Vernacular

Sometime back in the past, my family members had all gone to bed and suddenly I saw and heard on TV, what became my favorite movie of all time: “The Umbrellas

of Cherbourg.”

The remarkable thing about the movie is that all the conversations, in French, are set to the marvelous sounds written by Michel Legrand. There are no “spoken”

words of dialog.

Although I don’t usually use this column for obituaries, today’s was prompted by the death of Legrand on Jan. 26.

By 9, Legrand was such a ferociously skilled player that the Paris Conservatory made an exception to its minimum age policy of 14, by admitting him.

The movie, directed by Jacques Demy, starred Catherine Deneuve as a stunning teenager who falls in love with an auto mechanic in the French coastal city, but they are driven apart by war

and circumstance.

The singing was done by outstanding French singers, with the actors lip syncing the words. I thought at the time, that more musicals would use the same technique, but that’s

still not happening.

Legrand spent a full year working on the luxurious mating of music and words.

From that 1964 film’s score, “I Will Wait for You” was subsequently offered with the English words combining with the

melody lines.

“If it takes forever / I will wait for you / For a thousand summers / I will wait for you / Till you’re back beside me /

I will wait for you.”

Legrand’s music was often embraced by the lyrics written by Alan and

Marilyn Bergman.

The three musical talents combined their words and music for the delightful, circular song “The Windmills

of Your Mind.”

Here are some samples of the clever lyrics, which involve every whirling word in our lexicon.

“Round like a circle in a spiral within a wheel / Never ending or beginning on an ever-spinning reel / Like a snowball down a mountain, or a carnival balloon / Like a carousel that’s turning, running rings

around the moon.”

“When you knew that it was over you were suddenly aware / That the autumn leaves were turning to the color of her hair.”

“The Summer of ’42” is a wartime story about a sensitive teenager’s crush on his mature neighbor (Jennifer O’Neill) whose boyfriend is away, fighting in the service.

Because of his commercial pull, Legrand was given carte blanche for one of albums, “Legrand

Jazz” (1958).

Decades later, Los Angeles Times jazz critic Leonard Feather called “Legrand Jazz” “unquestionably one of the most successful orchestral jazz albums

of all time.”

In Hollywood, he received Oscar nominations for the songs “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life,” from the 1969 film “The Happy Ending” and two other movie treats.

He also wrote the music for “Brian’s Song” (1971), the popular TV movie about a gridiron friendship.

The most romantic song is “What are you doing the rest of your life / North and South and East and West of your life / I have only one request of your life / That you spend it all with me.”

We can all be grateful for the treasure chest of melodies he left for us.

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