The Invisible Musician : John Tesh is Far More Entertaining than Most Know

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The driving rock and acoustic orchestrations that NBC is using over the next two weeks to convey the power and majesty of the 1992 Olympic Games from Barcelona, Spain, were written and recorded by one of the most widely heard composers in the music industry today.

That would be John Tesh. You know, the guy who sits beside Mary Hart each weeknight on "Entertainment Tonight."

In addition to three of his own instrumental albums, Tesh has composed music for several TV series, written the current arrangement for the hummable "E.T." tune and has come up with all the jingles for NBC Sports, including pro basketball, pro football and Wimbledon.

If you raise a dubious eyebrow, you aren't the first.

Tesh played Blood, Sweat & Tears songs in New York bar bands long before he ever accepted a gig in 1986 as the conservative co-host of "E.T." But there was a day not long ago when he could get no respect from the music world. When Tesh released his first album in 1987, one critic snidely noted: "If you only buy one album this year by a celebrity TV interviewer, this is the album for you."

Tesh had written most of the music for that album, "Tour de France," while covering the annual bicycle race for six years as a sports commentator for CBS. After working the race each day, he stayed up all night in the back of a production van using synthesizers and computers to create music tracks that were sent via satellite to a videotape editor for broadcast the next morning.

To the surprise of those critics, Tesh was honored with his second Emmy Award in 1987 for his Tour de France musical compositions--he had received an Emmy several years earlier for scoring the Pan American Games on CBS. Then in 1988, the one-time Juilliard student was named best new artist by Keyboard Magazine. Not long after, his critics began to fade.

"I have people come up to me now on the street and say, 'I love your music,' and that's all they say to me," Tesh said recently from his home off Mulholland Drive where he lives with his newlywed wife, actress Connie Sellecca, and her 10-year-old son, Gibber.

Tesh has a complete digital recording studio in his home--where he just finished producing a romantic Christmas album with the Paulist Boys Choir, who sang at his April wedding in Monterey--and he has his own record label for his albums. The 40-year-old composer said he prefers making music over the four hours a day he spends taping "E.T."

"Television spills out over the airwaves every day and then it's gone," said Tesh, whose afternoon talk show "One on One" was recently canceled due to poor ratings. "But when a couple says to me, 'We made love to your music,' I love that stuff. That's the kind of connection I'm looking for."

Tesh has just released his fourth album--called "The Games"--which are accompanying many of the athletic events, plus the opening and closing ceremonies, on NBC's telecast of the Olympics. (Tesh will also be in Barcelona doing on-air commentary for NBC on gymnastics, cycling and synchronized swimming.)

Tesh's favorite number on the album, "Concetta," was written for and named after his wife, whom he met at a health club in Palm Springs when Sellecca was shooting last season's "P.S. I Luv U," a short-lived drama series on CBS.

"A lot of people don't know, but she's a very funny, playful and passionate person, which is what this tune reflects," Tesh said. "On the weekend of Thanksgiving, I rented out an Italian restaurant on the water in Carmel. We walked in and a string quartet was playing 'Concetta.' That was it. She was finished. But I wasn't done yet.

"We changed tables after every course because the restaurant was ours. Then at the end of the meal, I asked her to walk outside with me. We took our shoes off and walked to the water. At my cue, there was a hidden barge out there and a fireworks display went off over our heads. I got down on my knees right there and asked her to marry me."

Fortunately for Tesh, Sellecca said yes.

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