October 24, 2016
Michael Feinstein Salutes David Raksin on Grand Avenue
Vocalist/historian heads benefit concert for the Colburn School and the Great American Songbook Foundation by Jon Burlingame
LOS ANGELES—Singer-pianist Michael Feinstein and students from the Colburn music schools performed music of composer David Raksin Saturday night at the Herbert Zipper Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles.
Approximately 225 attended the high-ticket 90-minute event, which was a benefit for both the Colburn School and Feinstein's Great American Songbook Foundation.
Raksin, who died in 2004, was the Oscar-nominated composer of such classic Hollywood scores as Laura, Forever Amber and The Bad and the Beautiful, as well as television music including the Ben Casey theme and the score for The Day After.
Feinstein, who knew Raksin well, opened the program with "Laura," the song version of his 1944 film score, which become one of the most-recorded songs of all time (and one that, Feinstein noted, both Cole Porter and Irving Berlin said on separate occasions that they wish they had written).
"David Raksin was a Renaissance man who believed very strongly in the power of music," he said. "He was a musical firebrand, a true intellectual and a creative genius." He noted that Raksin was smarter than most of his Hollywood collaborators and that his superior intellect "damaged his career (because) people were literally scared of him." He went on to teach at both UCLA and USC and was, Feinstein said, "an incredible educator."
Saturday's orchestra was drawn from the Colburn Conservatory of Music and the Colburn Community School of Performing Arts. Most of the concert was played by a 14-piece ensemble conducted by Charles Prince, musical director of the Plainfield (N.J.) Symphony and the grandson of three-time Oscar-winning composer-arranger Saul Chaplin (who helped adapt the scores of An American in Paris and West Side Story for the screen).
They performed Raksin's theme for The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) and "The Acting Lesson" from that same film; "Hoofloose and Fancy Free" from the 1950 UPA cartoon Giddyap; his theme for Forever Amber (1947), which Feinstein referred to as "the Fifty Shades of Grey of its time"; and a suite of music from his immortal Laura. They also performed one of Raksin's final works, a piece for clarinet and string quartet titled "Swing Low Sweet Clarinet," with Taylor Marino as clarinet soloist.
Feinstein sang songs either composed by Raksin or connected with him, including the Gershwins' "Love Walked In" (featured with a Raksin orchestration in the 1938 film The Goldwyn Follies); "Smile" (from Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times, a part of Raksin's first Hollywood experience back in 1935); "Long Ago and Far Away" (by Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin from the film Cover Girl, 1944); "The Second Time Around" (by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn from the film High Time, 1960); and the title song from The Wind in the Willows, a stage musical version of the children's classic that Raksin wrote in 1962.
Feinstein also introduced two young vocalists: Sofia Gonzales, who sang "I Have Confidence" from the original film adaptation of The Sound of Music; and Lucas DeBard, who performed "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" (with lyrics modified to reflect today's non-letter-writing millennials). The encore was a rousing version of "Hooray for Hollywood" (from the 1937 film Hollywood Hotel) – which Feinstein reminded the audience was a "sour grapes, tongue-in-cheek, poke in the eye" by songwriter Johnny Mercer even though it is now considered an anthem for the moviemaking town.
Members of the Raksin family attended. A post-concert dinner for VIP ticket-holders followed.
©2016 Jon Burlingame