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Peter Matz Dies at 73

Peter Matz, award-winning musical director, arranger, composer, orchestrator, and conductor died Friday in Los Angeles of lung cancer. He was 73. He received Emmy Awards for programs featuring Barbra Streisand, Burt Bacharach, and Carol Burnett. Mr. Matz also often accompanied his wife, singer Marilynn Lovell, in fund-raising concerts to benefit AIDS victims.

Mr. Matz received a Grammy Award for his arrangement of Barbara Streisand's 1964 album "People," an Emmy Award for her 1965 television special "My Name is Barbra," and an Academy Award nomination for best original score for the film "Funny Lady" in 1975. Mr. Matz arranged and conducted most of the material on Streisand's first five albums. In 1986 he received another Grammy nomination for arranging, conducting, and producing Streisand's "The Broadway Album."

Mr. Matz was born in Pittsburgh, and earned money while in college playing for dance bands. After graduating, Mr. Matz went to Paris for two years. He moved to New York in 1954 to study piano and soon got a job as rehearsal pianist for composer Harold Arlen's Broadway musical "House of Flowers." He later wrote orchestrations, vocal arrangements, and dance music for Arlen's next musical, "Jamaica," starring Lena Horne. Arlen also introduced Mr. Matz to Marlene Dietrich, who used his arrangements for her own shows. She, in turn, introduced him to Noel Coward. Mr. Matz served as arranger and pianist for Coward in Las Vegas in 1955 and then worked with Coward on his 1961 Broadway musical "Sail Away."

Other entertainers Mr. Matz worked with include Peggy Lee, Bing Crosby, Liza Minnelli, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan, Dionne Warwick, Rosemary Clooney, Maureen McGovern, Bernadette Peters, and Melissa Manchester.

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I can't quite remember exactly when I met Peter Matz, but our careers seemed to keep bumping into each other. It was probably when I was called in to act as Music Supervisor for the film of "Torch Song Trilogy." Peter had written the original music, and I put together the sound track of existing material (songs by Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Anita O'Day, etc.). I basically spent several days in Peter's office watching and re-watching the rough cut of the film and talking about possible music choices with Peter. I was new to L. A. and steadfastly remain a non-driver, so Peter took me under his wing, drove and showed me around, introduced me to people, and became my best friend and surrogate dad for the duration of the project. We also co-produced the sound track album for the Polydor label, and it did pretty damned well on the jazz charts in both "Billboard" and "Cashbox." Although I had a number of producer credits to my name, this was a first for me: my name along with Peter's was actually printed on the CDs and LP record labels. We even got some radio play with our single of "Skylark" by Marilyn Scott.

When I was working at PolyGram Records, I did a lot of CD reissues of Broadway cast albums, and Peter and I had some good laughs when I put out the CD of the legendary 1959 flop, "Whoop-Up": Peter had done the dance arrangements and his name was on the album cover. He shared some wonderful (and unprintable) stores about the show with me.

Later, I spent the better part of a year trying to convince PolyGram to record the original cast album of "Grand Hotel" (for which Peter did the orchestrations). Peter and I spent hours and hours going over the project on paper, trying to see how we could make a great album for little money, intricately plotting recording sessions around union rules, and calling in every favor we could think of. After PolyGram finally gave up on the project, Peter eventually got to do the album for BMG, and it still stings that I never got to work on it with him.

I left the record industry in the 1990s, so I had less occasion to see Peter, but we stayed in touch. I could always count on one or two great, long letters from Peter each year, self-typed on an ancient machine on his old "Breaker Enterprises" stationery.

In December 1999, I was at the opening of a play (something with Elizabeth Ashley, the name of which I can't recall) at NYC's Promenade Theatre, and in the lobby, I thought I recognized somebody (I hadn't had a chance to look at the program; Peter had written the incidental music). "Peter?" I asked. It had been nearly a decade since we had seen each other: he was looking a bit thicker and grayer than I had remembered, and I was looking very, very bald. "Larry! You're the first person on my call-list for tomorrow!" So we had, yet again, a few days of close catching-up. Later that week, I attended a workshop performance of a new musical Peter had been working on in L. A. We had a long talk about the show that night, and just as I'm not exactly sure when I first met Peter Matz, I think that was probably the last time I saw him.

We continued to keep in touch, and I always got the season brochure for the musicals which Peter conducted in L. A. along with a note about how happy he was to be doing one show, or how he regretfully had to miss a production because of other commitments.

My career has now landed me in Central Europe, where I have lived since the beginning of 2001. I still got the odd letter from Marilynn, Peter's wife, but hadn't heard from Peter himself in quite a while. I had no idea that he had been ill. I actually learned of his death when I was surfing the Internet to see what shows had won Emmy awards this year, and there was Peter's name on the "In Memoriam" list. I am still recoiling from the shock.

What can I say that hasn't already been said? Peter was one of the most talented, dedicated, generous, down-to-earth, and truly funny human beings I have ever encountered, and I consider myself blessed to have had the times with him that I did. (And I would never, ever let him forget that he produced "The Ethel Merman Disco Album" - now I regret never getting him to autograph it!) Peter never let his success go to his head, and if he was ever angry (something that didn't happen a lot), it was because somebody else wasn't getting what they deserved. I remember a long tirade against CBS when some young executive ordered massive cutbacks on what was to have been a lavish tribute to "The Carol Burnett Show." Peter was incensed that Burnett was not being treated as the great artist and American icon she is.

The musical he was working on when I last saw him in New York in December 1999 was still another example of Peter's generosity. Here he was, multi-award-winner who had worked with the likes of Marlene Dietrich, Barbara Streisand and Noel Coward, working with a young kid on his first musical, simply because he believed in the project and the kid's talent. Peter's reputation and bank-account didn't need to be doing this show, but his heart did.

Then there's the charity work he and Marilynn did, which speaks for itself.

The world has lost a great musician, and a man of great warmth and humor, and I have lost a mentor, a collaborator, and a great buddy. If I was ever having a crisis, personal or professional, I knew I could always count on Peter for a sympathetic ear and some realistic advice. I join the thousands of other members of the music community in mourning the loss of this marvellous human being.

Larry L. Lash

6 October 2002


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