Today the musical world looks back on the achievement of André Previn, who made his mark in both the jazz and classical worlds as performer and conductor, and who also scored many films (four Oscars) and composed orchestral and chamber music as well as works for musical theater. He wrote several books, too; it’s hard to think of another musician with such a record of accomplishment.
Previn intersected most notably with Weill on a 1961 LP, André Previn and J.J. Johnson Play Kurt Weill’s Mack the Knife and Barbara-Song and Other Music from Threepenny Opera, Happy End and Mahagonny (the combo also included Red Mitchell on bass and drummer Frank Capp). Actually the disc held six more tracks: “Bilbao-Song,” the Overture to The Threepenny Opera, “Seeräuberjenny,” “Surabaya-Johnny,” “Wie man sich bettet,” and “Lied von der Unzulänglichkleit menschlichen Strebens.” Some of Weill’s songs had become jazz standards by then, but an entire album devoted to Weill’s music was unusual to say the least. (It has been reissued on CD as Lonehill Jazz LHJ10376.) Around the same time, Previn recorded “Lost in the Stars” as piano soloist with orchestra; years later he accompanied Kiri Te Kanawa on a 1991 disc that included “It Never Was You.”
Undoubtedly Previn’s advocacy gave Weill a push among jazz musicians, particularly in reaching past “Mack the Knife” and exploring other music from Weill’s Berlin years. Previn was in fact born in Berlin in 1929, and it is tempting to imagine that Weill’s music was some of the first he heard as a young child in a city intoxicated with the Threepenny Opera. Four decades later, he nearly crossed paths with Lotte Lenya as the composer of the Broadway musical Coco; lyricist Alan Jay Lerner offered her the leading role fresh off her triumph in Cabaret. She turned it down, an opportunity missed.
The loss of such a gifted musician may be mourned, but such a rich career must be celebrated. We join the musical world in doing both.
Obituary from the New York Times