Michel Legrand

Michel Legrand

Legrand in 2015 at the Cabourg Film Festival
Born Michel Jean Legrand
(1932-02-24) 24 February 1932
Bécon les Bruyères (Courbevoie), France
Occupation Film score composer
Jazz pianist
Years active 1954–present

Michel Legrand (born 24 February 1932) is a French musical composer, arranger, conductor, and jazz pianist. Legrand is a prolific composer, having written over 200 film and television scores, in addition to many memorable songs.[1] He is best known for his often haunting, jazz-tinged film music. His celebrated scores for the films of French New Wave director Jacques Demy, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), earned Legrand his first Academy Award nominations. For The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) and its title song, "The Windmills of Your Mind", Legrand won his first Oscar.[2]

Early life

Legrand was born in the Bécon les Bruyères district of Courbevoie, a suburb of Paris. His father Raymond Legrand was a conductor and composer renowned for hits such as Irma la douce, and his mother was Marcelle Der Mikaëlian (sister of conductor Jacques Hélian), who married Legrand Senior in 1929. His maternal grandfather was of Armenian descent and considered a member of the bourgeoisie.[3]


Legrand has composed more than two hundred film and television scores and several musicals and has made well over a hundred albums. He has won three Oscars (out of 13 nominations) and five Grammys and has been nominated for an Emmy. He was 22 when his first album, I Love Paris, became one of the best-selling instrumental albums ever released. He is a virtuoso jazz and classical pianist and an accomplished arranger and conductor who performs with orchestras all over the world.

He studied music at the Paris Conservatoire from 1943-50 (ages 11–18), working with, among others, Nadia Boulanger, who also taught many other composers, including Aaron Copland and Philip Glass, and Ástor Piazzolla. Legrand graduated with top honors as both a composer and a pianist.[3]

Jazz recordings

Legrand has also contributed significant work in jazz.[4] While on a visit to the U.S. in 1958, Legrand collaborated with such musicians as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Phil Woods, Ben Webster, Hank Jones, and Art Farmer in an album of inventive orchestrations of jazz standards titled Legrand Jazz. The following year, back in Paris with bassist Guy Pedersen and percussionist Gus Wallez, he recorded an album of Paris-themed songs arranged for jazz piano trio, titled Paris Jazz Piano. Nearly a decade later he recorded At Shelly's Manne-Hole (1968), a live trio session with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne, in which four of the compositions were improvised on the spot. Legrand also provided an odd scat vocal on "My Funny Valentine". Legrand returned to his role as jazz arranger for the Stan Getz album Communications '72 and resumed his collaboration with Phil Woods on Jazz Le Grand (1979) and After the Rain (1982); then, he collaborated with violinist Stephane Grappelli on an album in 1992. Not as well received as his earlier work in the field of jazz was a 1994 album for LaserLight entitled Michel Plays Legrand. More recently, in 2002, he recorded a solo jazz piano album reworking 14 of his classic songs, Michel Legrand by Michel Legrand. His jazz piano style is virtuosic and eclectic, drawing upon such influences as Art Tatum, Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson, and Bill Evans.

In 1966, he made the arrangements of the international song "C'est si bon" by Henri Betti and André Hornez for the Barbra Streisand album Color Me Barbra. In 1948, his father Raymond Legrand had conducted the orchestra for the recording of this song by Les Soeurs Étienne.

A number of his songs, including "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?", "Watch What Happens", "The Summer Knows", and "You Must Believe in Spring", have become jazz standards covered frequently by other artists.


Legrand in 2008.

During various periods of creative work, Legrand became a conductor for orchestras in St. Petersburg, Florida, Vancouver, Montreal, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Denver. He recorded more than one hundred albums with international musical stars (spanning the genres of jazz, variety, and classical) and worked with such diverse musicians as Phil Woods, Ray Charles, Claude Nougaro, Perry Como, Neil Diamond, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Lena Horne, James Ingram, Jack Jones, Kiri te Kanawa, Tamara Gverdciteli, Frankie Laine, Tereza Kesovija, Johnny Mathis, Jessye Norman, Diana Ross, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Sarah Vaughan, Shirley Bassey, Andy Williams, Regine Velasquez, Nana Mouskouri, Elis Regina and Natalie Dessay.

Legrand has also recorded classical piano pieces by Erik Satie and American composers such as Amy Beach, George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, John Cage, and Conlon Nancarrow. He is a prolific recorder of jazz, popular and classical music albums, having released over one hundred.[5]

His sister, Christiane Legrand, was a member of the Swingle Singers, and his niece Victoria Legrand is a member of the indie rock duo Beach House.[6]

Film scores

Legrand is known principally as a composer of innovative music for films, composing film scores (about two hundred to date) for directors Jean-Luc Godard, Richard Brooks, Claude Lelouch, Clint Eastwood, Barbra Streisand, Robert Altman, Joseph Losey, and many others. Legrand himself appears and performs in Agnès Varda's French New Wave classic, Cleo from 5 to 7 (1961). After his songs appeared in Jacques Demy's films The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1966), Legrand became famous worldwide. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg was a sung-through musical in which all the dialogue was set to music, a revolutionary concept at the time.

Hollywood soon became interested in Legrand after The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, bombarding him with requests to compose music for films. Having begun to collaborate with Hollywood, Legrand continued to work there for many years. Among his best-known scores are those for The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), which features the hit song "The Windmills of Your Mind", The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun (1970) and Summer of '42 (1971), which features another hit song, "The Summer Knows". Legrand also wrote the score for Orson Welles's last-completed film, F for Fake (1974).

Music charts

Legrand's instrumental version of the theme from Brian's Song charted for eight weeks in 1972, peaking at #56.[7]

Currently, Legrand divides his time between America and France.

Selected discography

With Stan Getz

With Bud Shank

With Sarah Vaughan


Computer games


Musical theatre

Legrand composed the score for the musical Amour, which premiered in 2002 on Broadway and was translated into English by Jeremy Sams and was directed by James Lapine.[9] This musical was his Broadway debut, and while it ran for only 17 performances and 31 previews, it garnered a loyal fan base due to its much-praised cast album on Ghostlight Records, and subsequent multiple Tony Award nominations (2003), including Best Score for Michel Legrand and Best Actress for its leading actress Melissa Errico.[10]

Legrand continued his collaboration with Errico to the present day, appearing at such jazz venues as Dizzy's at Lincoln Center. Though he has rarely done this for any solo artist, Michel Legrand arranged, conducted and accompanied Errico with a 100-piece symphony on her CD "Legrand Affair" (released in October 2011 on Ghostlight Records) featuring his songs, hidden French gems, as well as one new song with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman.[11] The CD was produced by Phil Ramone[12] and is featured in Ramone's 2007 book Making Records: The Scenes Behind the Music.

The world premiere of the new musical Marguerite from Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, the creators of Les Misérables and Miss Saigon, included music by Michel Legrand and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer. Marguerite is set during World War II in occupied Paris, and was inspired by the romantic novel La Dame aux camélias by Alexandre Dumas, fils. It premiered in May 2008 at the Haymarket Theatre, London and was directed by Jonathan Kent.[13][14]


Legrand has won three Oscars (out of 13 nominations), five Grammys, and has been nominated for an Emmy. The following are some of the awards and nominations with which Legrand's works have been honored:

Academy Award Nominations

Golden Globe Nominations

Grammy Award Nominations

Theatre Nominations

Emmy Award Nominations

Fennecus Nominations

Apex Nominations

Australian Film Institute Award nominations

Prix Moliere Award (France)

ASCAP (The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers)

Golden Eagle Award


  1. Chinen, Nate (10 March 2007). "Music in Review; Michel Legrand". New York Times. Retrieved 9 December 2011.
  2. "Michel Legrand". Songwriters Hall of Fame. Retrieved 9 December 2011.
  3. 1 2 Biography of Michel Legrand, Radio France Internationale, retrieved 26 December 2009.
  4. Yanow, Scott. "Michel Legrand". allmusic. Retrieved 9 December 2011.
  5. Shelokhonov, Steve. "Michel Legrand". imdb. Retrieved 9 December 2011.
  6. Paste Magazine :: Feature :: Band of the Week: Beach House
  7. Whitburn, Joel (2000). Top Pop Singles 1955-1999. Record Research (Menomonee Falls, WI), p. 371. ISBN 0-89820-139-X
  8. "Music from Torin's Passage: original recordings by Michel LeGrand". Al Lowe's Humor Site. Retrieved 4 May 2014.
  9. Brantley, Ben."Theater Review: A French Milquetoast's Talent Lights the Fuse of Mischief" The New York Times, 21 October 2002
  10. "'Amour' Broadway Listing" Internet Broadway Database, accessed 9 December 2011
  11. Gans, Andrew (18 October 2011). "It's a 'Legrand Affair' for Melissa Errico: New CD Due in Stores Oct. 18; Plus EXCLUSIVE Video". playbill.com.
  12. Suskin, Steven (27 November 2011). "ON THE RECORD: Melissa Errico's "Legrand Affair," Michael Feinstein's "Sinatra Project," Plus "Carols for a Cure"". playbill.com.
  13. "New Musical From 'Les Miz' Team". The New York Times. 10 July 2007.
  14. Billington, Michael (10 July 2007). "People Thought We Were Mad". The Guardian. London.
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