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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Andre Previn is a musical polymath. He's a composer, conductor, pianist, pedagogue, and he's led most of the world's major orchestras, won Oscars for his movie music, written for Broadway and concert and opera halls and been knighted by the queen of England. And that's the short list.

NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg says we can't ignore Andre Previn's jazz chops, especially since Previn has just put out a new album of solo piano jazz.

(Soundbite of music)

STAMBERG: He started playing jazz as a teenager, having studied classical piano for many young years. In the early 1950s, the bebop that Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and friends had invented just blew him away when he heard it. By 1954, Previn, age 26, was performing with some of those bebop masters. He remembers Gillespie at the first Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island.

Mr. ANDRE PREVIN (Musician, Composer, Conductor): Dizzy always had a remarkable sense of humor, and we were standing around on this lawn of this enormous estate. The Basie band was on stage really roaring, and people were sitting around in white tuxedos and they didn't know what was going on. And this nice lady came over. She said, well, gentlemen, and what do you think of all this? And Diz took a look around, and he said I think it's the end of tennis.

(Soundbite of music)

STAMBERG: In 1956, Andre Previn made his own jazz history. Along with drummer Shelly Manne and bass player Leroy Vinnegar, he recorded the first jazz version of a Broadway score, "My Fair Lady."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. PREVIN: When I made it, we didn't know the score. So, every time there was a time for another tune, we would send out to an all-night sheet music store and get a copy and then we'd learn it and then we'd record it. I said to the man who owned the company - Lester Karnages(ph) - you know, this is going to be the most expensive private party record ever made because nobody will buy this.

STAMBERG: Previn's "My Fair Lady" sold a million copies.

(Soundbite of music)

STAMBERG: Now, after decades spent conducting symphony orchestras and composing classical music, Andre Previn has recorded a solo jazz album, his first in 10 years.

(Soundbite of music)

STAMBERG: Don't you miss the bass? Don't you miss the drums? (unintelligible)

Mr. PREVIN: Oh, yes, of course, I do. Especially when they're good. It's a different kind of playing, you know, this is harmonically a lot freer.

(Soundbite of music)

STAMBERG: But is there with a solo piano the temptation to fill in the spaces, sort of bring along the band so there's always sound?

Mr. PREVIN: Yes, that's dangerous. But, that's - Teddy Wilson said, you know, we have to learn what to leave out.

STAMBERG: Do you have a problem with that, by the way?

Mr. PREVIN: With what?

STAMBERG: Keeping quiet.

Mr. PREVIN: Oh, no. It's always a great relief.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of music)

STAMBERG: I hope you're having fun listening to yourself.

Mr. PREVIN: I take the fifth.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: Fun is not the operative word? Wait the minute. Wait a minute. What do you mean?

Mr. PREVIN: No, I mean, I have trouble listening to old records of mine.

STAMBERG: This is a brand new one.

Mr. PREVIN: That's old already.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: Before he started playing show tunes, he saw them sung at the movies as a 10-year-old in Los Angeles. He would but 10-cent tickets at Graumann's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. By 16, he was working in films, arranging and composing music for some of the great late MGM musicals. In Hollywood, Previn learned about orchestration and writing to scenes.

He also learned about anxiety, temperament and ambition. He wrote a song about that - ambition and big dreams - for the 1965 film "Inside Daisy Clover." The tune is called "You're Gonna Hear From Me."

(Soundbite of music)

STAMBERG: A few years ago, Barbara Streisand recorded this Previn song.

(Soundbite of song, "You're Gonna Hear From Me")

Ms. BARBRA STREISAND (Singer, Actress): (Singing) I'm staking my claim. Remember my name. You're gonna hear from me.

Mr. PREVIN: The intensity of her singing is so irresistible that, you know, unless you really are geared not to like her, you fall for her. I was very happy that she made that tune. You know, it is flattering when somebody like Barbra calls and says I want to do this tune of yours.

(Soundbite of music)

STAMBERG: What might the man who wrote this 1932 classic have to say about Previn's jazz version?

(Soundbite of song, "Night and Day")

STAMBERG: In Previn's hands, "Night and Day" becomes a three-minute-and-fifty-second meditation on Cole Porter.]

(Soundbite of song, "Night and Day")

Mr. PREVIN: I was married to Anne-Sophie Mutter when I made this album. "Night and Day" is her favorite song. And when I sent her the tape, she called and she said, my God, who could tell that it's "Night and Day?"

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PREVIN: She said, when you come home, will you play it for me straight once? And I said yes, of course, dear.

(Soundbite of song, "Night and Day")

STAMBERG: Andre Previn, you're really turning this into something that's almost symphonic. I mean…

Mr. PREVIN: I like that. That's the first one you've played that I really like.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: Are you always so self-critical, though? I mean, we've…

Mr. PREVIN: Yes, always. Yes, I very rarely did anything I really like.

STAMBERG: Is that what keeps you going, or does it give you an ulcer?

Mr. PREVIN: Well, no, you've just - got to keep going until you get it right.

STAMBERG: Andre Previn once wrote about the classical concerts he's conducted with some of the finest Western musicians. I've had the healthy and sobering experience of constantly working with music that is in invariably better than any performance of it can be. Demanding - a perfectionist, no doubt. Andre Previn's latest performance is on the new solo jazz piano CD, "Alone."

I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR news.

(Soundbite of song, "Night and Day")

MONTAGNE: To hear more of Andre Previn's jazz, new and vintage, go to npr.org/music. You'll find all of "Night and Day" and "I Could Have Danced All Night."

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

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