Friday, July 18, 2008

Who's Almost Who In Knickerbocker Village History: Elmer Bernstein

A New York City "Boy"
My father told me he saw Elmer Bernstein at Camp Unity in Wingdale, NY
I remember Cisco Houston being at Camp Unity in upstate New York in the early 1940's, during the war. The camp's cultural director was Lewis Allan (Abe Meeropol, who wrote the lyrics to Great July Jones). Cisco Houston and Woody Guthrie would jam almost every night in a tiny cabin. People would cram in to hear them. Our night watchman was Lee Hays (of The Almanac Singers and later The Weavers) and when I was painting sets late at night Lee would come in and play piano for me for hours.
Some of the weekend performers I remember are Josh White - he was there most weekends. Sometimes Betty Sanders would sing or accompany Josh. The dancer Pearl Primus came often. Elmer Bernstein gave a classical concert every Wednesday night and played in the Saturday night show many times. There was a camp chorus which performed often under the leadership of Earl Robinson. The staff folksingers were Bob Decormier and his wife.

About Elmer Bernstein from a site dedicated to his memory
Elmer Bernstein is a name in music that continues to be synonymous with creativity, versatility and longevity. The year 2001 marked his 50th anniversary as a feature film composer who wrote the music for over 200 major film and television scores, the only composer to have achieved such longevity. He practiced his craft for the past half century, gracing virtually all creative media with his work.
1947Mr. Bernstein was born in New York City, April 4, 1922. During his childhood he performed professionally as a dancer and an actor and won several prizes for his painting. He gravitated toward music by his own choice at the age of twelve, at which time he was given a scholarship in piano by Henriette Michelson, a Juilliard teacher who guided him throughout his entire career as a pianist. Fortunately for Bernstein, Miss Michelson thought she detected other talents and took him, at the age of twelve, to play some of his improvisations for composer Aaron Copland. Mr. Copland was encouraging and selected Israel Citkowitz as a teacher for the young boy.
Recognized with countless awards for his work in film, television, stage and audio recording, Bernstein was a fourteen-time Academy Award nominee, winning the Award in 1967 for his score for Thoroughly Modern Millie. Other nominated scores include The Man with the Golden Arm, The Magnificent Seven, Summer and Smoke, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Return of the Seven, Hawaii, True Grit, Trading Places, The Age of Innocence and Far From Heaven. His Oscar-nominated songs include "Walk on the Wild Side," "My Wishing Doll" from Hawaii and "Wherever Love Takes Me" from Gold.
Bernstein was recognized by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association with Golden Globes for his scores for To Kill a Mockingbird and Hawaii. In 1963 he was awarded the Emmy for excellence in television for his score of The Making of The President, 1960. He is the recipient of Western Heritage Awards for The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Hallelujah Trail (1965). He received five Grammy nominations from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and garnered two of Broadway's coveted Tony Award nominations for How Now Dow Jones and Merlin.
Additional honors included Lifetime Achievement awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), The Society for the Preservation of Film Music, the USA, Woodstock, Santa Barbara, Newport Beach and Flanders International Film Festivals and the Foundation for a Creative America. In 1996, Bernstein was honored with a star on Hollywood Boulevard. In 1999, he received an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Five Towns College in New York State and was honored by the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. Bernstein again was honored by ASCAP with its marquee Founders Award in 2001, and with the NARAS Governors Award in June 2004.
Bernstein attributed his remarkable longevity to the superb musical training he received from Roger Sessions, Stefan Wolpe, and his mentor, the renowned teacher Israel Citkowitz. Beginning as a virtuoso concert pianist, Bernstein performed extensively between 1939 and 1950, representing the United States on a worldwide basis as both a pianist and conductor. Bernstein's unconditional love of all styles and forms of music underscores how the man who composed much of the ballet music in Jerome Robbins' 1954 stage production of Peter Pan, starring Mary Martin, as well as the ballet music for the film Oklahoma, could, 30 years later, score the video of Michael Jackson's Thriller.
Bernstein discovered his love of music growing up with a family interested in the arts and he was encouraged by them in his various creative pursuits. World War II provided him with the chance to arrange American folk music and to write dramatic scores for the Army Air Corps Radio Shows. In 1949 Mr. Bernstein was asked to do two shows for United Nations Radio which brought him to the attention of Sidney Buchman, then a Vice President of Columbia Pictures. Mr. Buchman offered him the opportunity to write the music for Saturday's Hero in 1950 and Boots Malone in 1951. He first attracted attention in 1952 with his unusual score for the motion picture Sudden Fear featuring Joan Crawford and Jack Palance.
He suffered the fate of many of the great talents during the Fifties when his career with the studios was slowed by the McCarthy era. Having been sympathetic to left-wing causes, he found himself "gray-listed" in Hollywood. During this time, Bernstein was forced to work on two low-budget science fiction films, which became, and remain today, cult favorites, Robot Monster and Cat Women of the Moon. In spite of these small budget movies, or maybe because of it, Bernstein established himself a true innovator, pioneering early experiments in the use of electronic music.
Bernstein & DeMilleBernstein credited Cecil B. DeMille with bringing him back into the mainstream. Originally hired to write only the dance music for The Ten Commandments, Bernstein was soon hired to compose the entire score for this great epic. During the year-long process of scoring The Ten Commandments, Bernstein was hired by Otto Preminger to score The Man with the Golden Arm after Preminger's brother heard Bernstein's score for the film noir Sudden Fear. Bernstein proposed a Hollywood first, an all-jazz score. Played by a big band assembled by Shorty Rogers, with Shelly Manne on the drums, the hot jazz sound perfectly externalized the emotions of Preminger's tormented hero, a heroin-addicted jazz musician played by Frank Sinatra.
The maestro first made his mark as a film composer with these back-to-back scores of The Ten Commandments and The Man with the Golden Arm. This work is credited with virtually changing the sound of American film music, creating new colors and tones for a whole generation of composers who would follow him.
"Elmer Bernstein's historic contribution to the development of screen music should be emphasized. Until now jazz has been used as a specialty or a culmination of a plot point. It remained for Bernstein to prove that it can be used as a sustained and continuous story-telling element in underscoring the mood elements of an entire picture."

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