Prolific popular songwriter Burt Bacharach.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
"My family was very assimilated, and I guess it wasn’t too cool to be Jewish then, so I was influenced by my surroundings of family and friends,” says Burt Bacharach, explaining in his gruff voice from his home in Los Angeles why he never practiced the Judaism he was born into 85 years ago. “I was left to create a religion of my own in my mind and my heart.”
Even though the legendary melodist responsible for dozens of unforgettable songs may have eschewed organized religion from an early age, millions of fervent listeners have worshiped at Beit Bacharach through decades of hits like “The Look of Love,” “I Say a Little Prayer for You,” “Walk on By,” “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” and “This Guy’s in Love with You.”
Instead of instilling Bacharach with his Jewish heritage, his parents focused on musical education, with piano lessons evolving into late- night jaunts to Manhattan to see jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, and eventually a music studies program at McGill University in Montreal, Mannes School of Music in New York City and the Berkshire Music Center. It all led him to songwriting and a chance to earn his Tin Pan Alley stripes at the famed Brill Building song factory in New York in the 1950s and early ’60s, perfecting his craft and rubbing shoulders with fellow future songwriting superstars like Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and Gerry Goffin and Carole King.
“It was a wonderful time when I was working at the Brill Building. In the elevator, you would see Leiber and Stoller or run into Phil Spector.
It was a building full of music,” said Bacharach, adding that there was good-natured competition among the songwriting staff to produce bigger hits and better songs, but also a fair share of nurturing and mentoring going on.
“Jerry Lieber became a good friend. I learned about making records by watching him in the studio. It was a real education for me to see how he translated to a large group of musicians what he was looking for in the arrangement without knowing how to write the music down himself, just by moving his shoulders or something.”
Bacharach’s songs, many of which were written with his longtime lyricist Hal David, whom he met at the Brill Building, and performed by sultry voiced songstress Dionne Warwick, are carefully crafted pop symphonies that hit all the right notes from beginning to end.
Giving credence to the Woody Allen quote that artists are “always trying to get things to come out perfect in art because it’s real difficult in life,” perhaps Bacharach’s sublime aural creations were compensation for the more turbulent direction his long life has taken, including three divorces, temporary professional estrangement from David and Warwick, and the 2007 suicide of his 40-year old daughter he had with second wife, Hollywood actress Angie Dickinson.
But remarkably well-preserved and healthy, Bacharach is enjoying a new round of professional activity, including a CD box set, The Art of the Songwriter: Anyone Who Had a Heart – The Best of Burt Bacharach , and a long-awaited autobiography, Anyone Who Had a Heart: My Life and Music , which candidly discusses his “swinging ’60s” past, and was described by the Daily Telegraph as “a world of broads, highballs and frequent dinners at Italian joints where Sinatra liked to hang out.”
After a career as the man behind the music, he’s stepping out in front of the stage for a tour of his greatest hits he’s whimsically called the You Have to be Kidding tour, in which he’s leading a full orchestra and a group of singers. The show stops in Binyamina on July 2 for a gala performance at the Zappa Shoni Amphitheater, Bacharach’s first appearance here since 1960, when he led German-American singer and actress Marlene Dietrich’s orchestra in historic shows in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa.
“I was never a performer. Before I became successful as a songwriter, I made a living as a band leader for Vic Damone and then Dietrich,” said Bacharach. “Later, after I became a songwriting success, I started to get offers to perform and even go to Las Vegas for an engagement at Harrahs. But I never thought it would lead to something like appearing with my band in Israel. You never know where life will take you.”
If you’re a fan of classy, timeless pop, it will take you directly to Binyamina on Tuesday.