Lean, cool and sophisticated, Burt Bacharach's jazz-influenced music practically defined three decades of pop music.
A six-time Grammy and three-time Oscar winner, Bacharach seemed to have done it all in the past 85 years, producing 73 Top 40 hits in the U.S., scoring hit movies ("Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid") and Broadway musicals ("Promises, Promises"), and working with some of the more iconic artists and musicians in the '60s-'80s - Aretha Franklin ("I Say a Little Prayer"), Herb Alpert ("This Guy's in Love with You"), The Beatles ("Baby, It's You"), Tom Jones ("What's New Pussycat?") and many others. But it was classically trained Dionne Warwick who best embodied the genius of Bacharach and lyricist Hal David. She charted 38 Bacharach-David singles, tunes that are perhaps the most emblematic of Bacharach's writing style: "Walk on By," "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" and others.
Bacharach and his orchestra play the Pikes Peak Center on Thursday. Here, he talks about the longevity of his work, the power of connecting with an audience and the accident that led to performing his own songs.
The Gazette: Musicians as disparate as Scottish pop band Deacon Blue and jazz pianist McCoy Tyner have made tribute albums. Others, such as Miles Davis, Stan Getz and Wes Montgomery, have recorded your songs. Why do you think your music continues to not only endure, but inspire?
Burt Bacharach: I don't know that the music I've written has this duration or durability, you know? I think what it is it is. Why certain music I wrote 40 years ago still sounds relevant now and therefore connects people like it did then? ... Maybe it was sophisticated at the time - a citified or urban tone to it. It's maybe because what I surrounded the music with. The orchestra was an integral part of the music.
Gazette: You really are the essential fabric of the '60s, '70s and '80s pop music. What have fans told you about your place in their memories?
Bacharach: Aah, you took me back to ... Or it's, this is the soundtrack of my life. That's something I hear a lot. Your music was the soundtrack of my life. You can't get a much higher compliment than that.
I do see connection in the audience with people. ... which is a very satisfying and endearing thing to have. You don't get it unless you are there with those people, not sitting in a room writing music where no one knows you and knows what I look like. The ability to go out and play music is a dream. It is not a job; it's something that makes me feel good because it brings some emotion to people in audience.
Gazette: It's unusual for composers to step into the spotlight. Did you ever have a notion that you would be performing your own tunes?
Bacharach: I never did. It was by accident. Someone asked me to do it at a charity concert in Beverly Hills. I didn't even know how to end the song because it was a fade-out on the record. We just got up and did it. The first couple years were scary because I had to connect with the audience, to talk to the audience. You know, when I grew up, my musical learning, my education was on the road. I was conducting for different acts. Many years ago in Colorado Springs, I think I stayed at The Broadmoor. I was conducting for Marlene Dietrich. That's how I made an impact. Marlene was last and Vic Damone was the first. I did these trips and I didn't have to talk. I was just conducting the orchestra.
I wasn't very good when I started. I didn't really know how to conduct or relate to an orchestra, but you learn and you do it. When it got to be me not in the background, but in the foreground, I had to be able to talk to the audience. It was all worth it. I did a lot of television. ... People got to know what I looked like. I was married to Angie Dickinson and that was a high profile couple, I guess. But it's about the music. Not whether good-looking or nice-looking or ugly or whatever. It always will be about the music.
Gazette: You were really flying high, particularly in the '60s and '70s. If you had to sum that time up in a handful of words, what would they be?
Bacharach: Once I was able to be allowed to record myself. (Pause) See, I think I wrote some very good songs when I started, but someone else recorded them. Someone else arranged them and someone else set the tempo. It was only when I was able to lead the orchestra, decide what the tempo would be and play the piano. Only then did it really evolve into a different kind of music. Much more my stamp. No one else's. If it didn't work, I only had myself to blame. I couldn't blame the arranger. (Laughs.) If it worked, I could take the credit.
Gazette: And today?
Bacharach: Right now things feeling very very good. There's a musical opening up Thursday (Dec. 5) on Off Broadway. It's called "What's It All About" and has 35 of my songs with this young troupe of actors singers. I'm going in for the opening. That's kind of a Valentine for me. I'm excited. We got a musical working on with Elvis Costello, "Painted From Memory," which is dear to many people's hearts. It (came out) about 20 years ago. That's going to be a staged musical. Chuck Lorre, he's the creator of "Big Bang Theory," "Two and a Half Men," and "Mike & Molly" (where he was executive producer). He'd always wanted to make this a musical. So Elvis and I are writing some more songs. Also with Elvis and Mike Myers, we're working an "Austin Powers" musical on Broadway.
I think this is my direction now. There is no record business now. No albums, only singles or downloads. Which is a travesty. There are a lot of people not getting paid what they should get paid. Artists, writers, publishers. Hopefully it will get straightened out. I don't know how.
In the meantime, where Elvis and I go creatively is not will this song work on the radio? Will it be hit? It's, will it work in this musical? As long as it works and it's good.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: Pikes Peak Center, 190 S. Cascade Ave.
Tickets: $49.50-$65; 520-7469, pikespeakcenter.com