June 27, 1997

Alec Cumming, who’s putting together a book on Bacharach, sent me the following (extensive) update on Burt. It covers virtually everything the man has been working on:

NEWSWEEK Magazine has what it calls it’s Conventional Wisdom Watch – a list, with up or down arrows, where the magazine rates whether today’s movers and shakers are in, out, hip, unhip, alive, or doomed. It’s usually reserved for the politicians and the O.J. Simpsons of the world, but in this week’s issue (June 30, 1997) Burt Bacharach is given an up arrow: “Just what the world needs now: Burt’s back. That’s what friends are for.”

Why is Burt getting his up arrow now, in the summer of 1997, nearly 40 years after his first top 40 hit (Marty Robbins’ “The Story of My Life”)? Burt’s own theory, from an interview with USA Today: “I think it’s a yearning for music and melody,” says the 68-year-old songwriter from his hotel in Monte Carlo, where he’s in the midst of an eight-week European tour. “A couple of key people said one day, ‘I really like this man’s music.’ And people tuned in to that. These songs were written before the alternative rock musicians were even born, but the wheel has come around for the second time.”

Maybe one of those key people is Elvis Costello, an unabashed Bacharach fan (who may have kickstarted the Bacharach renaissance way back in 1978, when his sincere cover of “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” shocked the punk world). Elvis is following up his first collaboration with Burt – the lovely “God Give Me Strength”, from the GRACE OF MY HEART Soundtrack – on a full-blown album, to be recorded in New York City. At this point, it’s scheduled to be half new Bacharach-Costello compositions, and half remakes of Bacharach classics. If this collaboration sees the light of day (keep your fingers crossed!), it will be the first full-fledged and ambitious Bacharach release since 1979’s (ill-fated) WOMAN…

The up arrow may also be referring to Burt’ s movie biz-comeback.

AUSTIN POWERS, that International Man of Mystery, kept only one album stored away while he was cryogenically frozen – Kapp’s “Burt Bacharach Plays His Hits”. Burt himself even made a cameo in the successful comedy. “It was amazing working with Burt,” Myers told USA Today. “His song ‘The Look of Love’ was the inspiration for this film. It was like having Gershwin appear in your movie.”

(USA Today) Meanwhile, the new Julia Roberts film, MY BEST FRIENDS WEDDING, features no less than five of his songs covered by a variety of singers – including a scene where restaurant diners join in a rousing version of “I Say a Little Prayer”. (According to ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY’s David Browne, the soundtrack “will make you take a vow – of dedication to the eternal appeal of Bacharach and Hal David’s standards”.)

And not only is Burt’s music being covered on Hollywood soundtracks, but the jazz world too is paying tribute – in 2 highly-publicized (and highly different) releases. Pianist McCoy Tyner’s new CD is entitled “What the World Needs Now: The Music of Burt Bacharach”; it features McCoy’s trio backed with a full orchestra, with arrangements by West Coast-bassist John Clayton, covering such Burt standards as “Alfie”, “A House is Not a Home” and “The Windows of the World”. A smiling Burt is pictured on the back cover with McCoy, along with a quote: “It is extremely flattering to have a brilliant keyboard artist and virtuoso like McCoy Tyner come and interpret a whole album of one’s music. His travels and voyages through my music are amazing. Thank you McCoy Tyner, thank you.” The album, rated 4-stars by Downbeat Magazine, lush and bordering dangerously close to schmaltz-dom, will appeal especially to fans of Burt’s late-60’s/early-’70s instrumental records on A&M.

Meanwhile, the other release is neatly described by Francis Davis (in the wonderful Burt article in Atlantic Monthly): “The most awkwardly sincere of recent tributes to Bacharach, and also the most ambitious, is ‘Great Jewish Music: Burt Bacharach’, a two-disc set produced by the avant-garde composer John Zorn for his own label, Tzadik Records, on which instrumentalists and singers from Zorn’s inner circle of noisemakers and deconstructionists give what perhaps only they would consider to be reasonably faithful interpretations of Bacharach classics. ‘More than great pop songs,’ Zorn writes in his liner notes, ‘[these songs] are deep explorations of the materials of music and should be studied and treasured with as much care and diligence as we accord any great work of art.’

“He might have added that it seems the peculiar fate of major artists to attract disciples they would be hard put to recognize as theirs. The title Great Jewish Music tells us more about Zorn, who now gives interviews only to the Jewish press, than it does about Bacharach, who has never made an issue of his religion or ethnicity. Still, the title serves to remind us that songwriting was a quick way up the ladder for the Jewish songwriters of Irving Berlin’s generation — Eastern European immigrants and their sons.”

What’s coming up for Burt? Well, after he wraps up yet another sold-out European (solo) tour, he hits the states with Dionne Warwick for a summer series of performances. (Will “God Give Me Strength” make it into the setlist?) No word yet if the Encores! production of PROMISES, PROMISES will make a return to the Broadway stage, although Bacharach/Hal David fans will be heartened to hear the pair collaborated last year on a new song for the restaging….

Meanwhile, for the summer of 1998, Gillian Lynne – an English choreographer/director whose past credits include CATS and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA – is staging “a contemporary musical fable” at Broadway’s Roundabout Theater. It’s a new musical, titled WORLD, featuring the hit songs of (you guessed it) Bacharach and David. Gillian (who was spotted working on a all-new Bacharach musical in the recent GREAT PERFORMANCES PBS Burt documentary – wonder what’s going on with that?) will direct and choreograph the revue, which will have a book by Kenny Solms, based on an idea by Solms and Lynne.

Bacharach fans are a happy lot these days, as Burt’s arrow continues to point ever upwards…..

June 2, 1997

Hello, all! There’s an incredible article on Burt in the June 1997 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. Writer Francis Davis’s exploration of Bacharach’s music and significance is one of the most intelligent and insightful to date. I’ve put a text version in the Bacharach Articles section, but in the meantime (and even after) you really should go directly to the source, http://www.theatlantic.com/atlantic/issues/97jun/burt.htm, which includes related hypertext links.

I’ve also finally gotten the lowdown on the John Zorn Bacharach tribute album that everyone’s been asking about. “Great Jewish Music: Burt Bacharach” is a two-disc tribute record to Bacharach featuring Zorn and some of his avant jazz cronies. At times the music bears only slight resemblance to the titles they’re supposedly covering, but it’s an ambitious concept that should entertain more adventurous eart. It’s available on Zorn’s own Tzadic label.

WJBISCH@aol.com wrote to tell me that he has several Bacharach advertisement from Billboard and Cashbox that appeared between ’69 and ’77. They’re all $4. If you want to follow up, contact Bill via email or check out his website, http://members.aol.com/wjbisch.

And finally, Brian Cooley wrote to inform us that the release date for the McCoy Tyner Bacharach tribute is June 16 according to Impulse. More info is available here.

And, folks, keep those emails coming. I may not respond promptly (or respond at all) to some of them, but I do read all of my email and I appreciate every Burt fan’s interest.