by Leonard Feather
Educational television sometimes has a tendency to examine music from a viewpoint slightly too scientific for comfort, as if the performers were under a microscope rather than a microphone. For this and other reasons, the NET special devoted to Peggy Lee and seen on many stations this fall was a doubly welcome and uncommon human documentary.
Produced by Robert Foshko, with David Prowitt as executive producer, the show reflected a concept that was unusual in more than one respect.
It was neither a self-conscious technical exploration of some specialized form of music (jazz, baroque, rock) nor a dispassionate look at a pop festival. Instead, it took the viewer on a genuine behind-the-scenes tour with a nationally respected classic pop (i.e., older than 30) artist. By then end of the program, which ran an unusual 75 minutes, you knew a little more about how an artist conceives a personal appearance, what happens at rehearsals, how the arrangers work, what problems arise – everything, in fact, up to the moment of the first show on opening night. (Permission was not granted to film the Las Vegas, Nevada performance itself.)
That Miss Lee is a perfectionist is one of the most publicized facts of her career. Foshko enabled us to see that perfectionism at work – at her home in Beverly Hills, in her dressing room, at a preview held in Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum, and finally backstage at Las Vegas’ International Hotel, where the premiere took place.
There were intimate glimpses not only of Miss Lee as planner, schemer, and actress-vocalist, but also of arrangers Johnny Mandel and Dick Hazard, of her musical director-pianist Lou Levy, and of others who work closely with her, such as Mundell Lowe and Francisco Aguabella.
Her voice-overs were used here and there to point up certain aspects of the designing of her show. Lighting cues, electronics, the public address system, orchestration, transportation, and the rest were dealt with, never too technically, but in sufficient detail to assure an air of authenticity.
Having watched Miss Lee at close quarters before several of these nervous opening nights, I can attest to the genuineness of the manner in which this insight was presented, even to the mandatory good-luck kissing of each musician, the last-minute ditching of an arrangement that didn’t seem to work out, the great concern for pacing, the rest.
In the course of studying all this we were treated to some 15 minutes of the preview show itself. The songs heard in full included “The Shadow of Your Smile;” Jim Webb’s “Didn’t We?;” her recent hit, “Is That All There Is?,” the poignant Leiber-Stoller song; and “Spinning Wheel,” which I could have done without. Wally Heider’s sound was generally commendable; the camera work was effective without becoming tricky.
This was an informative, mildly educational show that also shaped up as exceptional music.