Artie Kane is dead: the studio pianist and film and TV composer was 93


Artie Kane, Grammy-nominated pianist and composer of scores for films including “Looking for Mr. Goodbar” and “Eyes of Laura Mars,” died Tuesday at his home on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle, Washington. He was 93 years old.

Kane was widely considered one of the finest keyboard players in Hollywood history. He played for all the great composers of the 1960s and 1970s, 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. “Before him, the studios hired a specialist for each style of music – cocktail piano, jazz, classical. He changed all that. Artie established a tradition that as a session musician you could play anything.

He began to compose at the end of the 1960s, first for television (“Wonder Woman”, “Barnaby Jones”) then for films, including two for director Richard Brooks (“Looking for Mr. Goodbar”, “Wrong Is Right”) and one for Irvin Kershner (“The Eyes of Laura Mars”). Between feature films, he wrote dozens of scores for television series (including “The Love Boat”, “Dynasty”, “Hotel”, “Matlock”) and three of the “Gunsmoke” TV movies with James Arness.

Kane launched another career in the 1990s: conducting for top songwriters. He has conducted over 60 orchestral scores including several Oscar nominees, including ‘Men in Black’ for Danny Elfman, ‘The American President’ for Marc Shaiman and ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’ for James Newton Howard.

shaiman said Variety“Artie was the magic glue that held the sessions together, with precision and the driest humor. He knew exactly 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 scoring week I’ve been through, I owe it to Artie for getting away with my music and my sanity intact.

Howard called him “a remarkably talented pianist and a wonderful collaborator whose musical gifts were matched only by his unforgettable and hilarious storytelling”.

Composer Charles Fox, who encouraged Kane’s songwriting career in the 1970s, added: “Artie was the most brilliant pianist who played on so many of my sessions. Before playing a musical note, he would simply look at the most difficult piano part, perhaps even a concerto-like solo, ask questions about the nuances of the interpretation, and then play it masterfully right off the bat.

Mike Lang, who was a fellow keyboardist on many sessions, said Variety“It was easy to see why so many people wanted him to be a part of their musical life. His spontaneity, his talent and his infallible know-how have thus identified him as an essential part of the projects of composers and arrangers. Perhaps the most important thing I learned from Artie was how to “read” the needs of each composer or specific situation, how to understand what would be the best approach to take for each individual project. He has been equally generous to many throughout his incredible professional life.

He was born in Columbus, Ohio on April 14, 1929. A child prodigy, he began playing the piano at age 3, won awards and scholarships, and performed on radio while he was still a teenager. He studied at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and spent eight years touring with the “Holiday on Ice” skating troupe, both as a pianist and bandleader. In the late 1950s he moved to New York, where he worked as a rehearsal pianist on Broadway and performed in nightclubs.

Kane moved to Los Angeles in 1960 and began playing the piano in the studios. He has 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 Grammy nomination in 1975 for “S’Wonderful”, a collection of arrangements for two pianos of classic songs and works by George Gershwin. Henry Mancini arranged and produced three additional albums highlighting Kane’s keyboard prowess in the early 1970s.

His memoir, “Music to My Years: Life and Love Between the Notes”, was published in 2017. He 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 finally, in 1981, to the former JoAnn Johnson, a studio music copyist. She survives, along with her sons David Russell and Adam Kane, and two grandsons.


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