Mike Lang dead: Renowned pianist turned 80

One of the pre-eminent pianists in Hollywood history, Mike Lang, died of lung cancer at his home in Studio City on Friday morning. He was 80.

Lang played piano (or organ, harpsichord, or celesta) on an estimated 2,000 film and television scores dating back to the mid-1960s, including scores by virtually every major film composer of the last 50 years: John Williams (“Close Encounters of the Third Kind ‘, ‘Catch Me If You Can’), Jerry Goldsmith (‘Gremlins’, ‘The Russia House’), John Barry (‘Body Heat’, ‘The Specialist’), Henry Mancini (’10’), Alex North ( “The Fisherman’s Shoes”), Elmer Bernstein (“The Rainmaker”), Miklós Rózsa (“Dead Men Wear No Plaid”) and many others.

Composer Lalo Schifrin (“Mission: Impossible”) was one of Lang’s earliest champions in Hollywood, and added Lang’s piano to Paul Horn’s Grammy-winning 1965 album Jazz Suite on the Mass Texts. Lang played piano on dozens of Schifrin’s subsequent albums and film scores, including the Oscar-nominated The Competition and The Sting II.

Lang has also played for composers such as James Newton Howard (Glengarry Glen Ross, Lady in the Water), Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin), Marc Shaiman (City Slickers), John Debney ( Dreamer), Hans Zimmer (As Good As It Gets, Pearl Harbor), Randy Newman (Toy Story, Secretariat), Danny Elfman (Batman Returns), Bill Conti (The Right Stuff) and Clint Eastwood (“The Bridges of Madison County”).

Composer Howard, also a pianist, narrated diversity: “Mike was a dear friend, colleague and teacher, gifted with monumental talent. Anyone who knew him would agree that there never was a more gracious, humble and brilliant musician – a musician’s musician.”

Lang’s hundreds of television appearances as a keyboardist ranged from The Waltons and Kung Fu in the 1970s to later shows such as Amazing Stories, The Simpsons, Frasier, Penny Dreadful, Family guys.” American Dad and The Orville.

When interviewed for the Legacy of John Williams podcast last year, Lang reflected on his process: “The music itself tells me how to relate to it. I have a noise in my head. I play as an improviser, even when I play Beethoven. I hear the music as if it were in Beethoven’s head. If I can get it to fit so that the real sound comes out of the piano and it fits [what’s in] my head, the piano disappears. It’s a mediator for me. The last thing on my mind is, ‘I’m a pianist.’ I try to let the music breathe, be vocal and expressive, and to that end the piano loses its identity.”

Lang was familiar with every imaginable musical idiom and genre, a versatility that also kept him in demand for pop and jazz albums. He played for Ray Charles, Natalie Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Willie Nelson, Dionne Warwick, John Denver, Lionel Ritchie, Leonard Cohen, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Vince Gill, NSYNC, Diana Krall, John Lennon, the Commodores, Peggy Lee, Johnny Mathis, Barbra Streisand and Frank Zappa.

He was born Michael Herbert Lang (but changed his name to Michael Anthony Lang many years later) on December 10, 1941 in Los Angeles, the son of Jennings Lang, an agent who later became a producer on Universal films such as Earthquake. and “Airport 1975”.

Mike Lang began taking piano lessons at the age of 4 1/2 and eventually studied music with LA composers Leonard Stein and George Tremblay, studio pianist Pearl Kaufman and Schifrin. In 1963 he completed his music studies at the University of Michigan.

In addition to his studio work, Lang often played at LA-area jazz clubs including Donte’s, Shelly’s Manne Hole, Baked Potato, and other venues. He later produced albums for his stepmother, singer and actress Monica Lewis, and released his first solo album on the Varèse Sarabande label in 1994, a collection of Henry Mancini songs he arranged and performed, entitled Days of Wine and Roses “.

Lang was briefly a composer for Robert Forster’s 1986 film Hollywood Harry and over the years has written songs for jazz greats such as Stan Getz, Bob James, Lee Ritenour, Herb Alpert, Tom Scott and Dave Grusin. He also made his debut with jazz piano concertos by Byron Olson and Brad Dechter.

In July 2019, he played a sold-out Piano Spheres concert at Colburn School’s Zipper Hall, which was highly acclaimed by the LA Times: “one of LA’s great known unknowns, a pianist-composer who doesn’t often find himself in the spotlight… remembered.” Lang us from the seldom recognized but important intersection between contemporary music and Hollywood… the revelation here was hearing our city’s musical identity in a single voice.”

Survivors include his partner Deborah Pearl; former wife Karen Lang; son Dave Lang, also a musician; a brother, producer and director Rocky Lang and grandson Sonny.

https://variety.com/2022/artisans/news/mike-lang-dead-jazz-pianist-1235335081/ Mike Lang dead: Renowned pianist turned 80

Charles Jones

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