This week, music lost two venerable and influential figures.
Andre Previn (above), who distinguished himself as a performer and composer in a wide range of styles and genres, died on Thursday at his home in New York City. He was 89. A gifted pianist whose work as a film composer and orchestrator began before he left high school, Previn won four Academy Awards for his film scores. He performed orchestral works and wrote many pieces played by renowned musicians including the violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, to whom he was married for a time. Another of his wives was the actress Mia Farrow. Early in his career, he was married to Betty Bennett, a San Francisco singer, and later to Dory Langan, a singer and songwriter. After their divorce, Ms. Langan established a career using the name Dory Previn.
In interviews, I found Previn bemused by the difficulty that critics, and sometimes his fellow musicians, encountered when they tried to strike a balance in considering his variegated musical personas. He told me a story about touring in Europe in the 1990s with his trio that included bassist Ray Brown and guitarist Mundell Lowe (pictured left, Previn and Brown). One of their performances was in Vienna’s venerable Musikverein, where Previn had often been guest conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic. Some of the members of the orchestra attended the concert. Afterward, he said, the lead player of one of the Philharmonic’s sections visited him in the green room backstage.
“Maestro,” the man said, “it was wonderful, but how did you memorize so much music?”
“We didn’t memorize,” André told him. We were improvising.”
In disbelief, the lifelong classical musician said, “You improvised in public?”
Ira Gitler (pictured above), a jazz critic of exhaustive knowledge and unshakable conviction, died on February 23 in Manhattan at the age of 90. He was an invaluable chronicler of the crucial years when jazz made the transition from the swing era into bebop and a model of clarity who set standards for generations of writers who followed him. During my years in New York and long after, I was fortunate to count Ira among my friends. His book Swing To Bop (Oxford) is a classic likely to remain a basic resource for decades. The obituary by Matt Schudel for The Washington Post is a fine account of Ira’s career and accomplishments.
Ira Gitler, RIP