French composer Michel Legrand has written some of the most memorable romantic music on film. Many of his songs have long since become jazz and pop standards. In Umbrellas and Sunshine, pianist and composer Roger Davidson and bassist David Finck offer a deeply original, intimate take of Legrand’s music – stories of love found and lost, elegantly whispered, swinging, among friends.
Since starting his career in the ‘70s, French-American pianist and composer Roger Davidson has been as voracious in his musical curiosity as Michel Legrand — and just as fearless in his reach. Davidson’s writing include symphonies and choral music, small-group jazz, Klezmer, tango and a bounty of Brazilian-flavored songs. In all his work, as in Legrand’s, melody reigns. It was bassist David Finck, who suggested to Davidson exploring an album’s-worth of Legrand’s songs. The pianist was all for it.
“I feel a tremendous kinship with Michel Legrand,” says Davidson. “Legrand is French, and so am I. He is a very romantic composer; he writes music with feeling. We both love to write melodies. Like everyone else, I heard his tunes played over and over by many wonderful musicians, and I started playing them myself.” The result is Umbrellas and Sunshine, a celebration of Michel Legrand, romance, and swing.
Roger Davidson, piano
David Finck, bass
Produced by Pablo Aslan
Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker
Interestingly, I discovered Michel Legrand at about the same time I ran across Michel Colombier, the sound of both interesting me, who normally eschews the brand of mellifluity the two orbit close to, as it was quite evident they had more than a nodding acquaintance with Romantic-Impressionist-era classicalists interpolated with Gershwinesque jazz-tinged modernizations. Where Colombier leaned towards Chopin, Legrand favored Debussy and Ravel, as do I, and thus I picked up on Legrand's work with a bit more interest. In fact, this wont of his found a rather impressive high point in Le Jazz Grand, pressed on the prestigious Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MFSL) imprint, audiophilic and then some. The release boasted a stunning line-up: Gerry Mulligan, Jon Faddis, Phil Woods, Ron Carter, etc., to the tune of 19 players in all. Large band, big sound, interesting comps. In Umbrellas & Sunshine, however, we find the opposite of the population scale—just two musicians—and the configuration could hardly be more propitious to exhibit the deep Parisian baseline in the tributee's soul.
Roger Davidson appears to issue from the Ferrante & Teicher school, a tradition straddling Broadway, grand pop, classical lite, nocturnes, half-lit piano bar nightclubs, and, well, sometimes a hint of Gilbert & Sullivan. His is of course the dominant voice throughout Umbrellas, but David Finck's bass is one of those understated accompaniments the listener soon realizes is far more painterly than at first seems. In a completely different style, I'm reminded of Mike Barry's work with blues master Bernie Pearl: without Barry, Pearl's sound, as impeccable as it is, would miss something in background warmth and character. The same is true here, even more evident when Finck steps out for a solo, as in "The First Time", and the listener realizes what has occurred, understands the transition point and just how fluidly the instrument has been moving behind the piano all the while.
Davidson turns in a letter-perfect recital, but listen closely for a number of surprising interpretive drop-ins. I even thought several were mistakes until I realized how perfectly they contrasted the evolving melody lines for brief interjections of the deeper jazz spirit; quite surprising, in a grin-evoking fashion. Complementing the nature of the entire affair, the packaging is elegant, a quadra-fold digipak with an excellent essay by writer James Gavin. In response to Gavin's inquiries, Davidson perfectly explains the entire mode of the CD, as the songs first made it easy to improv—catch all the work going on in the first cut, for instance—but also many times couldn't help but be played "gently and straightforwardly, because that's all they required". Precisely, and he fielded every nuance therein.
Susan Frances, Yahoo! Voices
In the vane of classic piano suites like Fats Waller's vintage tune "Ain't Misbehavin'", pianist Roger Davidson and upright bass player David Finck have reawakened some of composer Michel Legrand's most sought-after works including "How Do You Keep The Music Playing", "Les Parapluies de Cherbourg", and "You Must Believe In Spring". Produced by Pablo Aslan, Davidson and Finck's tribute album Umbrellas and Sunshine is loaded with sleepytime tunage with a supper club-orientation in the keys. The lounging ambiences of these tracks have an endearing quality reminiscent of musicals like "Ain't Misbehavin'" inspired by Fats Waller's tune.
Though Davidson and Finck stick to Legrand's scripts, there are moments of spontaneity where these two musicians deeply penetrate the music and weave their own musings into the fabric like Finck's sleek arcos in "Watch What Happens" and Davidson's emoting motifs along "The First Time" laden with waltzing keys and graceful cascades. Legrand left room for future generations of musicians to put their own ideas into his works, and Davidson and Finck do so without taking away from the gist of the pieces.
Legrand's music projects a certain lifestyle that he wanted to convey to audiences back in the day of swing music in the 1930's through the Great Depression. Swing provided the remedy for a sad time in history, and it is interesting that Davidson and Finck decided to pull these tunes out of the vault to recuperate. The title of their album Umbrellas and Sunshine is an appropriate marquee for Legrand's music which offers audiences an umbrella for the rainy days while putting a little sunshine through the storm clouds. Davidson and Finck are doing the same in 2011.
Michel Legrand is an award-winning composer that has scored a myriad of music for film, television and stage. Active for decades, among his best known film works include The Thomas Crown Affair, Summer of ’42, Best Friends and Yentl. He also did the music for Orson Welles’ last completed film F for Fake. The legendary French composer continues to cross a number of paths in his musical diversity, always retaining at the core a deeply reflective passion and romanticism.
Davidson and Finck seem to connect with those notions of passion and are sensitive to the nuances that truly make Legrand an original. The duo bring their own style and substance to many of these film pieces and offer a fresh and vibrant take on some familiar and indelible themes. The overall ambience of this disc is one of relaxed sophistication. As the listener you kind of feel like you’re sitting in some very upscale lounge or tapas bar sipping on a well-made libation without a care in the world. Davidson has a style reminiscent of Bill Evans or Andre Previn and, on many of the compositions here, finds the perfect balance between reharmonization and a faithfulness to the original work. Examples of this can be found in the opening piece “Les Parapluies De Cherbourg” from the French film The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. The duo really swing on this familiar theme, weaving in and out of solos seamlessly but never overshadowing the beauty of the main melody. Other highlights include the interesting manner in which Davidson manipulates the ever shifting modulations on “Les Enfants Qui Pleurent.” He does it so effortlessly and provides some nice solo opportunities for Finck. “The Summer Knows” is another familiar romantic piece. Davidson employs tension and drama in the way he alternates from major to minor modes. It’s a wonderful melody that is further enhanced by Finck’s orchestrated bass bow technique. “Watch What Happens” is a tune that often tends to be performed as a samba. But here it lithely swings like crazy. Finck’s bass lines make this piece jump in a playful yet smooth manner. Davidson states in the liner notes that, being of French descent himself, he felt a certain kinship to Legrand in taking on this musical assignment. Merci beaucoup to a job well done!
By Eric Harabadian
52 April 2011 • Jazz Inside™ Monthly • www.jazzinsidemagazine.com
There aren't many living legends walking among us, let alone playing 12 sets this week at the Blue Note. Ironically, the most acclaimed composer of the "traditional" Great American Songbook in the last 40 years is this copiously decorated Frenchman. Mr. Legrand has not only written more tunes you grew up with than anyone else alive, he plays them with a technique that suggests Oscar Peterson and Bach simultaneously, driven by heavily swinging runs in baroque counterpoint. The 79-year-old composer has, no less miraculously, recruited two of the only rhythm players who can keep up with him, the Parisan bassist François Moutin and hometown hero Lewis Nash on drums.
Appreciation of Mr. Legrand's music is heightened by the release of the excellent "Umbrellas and Sunshine" by fellow French pianist Roger Davidson and the formidable New York bassist David Finck in a rare co-starring role. Put brilliant musicians together with great music and watch what happens.
The songs of Michel Legrand have attracted a multitude of jazz musicians over the years. ROGER DAVIDSON, a pianist and composer in a wide ranging variety of musical genres, and who comes from a mixed French and American heritage, has turned his attention to Legrand’s melodies for his most recent recording. Umbrellas & Sunshine (Soundbrush – 1019) is a duo effort from Davidson and bassist David Finck that wonderfully captures the beauty and spirit of Legrand’s music. Legrand has also spent part of his impressive career in the world of jazz, and has imbued his songs with the kind of structure that adapts naturally to jazz interpretations. Davidson and Finck are frequent and well matched partners who often sound like one mind in two bodies. With the ballads they are appropriately tender, and when the pace quickens, their easy sense of swing makes you feel the movement in their music. One of Legrand’s most well known pieces is “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” One way is to have two fine creative musicians turn their attention upon songs like the ones by Legrand that can be found on Umbrellas & Sunshine. (www.soundbrush.com)
Review By Joe Lang - Jersey Jazz
Many people never take the time to truly say how they feel about important people in their lives until it's too late. The same holds true in the jazz community. Posthumous tributes pour out of magazines, newspapers and websites, and are delivered via recordings when important figures of the music pass on, but something resonates more deeply when an artist is still around to receive these plaudits. The great Johnny Mandel recently received such an honor when the DIVA Jazz Orchestra, under his baton, recorded and released a live set built around his compositions, and now another composer of note--pianist Michel Legrand--receives his due, through these delightful duo readings from pianist Roger Davidson and bassist David Finck.
While Legrand's lush language and sweeping sense of romanticism and drama come through on many performances here, that doesn't account for all of the material. Perky piano and jovial walking bass lines meet in mutual satisfaction (”Watch What Happens”), while Davidson is at his seductive best on a solo run through of the lesser-known “Look,” and a bouncing, happy-go-lucky sense comes over this swinging pair on “Les Parapluies De Cherbourg.” When Davidson reprises this piece as a solo work at album's end, his penchant for Latin jazz is heard loud and clear.
Those who prefer the Legrand songs that connect like love letters, causing the body to swoon in recognition of their contents and requiring a tissue in hand to dab the gently falling tears, will also find plenty to love. Finck's spine-tingling arco on “The Summer Knows” is a good match for the dramatic arc that Davidson paints, and “The Easy Way/What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?” is a haunting work that lingers long after it ends. The pair reaches a peak in emotional resonance on one of Legrand's better known works, “How Do You Keep The Music Playing?,” “which serves as a finale of sorts, before Davidson delivers a coda with his reworked “Les Parapluies De Cherbourg.”
Davidson and Finck cover Legrand in grand fashion and with any luck the maestro himself will have an opportunity to hear such things.
By Dan Bilawsky - All About Jazz
Umbrellas and Sunshine is a captivating collection of twelve of Michel Legrand’s pieces arranged and performed on piano and bass by Roger Davidson and David Finck. Many of the songs are Legrand’s most famous, played in an elegant style and paced at a relaxed, easy tempo. The rhythms and harmonies are rich and honor Legrand’s original melodies while providing a fresh new take on some the composer’s best music to date. Davidson shares Legrand’s French heritage and feels a true kinship with him and his passionate approach to composing memorable, deeply-felt songs. Davidson also shares a voracious curiosity about music and has ventured into many diverse genres that include tango, Brazillian, and klezmer as well as symphonic and choral. David Finck has collaborated with Davidson on many other projects, and the two present a seamless unity as a duo. Finck’s occasional solos are evocative and beautiful.
Umbrellas and Sunshine opens with “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg” (“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”), which is better known in the US as “I Will Wait For You.” Upbeat and optimistic, the artists set the mood of the album with one of Legrand’s masterpieces. “La Valse Des Lilas” (“Waltz of the Lilacs”) is smooth, graceful, and full of longing. Finck has a couple of wonderful solos, playing his bass pizzicato. Although the title of “Les Enfants Qui Pleurent” (“The Children Who Cry”) seems heartbreakingly sad, this lively piece gently dances for joy. “The Summer Knows,” the theme from The Summer of ’42, is one of the most beautiful songs ever written and has been performed and recorded countless times over the years. Davidson and Finck make it their own, conveying an unforgettable depth of emotion. Finck’s bass solo is amazing! “Watch What Happens” has become a jazz standard, and this arrangement is rhythmic and carefree. Another favorite is the medley of “The Easy Way” and “What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life?” Pairing one of Legrand’s lesser-known songs with one of his most popular adds a bit of a surprise while creating an emotional powerhouse. “You Must Believe in Spring” is a graceful ballad that flows from the heart. “Look” is another beautiful but lesser-known song that Davidson captured as a tender piano solo in one take. “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” is Legrand’s most recent “hit.” Frequently performed and recorded, Davidson and Finck again make it their own with deep expression and tangible emotion. The closing track is a reprise of “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” recorded as a piano solo when Roger Davidson didn’t know he was being recorded. More poignant than the opening version, it’s a superlative ending to a fantastic album.
I have to admit that Michel Legrand has always been one of my favorite songwriters, and I truly think this is the best collection of his work that I’ve heard. It is available from www.rogerdavidsonmusic.com, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Very enthusiastically recommended!
In the vein of classic piano suites like Fats Waller's vintage tune "Ain't Misbehavin'", pianist Roger Davidson and upright bass player David Finck have reawakened some of composer Michel Legrand's most sought-after works including "How Do You Keep The Music Playing", "Les Parapluies de Cherbourg", and "You Must Believe In Spring". Produced by Pablo Aslan, Davidson and Finck's tribute album Umbrellas and Sunshine is loaded with sleepytime tunage with a supper club-orientation in the keys. The lounging ambiences of these tracks have an endearing quality reminiscent of musicals like "Ain't Misbehavin'" inspired by Fats Waller's tune. Though Davidson and Finck stick to Legrand's scripts, there are moments of spontaneity where these two musicians deeply penetrate the music and weave their own musings into the fabric like Finck's sleek arcos in "Watch What Happens" and Davidson's emoting motifs along "The First Time" laden with waltzing keys and graceful cascades. Legrand left room for future generations of musicians to put their own ideas into his works, and Davidson and Finck do so without taking away from the gist of the pieces. Legrand's music projects a certain lifestyle that he wanted to convey to audiences back in the day of swing music in the 1930's through the Great Depression. Swing provided the remedy for a sad time in history, and it is interesting that Davidson and Finck decided to pull these tunes out of the vault to recuperate. The title of their album Umbrellas and Sunshine is an appropriate marquee for Legrand's music which offers audiences an umbrella for the rainy days while putting a little sunshine through the storm clouds. Davidson and Finck are doing the same in 2011.
Review By Susan Frances, Yahoo! Contributor Network
Some of Michel Legrand's own albums have shown how well-suited are many of his songs to jazz treatment. They have distinctive structures and chord changes, ideal for improvising new melodies. For example, the first track here (more familiar as I Will Wait for You) is a memorable theme full of opportunities for the improviser.
This piano-and-bass duo takes advantage of that distinctive quality in Legrand's compositions, although the improvisation tends to be sparing and keeps close to the tunes. Les Enfants Qui Pleurent is a nice bouncy jazz waltz, and The Summer Knows is given added weight by the bassist's arco.
Watch What Happens is another tune just fitted for extemporization, as Legrand himself showed in his wonderful album Live at Jimmy's. In fact Legrand was more daring than this duo, as Michel took the tune through several different tempos and styles. It's a pity that the Legrand album has not yet been converted from LP to CD, as it is a masterpiece. One might unkindly say that it outshines this CD by Davidson and Finck, although the latter album is extremely agreeable.
In fact, as the sleeve-note points out, hearing the songs in this stripped-down way makes one appreciate their rich melodies. Roger Davidson, being French-American, has a clear affinity with these tunes and performs them with eloquent feeling. That feeling is most noticeable in Roger's romantic, out-of-tempo introductions to some of the pieces, but you can also hear it in his loving treatment of such Legrand staples as What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life? and You Must Believe in Spring. And David Finck is the ideal colleague, adding some melodious bass solos.
This is an album of gentle music, particularly suitable for late-night listening.
Michel Legrand’s music is extravagant in every sense. An outpouring of lushly harmonized melody, it draws upon modern jazz, the French impressionism of Ravel and Debussy, Paris’s old bal musette café style, and Hollywood soundtrack scoring at its most romantic. A veteran film composer, Legrand has won three Oscars; his movie songs – including “Watch What Happens,” “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?, and “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” – have challenged the interpretive depth of countless artists. As an arranger, he aims for the stars. His 1958 album Legrand Jazz featured Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Bill Evans; fourteen years later he led a mega-symphonic orchestra on the landmark LP Sarah Vaughan with Michel Legrand.
But to hear his songs in the stripped-down versions here – just piano, with and without bass – is the true proof of their seductiveness. The pianist is Legrand’s fellow iconoclast, the French-American composer Roger Davidson. Since starting his career in the ‘70s, Roger has been as ravenous as Legrand in his musical curiosity, and as fearless in his reach. His pieces range from symphonies and choral music to small-group jazz to a bounty of Latin and Brazilian-flavored songs. In all his work, melody reigns. Called an “impeccable player” in JazzTimes, Roger has presented his compositions everywhere from Carnegie Hall to top jazz clubs. Esteemed Brazilian, Argentine, and American musicians have played them; among the latter is Richard Stoltzman, the acclaimed clarinetist, for whom Roger has composed extensively.
His collaborator on this and many other CDs is celebrated in his own right. Bassist David Finck is fluent in the languages of jazz, Brazilian music, Broadway, and pop; he has played outstandingly with a sprawling list of greats, including Legrand. It was David who suggested that Roger explore an album’s-worth of Legrand. Roger was all for it. “I feel a tremendous kinship with Michel Legrand,” he says. “Legrand is French, and so am I. He is a very romantic composer; he writes music with feeling. We both love to write melodies. Like everyone else I heard his tunes played over and over by many wonderful musicians, and I started playing them myself.”
The progressions in Legrand’s songs, explains Roger, have “a natural musicality that makes it easy for me to improvise on them. They often require you to play a lot of mini-modulations, and I love it. But you don’t want to play jazz on them all the time. I played many of them very gently and straightforwardly, because that’s all they needed.”
Bookending this heartfelt tribute to Legrand are two versions of the theme from Legrand’s acknowledged masterpiece: his score for the 1964 film Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg), a cinematic opera about young lovers torn apart by fate and choice. That theme won American fame as “I Will Wait for You.” A sprightly, nimble duo performance of it opens the album; later, when he didn’t know he was being recorded, Roger played the song as a reflective solo. The CD’s producer Pablo Aslan, an Argentine bassist and tango specialist of renown, deemed the track too fine not to include.
One of Legrand’s most poignant tunes came to him in his early twenties. He wrote La valse des lilas (Waltz of the Lilacs) in 1954, and his sometime lyricist, Eddy Marnay, added French words. Singer-pianist Blossom Dearie was living in Paris then, and the song so entranced her that she asked Johnny Mercer to pen English lyrics. Back in the States, she used “Once Upon a Summertime” (as the song was now called) as the title song of an album. Roger’s stately performance sticks close to a melody that would be hard to surpass.
The bittersweet waltz Les enfants qui pleurent (The Children Who Cry) dates from the mid-‘60s. In the states it became known as “Martina.” There are no tears in the airy, lilting performance here. “Harmonically one of the things I related this song to,” observes Roger, “was ‘Le Tombeau de Couperin’ by Ravel, one section of which has an almost identical harmonic progression.”
Legrand’s famous theme for Summer of ’42 (1971) has a tune that swells, crests, and subsides like a wave. The composer’s alter egos, lyricists Marilyn and Alan Bergman, turned that theme into The Summer Knows. The music, says Roger, is “romantic, wistful, longing – it has everything it should have for the story it’s meant to tell. It needs to be played with both gentleness and passion. I tried to do that.” The song inspired one of David Finck’s loveliest solos. “Dave is the best partner I can imagine to play with in a duo. He’s a great collaborator, and comes up with as many ideas as I do. We bounce them back and forth, and most of the time things just happen. As a bassist he’s behind me all the time, and when he plays melodies he’s very lyrical and respectful.”
The jazz standard Watch What Happens was first sung in French, with a far different text, in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg; there it was a wealthy jeweler’s quiet plea for the hand of Geneviève, a young woman who yearns for her true love, who went off to war. “We did it in an old-style swing,” says Roger. “It was so much fun to play.”
His Eyes, Her Eyes is the haunting theme from The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), a crime drama that starred Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. “It’s a colder tune than the others; it was meant to evoke suspicion,” Roger says. “She’s looking at him, he’s looking at her, they don’t trust each other. It’s a fascinating tune, but I had to warm it up somehow. When I kicked it from four-four into three-four it all came together.”
One of Legrand’s most famous songs is paired here with one of his most obscure. The Easy Way was written in the early ‘90s as a stand-alone song, not from a film; the Bergmans added words. Roger’s expressive solo leads seamlessly into What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life? During a writing session for the 1969 film The Happy Ending (1969), the Bergmans had fed Legrand that song title. According to Marilyn, he put his hands on the keys and the music for the whole song poured out of him. In the spirit of jazz, Roger reharmonized the B-section. “I think it leads much better into the return of the original melody,” he explains, “which I left intact.”
The 1980 romantic comedy Falling in Love Again (with Elliott Gould and Susannah York) benefited richly from its Legrand score. Its sweeping theme, The First Time, went mostly overlooked. Roger gives it a lift by changing the time from 4/4 to 3/4. You Must Believe in Spring has become one of the more revered standards. The famous Bergman lyric bears no relation to the original words heard in Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967). In that kitschy musical, the song was sung in French by a young poet and painter who has roamed the world, searching in vain for his ideal love. Roger’s version includes one of his prettiest improvised choruses. He found the rare Look at the session in a Legrand songbook. “I did it as a piano solo, one take. We thought it was good so we left it that way.”
In the early ‘70s, Sarah Vaughan and Jack Jones each recorded the Legrand-Bergman ballad “I Will Say Goodbye” with the composer conducting. Few Americans had heard the original version, Je vivrai sans toi (I Will Live Without You), which Legrand had recorded instrumentally around 1960. Roger plays that intense, modulating ballad with rapt attentiveness.
Legrand’s last “hit” to date is How Do You Keep the Music Playing?, which conveys the fears of almost any long-term couple. Legrand and the Bergmans wrote it for the 1982 film Best Friends, and many old-guard pop singers, notably Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra, rejoiced at finding it. David Finck suggested that Roger start his performance of this now-familiar song by improvising on it. He did – and the way the tune creeps up on you makes its eventual appearance all the more touching.
To Legrand, the song is surely about more than romance. On March 27, 2010, the composer was feted in a PBS special taped at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas; Legrand conducted a huge orchestra as a parade of pop stars sang his classics. But as he had said a few months earlier: “I’m not so keen on living in the past. I have so many projects, so many things that I have to decide about … I have to really save my time for the future.” It’s a philosophy to which Roger Davidson can relate, as he continues to create music of a boundless international scope – and to salute the masters, like Legrand, that he admires most.
—James Gavin, New York City, 2010
[James Gavin’s work has appeared in the New York Times, Vanity Fair, and the Huffington Post; his most recent book is Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne.]