Many possibilities lay open to Dave Grusin in the summer of 1959. With a BA from the University of Colorado in his pocket, he sampled teaching music in a prep school and played jazz piano with various professional groups.
Andy Williams, Larry Rosen & Dave Grusin
Far along the horizon may have been the thought of composing, but for the moment, graduate school at the Manhattan School of Music and an eye to returning to his alma mater as a faculty member, was the option he had chosen.
Bob Eaton, who had been part of the musicians' compound at the University of Colorado, had landed a job in the choir of Andy Williams' ABC summer TV show. He suggested the popular singer might audition his college friend for the position of accompanist on a forthcoming appearance.
Accompanying people was nothing new to Dave Grusin. "I started out being in demand in college because I was a good accompanist." he reveals adding that he " always had a feel for it, a sensitivity and an attempt to support it." However, working for a top star was a far cry from the kind of thing he was familiar with, though that ranged from small black night spots in Florida to après ski at Aspen.
There must have been a hint that, should the job pan out into something more, some arranging could be involved, as having virtually no practice at that craft, Dave Grusin quips that he attempted to substitute appearances for experience, and presented himself “wearing a blue suit” …. to look like an arranger.
But Andy Williams, with some two decades in show business behind him - although still only 30 - clearly had the keen sense of the consummate professional, and the instincts to match.
The singer recalls, “I asked him to accompany me on "Danny Boy" in D flat.” Very few notes flowed from the young musician's piano before Andy Williams was convinced that blue suit or blue jeans, this was a man with talent. “I knew in the first few bars that he was the right pianist for me and was something very special.” (Still today, it is that song he most associates with Dave Grusin - for the particularly beautiful way he played the piano part on the 1961 recording of it.)
In actual fact, the original engagement had only been for two weeks at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans. The Deep South. And this meant that Andy Williams' current pianist, Hank Jones, could not play due to color laws. The irony is that Hank Jones had long been a keyboard hero of Dave Grusin's, and further, had offered tremendous fatherly support to the music student.
But when he played those bars of “Danny Boy,” the dye was cast. The musical chemistry between vocalist and pianist, and that special something meant that two weeks turned into seven years.
What was that exceptional quality that Andy Williams spotted so quickly? “Dave was very sensitive to accompanying a singer, intelligent enough to know where to fill and what to play,” he explains. “Dave has exquisite musical taste. He was equally adept at any kind of pop music, sentimental or jazz.”
Andy Williams also admired Dave Grusin's approach to his work. “Dave was very businesslike, and took his job very seriously.”
After that first engagement in New Orleans, it wasn't long before graduate studies were forced to take a back seat, and soon enough be left by the wayside, along with the vision of an ivory tower existence.
They toured extensively, and it was when they were still based in New York that Dave Grusin was called on to interview a drummer to travel with them on concert and club dates. The talented musician he chose went on to have a successful career in advertising, and later record producing and engineering. The teenage artist was Larry Rosen - as in Grusin Rosen Productions. Indeed, it was in the Andy Williams days that Dave Grusin met the man who would later become his business partner in the highly successful GRP Records venture.
Andy Williams himself was having a bit of a change in career direction too. Up to then Cadence Records, run by the charming and indomitable Archie Bleyer, had aimed the singer's recordings at a Top 40 audience. Of course, he had obliged by turning out a succession of massive hits like Butterfly, Canadian Sunset, Are You Sincere and many more. Albums like those he later became associated with were still a secondary matter.
But even while still with Cadence, a subtle transformation was already taking place, coincidentally after Dave Grusin joined him. It started with “Lonely Street,” an album cut in 1959, the title song of which was another Williams hit single.
Any Dave Grusin fan will recognize his sensitive touch at the piano here, even though he was only 25 at the time. It is most evident on the song “Willow Weep for Me.” Even at this early stage in their relationship, Andy Williams utilized his accompanist's budding talent for interpretation, remembering “He and I worked on the vocal layouts before giving them to an arranger.”
This record marked a major departure from the orchestrations Archie Bleyer had previously done for his leading artist. Up to then he had used piano sparingly, usually opting for guitar instead. On “Lonely Street,” a genuine delight to Dave Grusin fans, the piano is prominent on every track.
Early in 1960, based on the massive and unforgettable hit of the previous December, “The Village of St. Bernadette,” Andy Williams recorded an album of songs of faith and inspiration under that title. Less piano here, but that special touch is still to be heard, particularly on “Look For the Silver Lining.”
Andy Williams recorded his last album for Cadence that year, and it was a real landmark. He had the idea of doing a recording of French songs in Paris. “I would love to do this album,” he told the Cadence boss. “And Archie Bleyer gave me cart blanche to go over and produce it” he says. “We had great sessions, working out all the songs.”
Charts for this very special album were done by a gifted young American, then resident in France, one Quincy Jones. Many people regard “Under Paris Skies” to be one of Andy Williams' finest albums. His ability to do jazz is clearly evident, and the sparkling orchestral arrangements of Quincy Jones and Billy Byers add to the exhilaration. And of course, the man at the piano is in his element with the jazzy big band arrangements. His characteristically sympathetic piano opens the gradual buildup to full-blown orchestra on “April in Paris,” and also closes the fabulous track.
Quincy Jones and Dave Grusin were to become good friends as a result of the meeting in Paris, and went on to work with one another on numerous projects in later years.
A major move came in 1961 when Andy Williams switched over to Columbia Records, and through his support, resulted in Dave Grusin cutting the LP “Subways Are For Sleeping” later that year on subsidiary Epic.
First recording for the new label was the afore-mentioned “Danny Boy and Other Songs I Love to Sing.” Released early the following year, this is another album on which the two mapped out vocal arrangements before turning the project over to producer Robert Mersey for orchestration.
The second Columbia album was something of a monument in Andy Williams' career. On it he finally sang a song he'd been approached by its composer to record only shortly after it had been written - actually just after Audrey Hepburn had performed it for the film “Breakfast at Tiffany's.” Advised against it for the reason that Johnny Mercer's lyric was a bit odd, he witnessed any number of people successively having a hit with it.
Of course, the song was “Moon River.” By the time Andy Williams was asked to sing it at the 1962 Academy Awards, the Henry Mancini song had virtually become a standard. But no one was prepared for the mesmerizing rendition of it he performed at the 1962 Oscar ceremonies. Released in a timely manner, “Moon River and Other Songs from the Movies” sold 400,000 copies the very next day. The album exhibits distinctive Grusin playing on five tracks, and among the ones he arranged for it is “Maria” from “West Side Story,” one which is still in the Andy Williams repertoire.
A third LP was released by Columbia in 1962, and this one “Warm and Willing,” is something of a Dave Grusin festival. He not only plays prominently on all but one track, but the sound is one which would be recognizable to anyone even slightly familiar with his piano style. If one is a little taken aback by the treatment of “How Long Has This Been Going On” from “The Gershwin Connection,” listening to the gentle interpretation on “Warm and Willing” will soothe all ruffled feathers.
It was an eventful year all round, and it was in September 1962 that Andy Williams fulfilled a two-year-old invitation to host a weekly variety hour for NBC. I arranged for Dave to be the pianist in the orchestra,” he recalls. The original Musical Director was Broadway conductor Colin Romoff, who had greatly impressed the singer in Las Vegas.
Unfortunately, the conductor did not find the bustling world of live television production a comfortable medium. After a short time, he asked to be released from his responsibilities. Andy Williams turned to his relatively inexperienced road musical director. “I asked Dave if he could do it and he said he could so he took over.”
Dave Grusin looks back on the days of doing “The Andy Williams Show” for NBC as something akin to clinging to the blade of a windmill in the middle of a hurricane.
The responsibilities now facing him would have been daunting and demanding for the most veteran professional. (Collin Ramoff's frustration having to conduct with cross talk from the director's booth is just one tiny example of this.) Andy Williams sums it up in a nutshell. “There were so many musical numbers and it was week after week. There was a lot to do, and it was up to Dave to see that it got done.”
A dazzling prospect awaits the individual willing to put his hand in the fire. A dozen or more musical numbers every week as well as inevitable play-ins and outs. Many of the arrangements and orchestrations Dave Grusin took on himself. (Remember, only three years before, he had written but two arrangements.)
Others were farmed out. As Andy Williams notes, “Dave always had a great deal of freedom on the show in seeing that the musical numbers were done, if not by himself, then by the best musical arrangers.” Many of the top people in Hollywood lent their talents to the multi-award winning show, including Billy May, Jack Elliot, Allen Ferguson, Dick Hazard, Johnny Mandel and Bob Florence. But often, when work is subcontracted, it can represent an even greater headache, coordinating deadlines with everyone concerned.
“Dave would certainly have to talk to the arrangers about the style and reason for each musical number for myself or Peggy Lee or Ella Fitzgerald or any of the guest stars, and also work with George Wyle who did all the vocal arranging for the choir and did the layouts for all the musical numbers with the guests,” states the show's host.
The job also entailed conducting and working with accompanists of the many great artists who appeared on the program. “Of course, there were restrictions too,” states the star. “Time restrictions, and working with the dance choreographer and what was demanded musically by him.”
Being musical director of a variety show which is primarily music is a job heavy on organization and coordination. As Andy Williams puts it, “Dave oversaw all the music and had a hand in almost all of it.”
Somewhere in the middle of the whole thing, there was the business of playing the piano to the sensitive and high standard expected by everyone from the accompanist of a major star. The proverbial last straw had Dave Grusin looking casual and relaxed, playing the piano in an on-camera `informal' set during the program. All part of a musical variety show. Summing it all up, Dave Grusin declares, "It was a great experience for me."
Arrangements from the TV show offered the basis for one of Andy Williams' most successful albums. Another Mancini-Mercer Academy-Award winner, “Days of Wine and Roses” provided the title track for the 1963 record. Included is the inventive jazz arrangement of “You Are My Sunshine,” a Dave Grusin version, and one which Andy Williams included in his 2002 concert program.
The pianist went on to play on several more Andy Williams records, However, his playing developed more subtlety, and in characteristic chameleon-fashion (an attribute noted by Sydney Pollack among others), he either buried himself into the orchestra or personalized his playing less than in earlier years.
Interestingly, it was with the singer that he was involved in his first motion picture, “I'd Rather Be Rich,” in which Andy Williams starred (with Sandra Dee and Robert Goulet) and sang “Almost There.” Not long afterwards, Dave Grusin's desire to compose film music brought him to leave "The Andy Williams Show" and try his hand at scoring.
Indeed, it was the show's first-year producer, Norman Lear, who offered Dave Grusin his first opportunity to score a feature film, “Divorce American Style.”
Andy Williams thinks back with fondness on his association with Dave Grusin. “He was always a joy to work with. We had a lot of fun, especially when Larry Rosen was playing with us.”
And though nearly four decades separate their working together, Dave Grusin's music is still very much a part of Andy Williams' life. He asserts, “I have most all of Dave's albums in my car and at home. I've been playing a lot of the one that he did on Henry Mancini's music, “Two For The Road.” My favorite albums are the ones from movies that he has done.”
And in 2000 Andy Williams put out a new double CD, full of treats for Dave Grusin fans to ponder. Entitled “Andy Williams LIVE” (see below), it offers 31 previously unreleased performances from the 60s and 70s, including any number featuring the pianist. As the tracks are undated, it represents a most enjoyable guessing game as to which ones sport that Grusin touch.
In addition to songs mentioned above, the singer continues to use many of Dave Grusin's arrangements, 40 years on. That these remain fresh and timeless is quite something to say for someone who'd once tried to use hip dressing to hide his lack of arranging skills!
LISTEN AND BUY!
Hear samples of tracks, and purchase the great Andy Williams albums with the Grusin touch listed above. Click the cover image at the left of the delightful “ANDY WILLIAMS LIVE: TREASURES FROM HIS PERSONAL COLLECTION” , and just type “Andy Williams” or the specific title into the search box.