I awoke this morning to the news – broken to me via text message in the uniquely sensitive style I associate with the child who sent it to me – that “Andre Previn has died”.
Obituaries will focus, and rightly so, on his extraordinary work as a conductor, classical pianist, a composer of film scores and musical educator. And then, for British audiences at least, on his role in possibly the greatest sketch ever broadcast on television. But for me, he was the man who changed everything. When I was 15 I bought Donald Fagen’s album The Nightfly, which includes the line “I hear you’re mad about Brubeck, I like your eyes, I like him too.” I thought that if Fagen liked Brubeck I might too, so I bought a greatest hits album and found I did. And then I bought this.
It’s a strange album which cherry picks half the tracks from two albums and lumps them together. Brubeck’s side was interesting, clever, maybe a bit challenging for me at that age. Previn’s was a revelation. He played with such wit, such lightness, used his incredible technique with such casual flair that the pure joy of jazz was opened up to me. I was literally never the same again. I’d thought jazz was difficult and to be appreciated – rewarding, but in a cerebral way. Previn made me laugh with glee at his audaciousness. He connected straight to that intangible essence which makes you love music with your very being.
He wasn’t a jazz pioneer, there won’t be lists of young musicians queuing up to say how much he influenced them. But his effect on my appreciation of what jazz could be was second to none. And I think that’s why I’ve been much more upset by this than I anticipated. He was 89, so it wasn’t like it was unexpected. But his impact was on the very core of what makes me who I am, and as such his death has hit me hard. Auf wiedersehen, Mr Preview.