Quincy Jones has been a very busy man for many years, and composer/producer Fred Myrow is one man who's thankful for that.
In 1969, Jones was scheduled to write the score for John Boorman's "Leo the Last" but was overbooked, so the director, who had just met Myrow and liked him, decided to give the cinematic greenhorn a shot. "That was a great break," Myrow said. "It was my first film and it opened the door to a whole new career."
And for a while it was. Myrow, whose previous forte had been avant-garde classical composition, wrote sound tracks for many films, "Soylent Green" and "Scarecrow" among them. Then he decided to try his hand in another area he had always wanted to investigate--musical theater.
In 1983, his musical "Sure Feels Good" was staged at the Los Angeles Actor's Theatre, under Bill Bushnell's direction. That work led to Bushnell asking Myrow in 1984 to join the then-new Los Angeles Theatre Center as music director/composer-in-residence and producer of all music events at the center.
In his new role, Myrow has designed and produced 25 concerts, which are being presented on five different series--Quantum Leap, Tabasco, Ecco, Muntu and Jazz/Fission.
"These series focus on new music and new ideas in Los Angeles and reflect the multicultural interests of the center as a whole," Myrow said.
"For example, Quantum Leap and Ecco are concerned with new in-roads in classical music, leaning toward the official avant-garde," Myrow explained, "while Tabasco features hot music from Latin countries. Muntu focuses on the African spirit in transition--reggae, gospel, etc.--and Jazz/Fission aims to place jazz musicians in previously untried contexts.
On the latter series, tonight's "A Tribute to Irving Mills" will expose the audience to the many facets of "a man the whose activity in the '30s was unequaled," Myrow said.
"Mills (Myrow's grandfather) discovered both Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway. He formed Cotton Club Productions, and for seven years was in charge of all the room's shows. His Mills Music was publisher of such notables as Ellington, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael. At one point, he managed 36 bands, including Benny Goodman, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, and Ellington."
Additionally, Mills contributed lyrics to many classics, including "Moon Glow," "Sophisticated Lady" and "Minnie the Moocher"--Calloway's theme song. Fittingly, Calloway will be on hand tonight, along with Bill Berry's L.A. Big Band and the vocal trio Full Swing to celebrate Mills.
Despite his cinematic and theatrical offshoots, Myrow has always been involved in the classical music world. Born into a musical family--his father, Josef Myrow, wrote "You Make Me Feel So Young" and several sound tracks--Myrow's career flourished early on.
Dmitri Shostakovich named Myrow as one of the most inventive young composers that he heard during a 1958 tour of the States. As a result, the 18-year-old Myrow was commissioned by the Young Musicians Foundation to compose a major work, "Symphonic Variations," which was premiered at the Hollywood Bowl the following summer.
Less than 10 years--and three Fulbright and three Rockefeller grants and one Guggenheim fellowship--later, he was composer-in-residence with the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein. He's had his works performed by many major orchestras, including the Berlin and Los Angeles Philharmonics.
Myrow's own Ecco series concert is set for April 7. It will showcase several of his works from many areas of music.
"I've recently received a grant from National Endowment for the Arts to write a large-scale orchestral work called 'Passages.' Composing is still an essential part of my life."