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André Previn: The Aristo-Cat

Versatility personified

Andre Previn
Andre Previn

On April 10, 1959, CBS-TV aired a flashy jazz spectacular titled Swing Into Spring! , starring a flock of swing-era royalty: Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Lionel Hampton. At the piano was another sort of aristocrat, the Berlin-born, conservatory-trained Oscar-winner André Previn, age 29.

His eminence in the classical world was yet to come: Previn’s “legit” ambitions had been derailed by his formidable gifts for playing jazz and scoring film musicals. But this was no longhair condescending to the masses, for jazz occupied half his heart. Previn went from writing a hipster anthem, “Like Young,” to composing symphonies, operas and concertos. He led the London and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestras and toured with Ray Brown, Joe Pass and Mundell Lowe.

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