Friend. Music Mentor. Genius.
ABOVE: LB hugging me
The world knew Leonard Bernstein as the most celebrated conductor, composer, teacher, of the 20th century. I knew him as a friend, hero, music mentor – who welcomed me into his family, took me under his wing, and somehow made time in his life for me and my family for over 25 years. Knowing in my late teens that none other than Leonard Bernstein was in my corner, giving me pep talks, and setting the bar: "I expect great things from you Pack," before I had a clue what my life in music would be, has made all the difference.
It's summed up best by this song written by his daughter Jamie and me, that she sang to him for his Kennedy Center Honors Award in 1980:
"Thank you thank you, for the big heart / making room for everyone is the hardest part"
Here are some special projects, memories, and photos I thought you might enjoy, including the project I spent over 5 years creating to honor him, 'The Songs of West Side Story."
Leonard Bernstein's "MASS"
At age 18, in the early 70's, I performed in "Leonard Bernstein's MASS" in the L.A. Mark Taper Forum production for several months. Meeting him, then performing in this piece was "life changing" for me on many levels. He singled me out, took me to after-rehearsal dinners, hang outs, told me to help him make the rock band play with more conviction, and started mentoring me from that moment on; whether it was correcting my grammar, or defining what a German doubly augmented 6th was, or playing Beatle songs for me in the style of Mozart of Ravel. When I showed him I was arranging a Bartok piece for rock band he said "Forget Bartok, do Pack!". He nicknamed me "Packissimo".
Following is the actual program. I'm in the group photos, the guy with guitar. Mothers of Invention / Zappa band members Ruth and Ian Underwood were also in this production.
ABOVE: Here's a "MASS BELT" I hand made LB in 1971 for an opening night gift, that contained a music quotation from "Simple Song" – he loved it and he wore it!
MASS: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers") is a musical theatre work composed by Leonard Bernstein with text by Bernstein and additional text and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy, it premiered on September 8, 1971, conducted by Maurice Peress. The performance was part of the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Mass premiered in Europe in 1973, with John Mauceri conducting the Yale Symphony Orchestra in Vienna.
The 1970s saw a number of religious rock musicals, notably Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell, and Bernstein was so impressed by the latter that he invited 23-year-old writer Stephen Schwartz to provide lyrics for Mass – once again, Bernstein reached beyond his own world of classical music for a collaborator to help him create a large-scale musical theater piece, as he had with West Side Story.
Mass was Bernstein's most ambitious theater work. Despite its adaptation of the Latin text interspersed with songs, "numbers," choreographic sequences, and symphonic interludes, Mass is ecumenical in nature and cannot be categorized. Perhaps the most accurate description of the piece is "pageant." With approximately 200 performers, including dancers, singers, a boy chorus, rock and blues singers, actors, and two orchestras, as well as a marching band –who play through the audience – Mass is a musical and theatrical experience.
At LB's request, I listened to and was blown away by his daughter Jamie's songwriting skills. Musically Jamie and I clicked in every way, and I was thrilled to help produce and develop her career for several years. In the photo below, I joined her in NY for her last performance at a club in Soho, before she moved to Southern California in the early 80's.
Jamie has become the global ambassador for her father's music, creating and narrating orchestral works like "The Bernstein Beat" modeled after her father's Young People's Concerts, performed around the world. She hosts her own radio shows, directed her first documentary film "Crescendo – The Power of Music," and continues writing remarkable poetry, lyrics, music and much more. She believes, like her father, in the power of great music to change the world.
With her brother Alexander and sister Nina, Jamie continues to help their father's legacy especially in education through the Artful Learning program, now in over 100 American pilot schools.
ABOVE:Jamie and me in New York City, 1981.
RIGHT: A father-daughter tango the same night: Jamie, LB with yours truly – and loving every minute of it!
Introducing LB to q and MJ
I introduced Quincy Jones to Leonard the year prior to this photo – I asked LB what I could get him for his birthday that summer, and he said "Michael Jackson – I want to meet him." So I called Quincy and one of the most amazing nights imaginable happened. Michael got to see Leonard conduct at UCLA's Royce Hall, then afterwards I put a birthday dinner together where we all had one of the great all-time hangs. This photo made it into the authorized biography of LB by Humphrey Burton. Thank goodness I had super photographer Lester Cohen drop by.
David's tribute to LB: The songs of West Side Story
David Pack was always awed by Leonard Bernstein's ability to transcend artistic and social boundaries. "Like some of the greatest people in this industry, Bernstein was a bridge between cultures," says the Grammy-winning producer, who helped build some bridges of his own with "Songs From 'West Side Story'," the decidedly diverse tribute album, which benefited the NARAS Foundation and the Leonard Bernstein Beta Fund.
"Bernstein was always surrounded by people ranging from Richard Avedon to Lou Reed, philosophers and rabbis, even Black Panthers. A dinner with Bernstein would consist of the most eclectic bunch of people you've ever met in your life."
– David Pack
THE SONGS OF WEST SIDE STORY
RCA VICTOR 1999
1: Somewhere: Phil Collins
2: America: Patti Labelle, Sheila E
3: Tonight: Kenny Loggins, Wynona
4: I Feel Pretty: Little Richard
5: Cool: Bruce Hornsby, Patti Austin, Mervyn Warren
6: Maria: Michael McDonald, James Ingram, David Pack
7: Rumble: Chick Corea and the Electric Band vs. Steve Vai, Simon Phillips, Greg
Phillinganes, David Paitch, Jon Pena, Lenny Castro
8: A Boy Like That: Selena, Shiela E
9: Officer Krupke: Salt-N-Pepa, Lisa Lopes, Paul Rodrigues, Def Jeff, Jerky Boys
10: One Hand, One Heart: Tevin Campbell
11: Jet Song: The Brian Setzer Orchestra
12: Somewhere: Aretha Franklin
CLICK ON THE PHOTOS BELOW TO VIEW THE SLIDESHOW:
Leonard Bernstein (August 25, 1918 – October 14, 1990) was an American composer, conductor, author, music lecturer, and pianist. He was among the first conductors born and educated in the US to receive worldwide acclaim. According to music critic Donal Henahan, he was “one of the most prodigiously talented and successful musicians in American history.”
Following are essential links to learn more about the life and music of Leonard Bernstein.