Lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman were both born out of the same Brooklyn hospital into Eastern European families. Despite neighborhood proximity, they didn’t meet until respectively landing in Los Angeles the 1950s. One might call this particular collaboration Kismet.
The married couple has been nominated for 16 Academy Awards garnering three. Their extensive oeuvre also includes, in part, iconic television themes, numbers written for television musicals, a jazz cycle, and widely varied songs popularized by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Barbra Streisand. The Bergmans never found their way to Broadway but tailored to characters in film (Yentl is a prime example) and when writing for a particular vocalist. “We knew enough about him to fit the lyric to his character time and time again,” Alan Bergman once commented about Frank Sinatra.
Today’s Special Guest is critic/biographer/librettist/playwright Terry Teachout. The inimitable David Lahm, Granat’s symbiotic accompanist furnishes eloquent piano.
Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman
Host Harvey Granat begins vocal choices with Alan Bergman/Lou Spence’s “That Face,” introduced by Fred Astaire, followed by the Sinatra hit “Nice N’ Easy” credited to Alan Bergman/Marilyn Keith/Lou Spence. Renditions are genial and dancey. Granat’s skilled nonchalance is similar to that of Sinatra. During the second number, he feeds us the lyrics. (The knowledgeable audience often knows songs by heart and are selectively encouraged to sing along.) Teachout suggests we don’t ordinarily think of the Bergmans for a swing tune.
Original placement of familiar songs is something of a revelation. 1967’s “Make Me Rainbows” (music – John Williams) is from what Teachout calls “a justifiably forgotten film” called Fitzwilly.” “If that had been written 10 years earlier,” he continues, “it would have become a standard.” The same year saw original English lyrics for “You Must Believe in Spring” (music – Michel Legrand) from French film The Young Girls of Rochefort: Beneath the deepest snows,/The secret of a rose/Is merely that it knows/You must believe in Spring! …Granat’s version is delicate, poetic, lovely. Teachout declares it the moment the Bergmans became themselves, “the great romantics of the late golden age of songwriting.”
From The Thomas Crown Affair we hear a wistful, resigned “The Windmills of Your Mind” for which composer Michel Legrand apparently wrote five or six melodies. The Bergmans suggested he go to a movie and they’d meet the next morning, whereupon the vote was unanimous. Teachout observes the song is effectively in a minor key “which American popular songs never are.” Lahm adds that the grammar is successfully out of phase with the melody, yet another example of iconoclastic skill.
It turns out that “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” (music – Michel Legrand) was written for an obscure 1969 film called The Happy Ending. Granat’s buttery version is rife with yearning. Teachout remarks that rhymes fall on the next to last words. This particular session of the Granat series is illuminated by more incisive music perceptions than usual due to this guest’s contribution.
In the same lush vein, “Summer Me, Winter Me” arrives with recognition that nouns have become verbs: Summer me, winter me/And with your kisses, morning me, evening me/And as the world slips far away, a star away/Forever me with love… Suddenly, magically/We found each other…Granat sings with surprise and excitement, not disturbing the tenor of the song. During “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” with what Teachout calls “a great lyric for a soured relationship,” Granat appears to be reflecting in real time. (Both music – Michel Legrand)
In 1973, the Bergmans wrote “The Way We Were” (music – Marvin Hamlish). Though the group is invited to sing and clearly know the lyrics, its volume is extremely soft, in order, one suspects, to fully hear the vocalist’s interpretation.
When, as a little girl, Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s daughter was asked what her parents do, she responded “When my mommy and daddy wake up, they drink coffee, go into a room and close the door. Sometimes there’s music, sometimes not. And they get paid for it.” And aren’t we lucky?
I hear a great many vocalists. Not only are these sessions illuminating and fun, but Harvey Granat is one of our most authentic balladeers. Again, a good time is had by all.
Opening photo: Harvey Granat, Terry Teachout, David Lahm
Bigstock Photo of Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman at the Grammy Foundation’s Starry Night Gala. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA. 07-12-08
Songs and Stories with Harvey Granat: Alan and Marilyn Bergman
Special Guest Terry Teachout
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NEXT: May 4 On Dorothy Fields with Special Guest, Field’s son, musician David Lahm