
NEXT: October 17 12 p.m.: Sinatra with Words by Sammy Cahn
Special Guest: Bill Boggs
Vocalist- Charlie Romo; Piano-David Lahm
November 14 12 p.m.: Comden & Green