Young musicians fete a senior one

Times Staff Writer

Call it the anti-benefit: Bags of jelly beans, not fancy centerpieces, dotted the tables. And there were no auctions, silent or live. At a luncheon for the Young Musicians Foundation, guests simply dined on Oriental chicken, then settled back for a performance by 15-year-old violinist Hahn-bin Yoo and a tribute to legendary songwriters Ray Evans and the late Jay Livingston by pianist-singer Michael Feinstein.

There was even time to chat with an honoree. Evans' eyes sparkled as he talked about the old days during the pre-luncheon reception at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Lyricist on classics such as the '40s sensation "To Each His Own" and the '50s mega-hit "Mona Lisa" -- not to mention Oscar winners "Que Sera, Sera" and "Buttons and Bows" -- Evans said he was still getting residuals on them. "And how," he said.

Like many of the songs he wrote with Livingston, the lyrics for "To Each His Own" came after days of scribbling and pondering. "We'd just been hired by Paramount and we were the low men on the totem pole. None of the songwriters there wanted to touch a song with 'To Each His Own' for a title," the 86-year-old Evans recalled. But the studio had a movie coming out by that name. So they went to work and the rest is history -- the soulful tune topped the charts and made Evans enough money to finally propose marriage to his girlfriend, Wyn.

It was Wyn who came up with the idea for using the famous painting by Da Vinci as the title for "Mona Lisa." "We started out with a song called 'Prima Donna,' " Evans said. "But that was sounding very banal and unsatisfying to me. Luckily, my wife was in the art world, and she suggested that I call it 'Mona Lisa.' I wouldn't have thought of that in a million years."

Evans hasn't written a song in 20 years, he said. "When rap and rock 'n' roll took over, there was no point. And there was no economic pressure. We'd already made it."

Proceeds from the Feb. 28 benefit will go toward scholarships and music education programs for children. The foundation is even more relevant today than when it was created 48 years ago, said executive director Edye Rugolo. "With all of the cutbacks of music education in the schools, Los Angeles has over 300 elementary and middle schools that have absolutely no musical programs. We have managed to adopt 22 of them to date."

The foundation provides instruments and instruction to the kids "so they don't have school without the pleasure of music," Rugolo said.

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