Women Wednesdays Part 2: Melissa Errico’s Beautiful Tribute To Michel Legrand & His Music

“Un-Block The Music” (UBTM) remembers watching Michel Legrand on The Merv Griffin Show, I think way back in the 1970s when my love of music just started to be cultivated.  He looked so European and I remember being so very fascinated. His music was different from anything else I had ever heard (Of course, I probably was only 10 years old at the time.) It wasn’t until Michel along with Alan and Marilyn Bergman won two Oscars for the music in Yentl, Barbra Streisand’s movie masterpiece, that I really paid attention to his genius, and started realizing how many other wonderful songs and scores he had written. So, when I was introduced to Melissa Errico, I was more than thrilled to hear about her consanguinity with Michel. Her words about Michel were so exquisite, I hesitated to paraphrase anything. Read on.

Melissa said, “I could literally write a book about Michel Legrand!  It is truly the legend of my life.” Melissa’s father paid for his college expenses by playing the piano at “socials” and university dances, leading bands and mastering the American Songbook from Gershwin to Porter. When 22-year old Michel Legrand released his album, I Love Paris, it hit home with her Dad. “My father, for all his passion for music, became a medical student, and soon after graduation from medical school was drafted for the Vietnam War, where he was a medic in Saigon. My parents were separated and had a newborn son, my brother Michael. One of the songs of their emotional life at that time was the 1964 Legrand classic ‘I Will Wait for You’.  I realize now that it was written about an imaginary couple separated by the Algerian War. It became real for my parents as a song about Vietnam.”

When Melissa was little, her Dad would come home from the hospital, and play Chopin for hours, but then, she said, he would meander over the keys for another half hour or more, playing Legrand. “Michel Legrand’s name was mentioned to me with the same seriousness that my father would mention Debussy’s or Ravel’s or Rachmaninoff’s.  He revered Legrand and meditated on the exotic chords, playing them as if they were sacred, letting the effect of their sheer beauty wash over our house and over his own spirit.”

There were some afternoons when her father was not on call at the hospital, and he would put aside a few hours for his music. “I didn’t quite grasp that the composer Michel Legrand was alive, and, say, that Chopin was long gone. Rachmaninoff, Debussy, Legrand…they all seemed to exist in one historic time. My father told me how he loved the movies Legrand’s music were from, but said I couldn’t see them yet. I sensed there was something grown up about Summer of ’42 or The Thomas Crown Affair, and I wasn’t quite old enough to entirely be let in on all the secrets. I liked to come in, instead of doing my homework, and listen.  I waited for him to get to the stuff I liked the most and that was Michel Legrand, songs such as ‘Windmills of Your Mind,’and ‘The Summer Knows’.”

In 2002, Melissa was approached by her manager who handed her a fax that had just come to the office from New York City. It said that there was an audition in New York and the director James Lapine would like for her to come in. Apparently, there was a musical in Paris called Le Passe Muraille with music by Michel Legrand that was transferring to Broadway! “The paper seemed to glow in my hand, as if it had a light shining from inside it into my soul.  I turned to my Hollywood manager and cried out, ‘Michel Legrand… Michel Legrand wrote a musical!’  She turned to me, matching my smile with her own, and said ‘I know, I know!  I love her!’  So, I left that agency and that manager, permanently as it turned out, and flew to New York to follow the promise of that illuminated fax.”

Melissa continued. “I’ll never forget the first rehearsal when Legrand was in the room. I tried to shoot him the warmest smile of my life. Michel and I had an immediate rapport. Our chemistry might also have been built on my willingness to be subsumed in his work. I was tireless and determined to get things right, to work the extra hours of rehearsal, to stay late and join in discussions over changes that James Lapine wanted to make to the show.”

When the show ended, Melissa and Michel spent a lot of time together doing jazz concerts in LA and New York. “At one point, he came to my apartment and spent five days with me going over his songs and seeing which ones matched my voice best. I could only hope we would find an idea—or a series of songs—that felt like an album.  I never assumed anything. I always appreciated any time in his presence. I will never forget the moment when he stood up, pacing around my hardwood floors, and said, ‘Melissa, it will be oceanic… and intime.’  Oceanic and intime: I couldn’t have said it better. I, too, wanted to create the gentlest music imaginable, but with a vastness too, an embracing quality. It was that idea of music both orchestral and intimate that eventually became the ambitious symphonic recording called Legrand Affair produced by the legendary Phil Ramone. (Phil was the first “famous” person, Un-Block The Music ever interviewed back in my days at Billboard. He was genius and always so kind to me in the years that followed our first meeting.).

He decided to record the album with a hundred-piece Belgian symphony. “When in the summer of 2005, I ultimately walked into the concert hall in Leuven, I was moved to tears. I had just arrived by train from London and was 15 minutes late, and the symphony had already started playing. My hand went straight to my mouth. I had never heard the sound of 100 musicians playing before, but Michel had known just what he wanted.”  

“Michel was a uniquely feeling musician. The most exquisitely emotional days of my life- as person, a child, an actress, a new mother- were set to his soundtrack, ignited by his mind,” Melissa said. Michel died in January 2019, and by year’s end she released , Legrand Affair: Deluxe Edition. In addition to 15 original recordings she recorded with the Brussels Philharmonic, the collection also  incorporated 12 unheard tracks, including “I Haven’t Thought Of This In Quite A While” — as well as new recordings of “Hurry Home,” “Little Boy Lost,” “The Way He Makes Me Feel” and a new guitar duo version of  “What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?”

This past July, Melissa released Two Spring Songs For Summer. The first song is a new version of Michel Legrand’s song “You Must Believe in Spring”, the other and Alec Wilder’s “Blackberry Winter.”  When CO-VID shut the world down, Melissa was about to do a 6-month international tour featuring songs by Michel Legrand; “Legrand Difference: Melissa Errico Sings The Music of Michel Legrand.” Sadly, like all tours, it has been cancelled.

Please read the other articles I have written as a result of interviews with Melissa. You will love her!



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