The Polar Music Prize for 2001 is being awarded to the American composer, arranger, record producer and pianist, Burt Bacharach, one of the primary architects of contemporary music. Bacharach has been a principal player on the international music scene since his debut in the late 1950s, producing a host of timeless classics stemming from his infallible feeling for powerful, memorable and unmistakably personal melodies and for brilliantly designed harmony.
Burt Bacharach was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on May 12 1928. His family moved to New York City in 1932. As a child he studied cello, drums and piano. He was later introduced to jazz and bebop and played in several jazz bands during the 1940s after being inspired by Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Bacharach went on to study music at McGill University, the Mannes School of Music and the Music Academy of the West in Montecito, California.
After serving in the Army, Bacharach began working as a pianist, both as a solo player and as an accompanist for singers such as Vic Damone, Polly Bergen, Steve Lawrence, the Ames Brothers and Paula Stewart, whom he married later on.
Another important collaboration was with Marlene Dietrich, for whom Bacharach worked as musical arranger in the 1950s. Together, they recorded four albums and several singles between 1957 and 1964. Bacharach also joined her on tour and helped refine her nightclub act into a more ambitious and theatrical one-woman show.
The Brill Building
Tin Pan Alley is the name given to the collection of New York City music publishers and songwriters who dominated the popular music of the United States in the late 19th century and early 20th century, when music rights just started to be commercialized. They all had offices in a specific area in Manhattan, West 28th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue. The Brill Building, built in 1931, then became a building hosting music publishers, composers, and other parts of the music industry from the 1940s, as an extension of the Tin Pan Alley. In the early 50s, Bacharach was placed under contract as a songwriter in the Brill Building’s Famous Music Corporation, an important hub in American music industry at the time.
Big band groups and jazz musicians such as Cab Calloway, Tommy Dorsey and Duke Ellington leased offices in the building during the 1940s, and were joined by Nat King Cole and Louis Prima in the 1950s. By the early 1960s, the building had more than 160 tenants that were related to the music industry. Today, the Brill Building still hosts a handful of businesses related to the entertainment industry, among them Paul Simon Music.
Hal & Burt
The Brill Building would play an important role in Bacharach’s career. It was there he met Hal David and together they became America’s most influential and important songwriting duo.
Harold Lane “Hal” David (1921-2012) grew up in New York and met Bacharach in the Brill Building in 1957. His first hit as lyricist came from Marty Robbins in late 1957 when Robbins took “The Story of My Life” to the American Top 20 and the number one spot in England. The Bacharach/David team followed up in January 1958 with Perry Como’s “Magic Moments”, another U.K. chart-topper and a Top Five entry in America. Their collaboration resulted in a number of hits including: “This Guy’s in Love with You”, “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose”,”Walk On By” ,”I Say a Little Prayer”, and “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me.” David and Bacharach were awarded the 2011 Gershwin Prize for Popular Song bestowed by the Library of Congress, the first time a songwriting team was given the honor.
The songwriting team Burt Bacharach and Hal David also wrote a lot of music for films that became major hits even outside the screens. In 1967, the soundtrack to the movie Casino Royale, a fake/true James Bond 007-story featured the famous “The Look of Love.”
Alfie was supposed to be sung by Dionne Warwick for the movie with the same name starring Michael Caine as Alfie, but the movie company wanted a British singer, so Cilla Black, who already had interpreted songs by Bacharach, recorded the official soundtrack version.
“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid was awarded an Oscar in 1970 and an ASCAP award in 1988 as the “Most Performed Feature Film Standards,” that proves that the song isn’t only a soundtrack for this classic movie but also a signum for a whole artistic career as it might be Bacharach’s and David’s most famous song ever, having all the characteristics from a classic Bacharach/David: the melody, the optimistic lyrics, the brass, the strings…
Burt & Dionne
it is difficult to talk about Burt Bacharach without mentioning Dionne Warwick. Since the 1960s she has interpreted and made classics out of his most well-known compositions. Dionne Warwick was born Marie Dionne Warrick in 1940 in New Jersey. Her parents were both involved in music and gospel and in her teens she joined a gospel group within the family, The Gospelaires. They were at a Drifters session working on a song called “Mexican Divorce” composed by Burt Bacharach when Bacharach, attending the session, suggested Warwick might do some demos for him. She did, singing songs he had written with lyricist Hal David. Bacharach and David introduced her to Scepter Records who signed her as an artist.
Her first single,”Don’t Make Me Over”, also written by Bacharach/David, was released in 1962. Her name was misspelled on the cover as “Warwick” and she started to use that name both professionnally and in her private life. Her major breakthrough came with “Walk on by” in April 1964, also written by Bacharach/David and a gem that has followed her throughout her career. During the 60s and 70s she remained high in the charts with songs almost exclusively written by Bacharach/David. Some of her songs were also recorded on the other side of the Atlantic Sea by british singers Cilla Black, Sandie Shaw and Dusty Springfield, other artists closely connected to Bacharach’s music.
The beginning of the ’70s looked bright when the Carpenters took “(They Long to Be) Close to You” to number one in the U.S. in July 1970. The successful forecast was premature though, as three of his closest partners, Hal David, Dionne Warwick, and his second wife Angie Dickinson, left him in the beginning of the decade. The split between David and Bacharach unfortunately created legal disputes between Warwick and the songwriters that would last for some years.
Bacharach gathered several accolades for an eponymous 1971 album featuring renditions of his previous hit compositions, and released albums in his own name with faboulous but less commercialisable songs than the ones from the ’60s.
The ten songs on Living Together all feature Burt Bacharach on piano, but that’s where the similarity to his hit recordings ends. The album is elegant and a pleasant listening experience, but not always easy to grasp.
After slow years in the 70s, Bacharach resumed composing again in the beginning of the 1980s and got back to that hit feeling again. In 1981, he collaborated with Carole Bayer Sager on the Oscar-winning “Arthur’s Theme.” Bacharach and Bayer Sager got married just one year later, and together they wrote Roberta Flack’s “Making Love” as well as “Heartlight” with Neil Diamond.
A decade of legal fights with Dionne Warwick came to an end with “That’s What Friends Are For”, a song originally written for the movie “Night Shift” performed by Rod Stewart. It gathered the all-star ensemble of Elton John, Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder, for Warwicks solo album Friends in 1985. Bacharach and Bayer Sager wrote several songs for the album. They also wrote the widely succesfull duet by Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald titled “On My Own” in 1986, and Bacharach’s composing would mark another decade of great hits.
Nineties and on
In the 1990s, easy pop and the organic ’60s sounds were back. Many bands began referring to the hitmaker Burt Bacharach as an influence, and Oasis frontman Noel Gallagher joined him on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall as well as including a picture of him on the cover of Oasis’ debut album Definitely Maybe.
BBC-TV focused on Bacharach in a January 1996 documentary, and a three-disc retrospective of his compositions was released by Rhino in 1998. That same year he collaborated with Elvis Costello on the acclaimed Painted From Memory, a collaboration and friendship that would last.
Stockholm, May 2001
In 2001 the Polar Music Prize celebrated its 10th Laureates and this year, they were three; Karlheinz Stockhausen, Robert Moog and Burt Bacharach. Elvis Costello was present and performed during the ceremony and the banquet, and he also read the citation for Mr Bacharach. Several Swedish artists gathered for a medley of Bacharach’s most well known songs from the 60s and onwards and Swedish singer Carola also performed at the banquet together with the Laureate himself.
An ensemble of Swedish singers performed a medley of Bacharach’s most famous songs, also as an honor to Hal David who attended the event and can be spotted in the audience.