As I customarily point out at our holiday dinner, the Society of Composers & Lyricists created the Ambassador Program to recognize and acknowledge a select group of composers and lyricists without whose valuable contributions our profession would be less than it is; without whose creativity our artistic community would be lacking and without whose gift, our society would be deprived of wonderful music and song expressed by their genius. Their achievements will be used as the ultimate standard for future generations of film composers and songwriters.
Last year’s event, which was held in the beautiful Crystal Ballroom of the Riviera country club, was significant for two reasons. Not only did we bestow our Ambassador Award on another two talented recipients, but also, Dennis Spiegel became the fourth person to receive our Lifetime Achievement Award. Besides his great talent as a lyricist, his warmth and generosity of spirit has made all who know him feel appreciated and welcome, whenever he is around.
This year’s dinner was particularly rewarding for me, as our two honorees were instrumental in setting an exceptionally high standard for me at the beginning of my career. Our first honoree was Jack Hayes. Among the many missions of the SCL, none is more important than celebrating and raising the awareness of those who have contributed significantly to our profession. Without Jack Hayes, the body of work left behind by many of our luminaries past and present, would be lacking one of the essential qualities that makes it what it is. That attribute is the magic that he so seamlessly brought and continues to bring to the scores with his unmistakable orchestrations. Just a small sampling of his amazing work as an orchestrator spans the history of cinema over the last 60 years. The Greatest Story Ever Told, Gun Fight at the OK Corral, Riverboat, Donovan’s Reef, Hawaii, Casino Royale and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In his introduction, Michael Giachhino spoke passionately about Jack’s talent and his contributions to his own scores. I think it was a fitting follow-up that Michael won the Golden Globe a month later for his music to the film Up, in which Jack contributed masterful orchestrations.
Few, if any of our colleagues have enjoyed as much success in such a wide range of musical disciplines as last year’s second honoree, Charles Fox, who performed some of his memorable classics for us. If only as the co-writer of one of the most performed songs in the BMI repertoire, Killing Me Softly, his place in our musical conscience would be assured. But with Charles, that is only part of his illustrious story. His music to such favorites as Foul Play and Goodbye Columbus are filled with some of the most well crafted score cues of their era. His themes and musical compositions underscore some of the most successful television series of the past fifty years. I was fortunate to follow in his footsteps after he established the unmistakable sound for Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley. This past July, Charlie conducted the Warsaw Opera Company Chorus and Orchestra in the premiere of his oratorio, Lament and Prayer based on the words of Pope John Paul II. For the next two years he will be the composer in residence with the Young Musician’s Foundation, and is also the author of a soon to be released book on his life in music.
Bringing Charlie to the stage was Richard Sherman, who along with his brother Robert, was our 2005 recipient of the SCL Ambassador Award. Richard’s charm will always hold a special place in the hearts of those fortunate enough to attend our 2005 event, where Richard performed his Oscar winning songs and other classics for his appreciative audience. His career continues to soar with citations and awards and other widespread recognition including the recent success of the restaging of his beloved Mary Poppins, which at this writing is having a sold out run, here in Los Angeles.
Also in the audience in December was Lalo Schifrin, one of our 2008 honorees. Few of our peers can truly be designated as icons in our profession, but Lalo Schifrin redefines the term. Lalo’s unmistakable creative touch has had a far-reaching impact on every area of our profession. From jazz composer, arranger and performer, to classical composer and conductor to consummate film composer, Lalo Schifrin’s talents have run the gamut, each time putting his unmistakable touch on each genre as no one else can. We heard solid renditions with the maestro at the piano of his music from Cool Hand Luke and the stirring Mission Impossible.
Lalo’s fellow inductee in 2008 was Hal David. As I pointed out in my introduction, It’s difficult to know where to begin when discussing a career as vast, long lasting and successful as Hal David’s has been. I am pleased to say that Hal has become a friend over the last few years, but I feel that I have known him all of my life. There’s nothing unusual about that as everyone I know feels the same about Hal. That is simply because his lyrics have been in our living rooms, in our cars in Trains and Boats and Planes and of course in our hearts and will continue to be for as long as a song is sung. And sing he did, with memorable performances of I’ll Never Fall in Love Again and Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.
A year earlier, 2007 Ambassador, Burt Bacharach paid homage to Hal in his performance of Alfie, saying this is one of the best lyric’s Hal David ever wrote; matter of fact, it’s one of the best lyrics anybody ever wrote. Earlier that evening, the other Ambassador from that year, Dave Grusin and Burt quipped about their early days of being in the south of France together, and afterwards Dave and Stephen Bishop did a moving version of Dave’s song written with lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman It Might be You, from Tootsie. The following day, Dave wrote me: thanks …for a wonderful warm evening. When we talk about the importance of community, this group is such a prime example. It was great to be in that environment. This is a testimonial that I will treasure, as I have always striven to achieve this, in a great part, through these evenings.
We’ll never forget the touching speeches of our first two inductees, Ray Evans and Earle Hagen. I applaud my colleague, Ray Colcord, and the Television Academy for also recognizing Earle Hagen as a granite figure in the annals of our craft. My wife, Cheryl feels that raising the awareness of the contributions of the Ambassadors has fostered more appreciation for their careers. I remember Ray Evans attending our Oscar receptions and on one occasion being engaged by a number of young writers who had attended our dinner (as well as Dolly Parton). Playing all through this and every holiday season at our home were the seasonal vocal albums of the Ray Charles Singers, led by the consummate arranger and conductor, 2004 Ambassador, Ray Charles.
One of the touching moments of these affairs was when 2006 Ambassador, Johnny Mandel looked into the audience and recognized the previous year’s winner, Van Alexander and paraphrased his earlier statement of I couldn’t have found a better teacher than Van, he threw me in the water and said, Swim! Johnny continues to be one of the most recognized and in demand arrangers in our profession and Van has just authored a book from Harlem to Hollywood.
In 2006, in introducing David Shire, I used these words to welcome him to the stage to perform some of his beautiful music: Tonight we are honoring a gentleman whose range, diversity, and general ability to do many things well is unparalleled in our profession. David Shire has written for the theatre, scored television, scored motion pictures and written hit songs and then music directed, played piano on Broadway and produced pop records. Doing them all to perfection.
Vic Mizzy was an inspiration to our community with his at times irreverent, but always light hearted demeanor; at 93 he still had that childish twinkle in his eye. He entertained us with his wit as he accepted his award in 2004. His works, including the theme and underscore to The Addams Family and Green Acres, will forever be apart of television history and lore.
As I look back over the years of my tenure as president of the Society of Composers and Lyricists, nothing has been more gratifying than the Ambassador program that the board and I implemented during my first term. To join with you as we celebrate and recognize a number of individuals that have helped make our profession the unique and rewarding one that it has always been for me, will forever be something that I will be most proud.
Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XXV, Number One, Spring 2010]