Quincy Jones once made the perceptive and thought-provoking observation that Dave Grusin had the mind of a whole man.
The implied soundness and intellect he attributed to the young musician, still only in his twenties then, were qualities very much required as Dave Grusin's career developed and branched out in the 1960s.
Beginning as accompanist for Andy Williams, Dave Grusin soon found himself taking on conducting, arranging and orchestration tasks for the star. There were records, concerts and night club appearances too. At the end of the rainbow was the highly popular TV variety show, of which he became musical director (and leader of The Dave Grusin Orchestra).
One of his early assignments was to organize a core of musicians which would be enhanced by local personnel on tour dates.
This led him to interview a teenage drummer with an eye to joining the singer's ensemble - the first encounter with his future business partner, Larry Rosen. A definite `click' was sounded and Larry Rosen began setting the beat on Andy Williams gigs.
Besides the live performances, Dave Grusin participated on a string of hit singles and albums. Early on (1960) there was the trip to France where he met the self-same Quincy Jones to record “Under Paris Skies,” done by Andy Williams in a late-night marathon session with French musicians. That same year he also recorded with Benny Goodman's quintet.
Other Williams albums with the Grusin touch in evidence are “Warm and Willing,” “Lonely Street,” “Danny Boy,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” “The Village of St. Bernadette” and “Moon River.” And who was at the piano when Andy Williams made the latter song his very own at the 1962 Academy Award ceremonies?
In the midst of all this, Dave Grusin managed to squeeze in three solo albums as well. With the encouragement of Andy Williams, his new producer at Columbia, Robert Mersey packaged that first headliner album, released by Epic in 1962 - “Subways Are For Sleeping,” featuring cool improvisations of the Broadway show for piano trio.
That jazz version of a Broadway musical wasn't Dave Grusin's only brush with the Great White Way. He was also involved with the 1961 Jay Livingston-Ray Evans musical “Let It Ride.”
Another early recording was the jazz-oriented “Piano Strings and Moonlight” a romantic treatment of 11 standards, as well as a track introducing Dave Grusin the composer, with the haunting and lush “Sara Jane.” His third - and last album for over a dozen years - was the 1964 “Kaleidoscope,” which offers all the hallmarks of the developed Grusin piano style.
The weekly television series which began in 1962 gave Dave Grusin a musical laboratory to learn and perfect the crafts of arrangement, orchestration and conducting. What skills he arrived with were those taught in the classroom, and he virtually became a professional on the job.
One nearly faints at the thought of the grind and pressure placed on a novice at putting together a dozen or so musical numbers within seven days for the weekly variety hour. Forward planning impossible, when one taping session was completed, a new avalanche began rolling down the mountain towards him. "It was an intense workshop for me," he declares.
Quickly becoming a competent arranger and conductor, Dave Grusin was sought out by many other artists to perform these roles. In the sixties he famously worked with Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66, creating the hit arrangement of “The Look of Love” and playing a major role in their albums “Crystal Illusions,” “Look Around” and “The Fool on the Hill."
He also teamed up with Peggy Lee as conductor and arranger of her smash hit “Big Spender” and arranged and conducted the LPs "Damita Jo Sings" and “Buddy Greco Sings For Intimate Moments”
The latter record was also produced by Dave Grusin, and represented the start of another important branch of his musical career which began in the sixties, and included the psychedelic recording “Loadstone.”
All the while the germ of an idea was continuing to grow and take shape. The love of film scores, which had been as much a part of his musical nourishment and background as the classics and jazz when a teenager, took on a life of its own as he found himself working in Hollywood with some of cinema's greatest stars passing through his life each week.
Playing on the soundtrack of "The Slender Thread," scored by Quincy Jones in 1965, helped to reinforce the feelings that this was a world he wanted to pursue. He speculated that it would be “very interesting" if he might "get in the door and have that kind of life.”
Ever torn between playing and composing, the latter sphere eventually started to win out, and Dave Grusin's ambition to follow in the line of legendary film scorers he so admired began to become a reality. He had also come to the realization that “one of the last frontiers of professional composing was in film.”
So, following his tour of duty with Andy Williams, it seemed almost a natural progression to begin composing for the screen. He started out doing music for television series. Many people remember his early score for a “Wild Wild West” episode called “The Night of the Puppeteer,” first broadcast in February 1966. Unfortunately, the interesting electronic concoction was his only work for that series.
His first regular film credits came in the 1965-66 television season, when he contributed background music for 16 episodes of the Sally Field show, “Gidget” and numerous ones for “The Girl From UNCLE.” There is even an LP from the latter series which features a number of Dave Grusin tracks. Another series which sported Dave Grusin scores that season was the Inger Stevens hit "The Farmer's Daughter."
Having successfully done music for drama and comedy series' - as well as launching a career as a purveyor of TV themes - the next step was obviously to score a feature-length film. He obliged in 1967 with one for the television movie thriller “The Scorpio Letters” and worked on the pilot film for the long-running Columbo series called “Prescription Murder,” first broadcast in 1968.
However, Dave Grusin finds it difficult to take pride in his television scoring, feeling that “It doesn't leave time for quality. Good things are hard to come by. You're given an airdate, a deadline, a tight budget. The music is squeezed towards the end of the post-production work.”
So the goal had to be the cinema, and indeed it was in 1967 that Dave Grusin scored his first theatrical release, having been given the nod by former Andy Williams Show bosses Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin. "I was so lucky," he remembers. "That was phenomenal for me." The movie was “Divorce American Style” with Debbie Reynolds and Dick Van Dyke, quickly followed by the western spoof “Waterhole #3” and one of the top films of all time, “The Graduate,” the soundtrack album of which is still selling 35 years on.
It was a unique arrangement, with Simon and Garfunkel contributing the songs and Dave Grusin, music to enhance the more satirical moments in the movie. In any case, his career in motion pictures was underway. After doing five feature-length films in his first year, he went on to complete another half dozen scores in the subsequent two years. In 1968 these included the New York-flavored “Where Were You When The Lights Went Out?” and a memorable psychedelic score for the star-studded romp “Candy.” In that year he also produced what would be considered his first serious score for the literary classic “The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter,” one of his finest .
This was definitely the composing milieu he favored. “Features allow you time to breathe. You can consider what you're doing and perhaps throw away inferior material and start over," he explains.
Dave Grusin concluded the decade with the jazzy music for the Paul Newman-Joanne Woodward racing film “Winning” in addition to another western, “A Man Called Gannon,” the social study "Generation" and the horror epic “The Mad Room.”
Within three short years he had proven himself to be a film composer of great versatility, style and imagination. His experience and demonstrated ability to regularly deliver the music for a weekly variety hour also meant he could offer the professionalism which separates the merely talented composer from the successful film scorer. By the end of the decade his career in motion pictures was not only fully launched but on a clear course for 30 more years of creating music for cinematic productions.
Whether it was a way of unwinding after a day struggling with a film score or trying to give birth to a new creation in the recording studio, Dave Grusin often managed to find time to frequently sit in on sessions with some of L.A.'s top musicians, at the piano or organ. Most significant of these in the 60s were the nights at Dontes in North Hollywood, as a member of Howard Roberts Band, which included such players as Chuck Berghofer and Tom Scott.
There is even a live recording from the period, made in April 1968 from one of those appearances (released for the first time in 2000 under the title "Magic Band - Vol. 2" - see Records as Sideman). He could also be heard at the keyboard on three Howard Roberts LPs, “Jaunty Jolly,” “Guilty” and “Spinning Wheel,” during the late sixties.
By the end of the decade Dave Grusin had demonstrated nearly all the talents which would make up his illustrious career in music. In mid decade he began his gradual disappearance into `the shadows,' to be visible only to those who recognized his name on a film credit or had the good fortune to hear him play live in jazz clubs.
Go to 1970s Chronology