Monday, July 30, 2012

R.I.P.: Mort Lindsey

Mort Lindsey, TV Bandleader and Accompanist to Stars, Dies at 89
by Dennis Hevesi for The New York Times - May 10, 2012

Mort Lindsey, who led Merv Griffin's television orchestra, accompanied Barbra Streisand on the piano in Central Park and played with Judy Garland in her celebrated comeback concert at Carnegie Hall, died on Friday at his home in Malibu, Calif. He was 89.

The cause was complications of a broken hip, his son Steve said.
Mr. Lindsey was musical director for "The Merv Griffin Show" from 1962 to 1986 in a six-decade career in which he brought his big-band finesse to jazz, swing, pop, country and rock in performances and recordings with a diverse array of performers. Among them were Pat Boone, Eddie Fisher, Liza Minnelli, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Willie Nelson, Chris Botti and Michael Buble.

Mr. Lindsey won an Emmy in 1969 for his accompaniment of Ms. Streisand on a CBS concert special, "A Happening in Central Park." The show led to an album of the same name.

For Mr. Lindsey, however, his performance of a lifetime occurred on April 23, 1961, when Judy Garland -- at 38 and trying to resuscitate her career after bouts with alcohol and pill addictions -- performed before a full house at Carnegie Hall. The double album from that performance, "Judy at Carnegie Hall," with Mr. Lindsey leading the orchestra, was No. 1 on the Billboard chart for 13 weeks that year and won four Grammy Awards.

In January 1971, when Mr. Griffin devoted two nights of his show to bandleaders like Les Brown, Lawrence Welk and Vaughn Monroe, it was Mr. Lindsey who reprised their harmonies.

"The hero of Griffin's two-part program," Jack Gould wrote in The New York Times, "was his own regular orchestra conductor, Mort Lindsey, the pianist, who with amazing accuracy and musicianship led his band through all the different styles and arrangements associated with the guests of honor. To shift effortlessly from the champagne horn of Lawrence Welk to the Dixieland beat of Bob Crosby left no doubt of Mr. Lindsey's versatility."

Born Morton Lippman in Newark on March 23, 1923 (he changed his name early in his career), Mr. Lindsey was one of two children of immigrants from Russia. Classically trained as a pianist as a child, he earned a bachelor's degree and a doctorate in music education from Columbia.

In 1955 he married Betty Bonney, who in 1941, performing with Les Brown's Band of Renown, recorded the hit song "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio."
Besides his wife (who changed her name to Judy) and his son Steve, a record producer, Mr. Lindsey's survivors include two other sons, Trevor and David; three daughters, Bonney Dunn, Deborah Morris and Judy Grant; and a sister, Janet.

Mr. Lindsey remained captivated by Ms. Garland's Carnegie Hall performance. "Judy knew how to milk an audience," he told Vanity Fair magazine last year.

"I see her standing in the wings," he continued. "She's not doing anything, just looking across the stage. She's looking at me and I'm looking at her. I look in the audience, and there's Ethel Merman and Rock Hudson and Benny Goodman, all these big shots sitting down in the first row, waiting and waiting. Is she going to come out? Is she going to do it? But she knows what she's doing. Finally she gives me a nod, and I start the overture."

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