Remembering Michel Legrand, the man who gave French New Wave a sound

Polymathic musician and composer Michel Legrand has passed away over the weekend at the age of 86.

The composer was active for over half a century and was famed for his work in developing the aesthetic of the French New Wave movement, as well as his significance in the jazz circles of America throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Seminal French composer Michel Legrand has, over the weekend, passed away at the age of 86. Legrand was best known for his role in the French New Wave movement of the 1960s.

The composer was born in 1932 into musical blood; his father, a composer, conductor and former pupil of Gabriel Fauré, and his maternal uncle was the dance-band saxophonist and bandleader Jacques Hélian. His career began to prosper in the mid-1950s; the post-war United States had become nostalgic for the romance and allure of French culture.

Colombia Records commissioned a young Legrand to compose an English-language album of chanson classics. The record, I Love Paris, sold over eight million copies.

Legrand was a pioneering force in the development of the branded aesthetic of French New Wave cinema. His compositions for directors Jacques Demy (1964’s Les Parapluies de Cherbourg and 1967’s Les Demoiselles de Rochefort) and Jean-Luc Godard (1962’s Vivre Sa Vie: Film en Douze Tableaux and 1964’s Bande à Part) allowed him to infiltrate the glamour and pizzaz of Hollywood.

In 1968 the composer won his first Oscar for his work on The Windmills of Your Mind from the film The Thomas Crown Affair. The composer would go on to win another two Oscars for compositional works, one in 1971 and again in 1983 for the best original scores in Summer of ’42 and Yentl, respectively.

Outside of his career scoring feature films for famed Hollywood and French New Wave directors, Legrand had built himself a reputation as a master collaborator, having worked alongside jazz royalty Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Herbie Mann, Louis Armstrong and Donald Byrd. Legrand was also known for his collaborative works with the likes of Edith Piaf, Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles.

Legrand continued to work hard up until his death. Only last year, the composer conducted orchestral arrangements of music from his soundtracks with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, against projections of the scenes they originally accompanied at the Royal Festival Hall in London.

Michel Jean Legrand, composer and musician, born 24 February 1932; died 26 January 2019.