Artie Kane, Grammy-nominated pianist and composer of film scores including “Looking for Mr. Goodbar” and “Eyes of Laura Mars,” died Tuesday at his home on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle, Wash. He was 93.
Kane was widely considered one of the finest keyboard players in the history of Hollywood. He played for every major composer during the 1960s and ’70s, including John Williams (“The Poseidon Adventure”), Jerry Goldsmith (“Chinatown”), Lalo Schifrin (“The Cincinnati Kid”), Henry Mancini (“Wait Until Dark”), Michel Legrand (“The Thomas Crown Affair”), John Barry (“The Deep”), Johnny Mandel (“The Americanization of Emily”), Elmer Bernstein (“McQ”) and many others.
“Artie was a brilliant musician, a dear friend and colleague, and a mentor to me,” said fellow pianist Ralph Grierson. “Prior to him, studios would hire a specialist for each style of music – cocktail piano, jazz, classical. He changed all of that. Artie established a tradition that as a studio musician you could play anything.”
He began composing in the late 1960s, first for television (“Wonder Woman,” “Barnaby Jones”) and then for films including two for director Richard Brooks (“Looking for Mr. Goodbar,” “Wrong Is Right”) and one for Irvin Kershner (“Eyes of Laura Mars”). Between features he wrote dozens of series-TV scores (including “The Love Boat,” “Dynasty,” “Hotel,” “Matlock”) and three of the “Gunsmoke” TV-movies starring James Arness.
Kane launched another career in the 1990s: conducting for top composers. He conducted more than 60 orchestral scores including several that were nominated for Oscars, among them “Men in Black” for Danny Elfman, “The American President” for Marc Shaiman and “My Best Friend’s Wedding” for James Newton Howard.
Shaiman told Variety: “Artie was the magic glue that kept the sessions together, with precision and the driest of humor. He knew just what to say to the musicians, and the composer, to get to the bottom of how best to make every measure expressive and playable. For every week of scoring I ever lived through, I owe it to Artie that I made it out with my music and sanity intact.”
Howard called him “a remarkably talented pianist and wonderful collaborator whose musical gifts were matched only by his unforgettable and hilarious storytelling.”
Added composer Charles Fox, who encouraged Kane’s composing career in the 1970s: “Artie was the most brilliant pianist who played on so many of my sessions. Before playing a note of music, he would just look at the most difficult piano part, perhaps even a concerto-like solo, ask about the nuances in the performance, and then play it masterfully right off the bat.”
Mike Lang, who was a fellow keyboard player on many sessions, told Variety: “It was easy to see why so many people wanted him to be a part of their musical life. His spontaneity, talent and unerring craft so identified him as a must-have on composers’ and arrangers’ projects. Maybe the most important thing I learned from Artie was how to ‘read’ the needs of each specific composer or situation, how to understand what the best approach to take would be on each individual project. He was equally generous to many throughout his amazing professional life.”
He was born in Columbus, Ohio, April 14, 1929. A child prodigy, he began playing piano at the age of 3, won prizes and scholarships and performed on radio while still in his teens. He studied at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and spent eight years touring with the “Holiday on Ice” skating troupe, both as pianist and conductor. In the late 1950s he moved to New York, where he worked as a Broadway rehearsal pianist and performed in nightclubs.
Kane moved to Los Angeles in 1960 and began playing piano in the studios. He also performed on albums by Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan, Bud Shank, Quincy Jones, Barbra Streisand and others.
With Grierson, he received a 1975 Grammy nomination for “S’Wonderful,” a collection of two-piano arrangements of George Gershwin songs and classical works. Henry Mancini arranged and produced three additional albums spotlighting Kane’s keyboard prowess in the early 1970s.
His memoir, “Music to My Years: Life and Love Between the Notes,” was published in 2017. It won a gold medal in the non-fiction and music-entertainment category at the annual Readers’ Favorite awards in Miami in 2019.
Kane was married eight times, including to singer-actress Jaye P. Morgan, agent Carol Faith and lastly, in 1981, to the former JoAnn Johnson, a studio music copyist. She survives, along with his sons David Russell and Adam Kane, and two grandsons.
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