You have heard the music of Alan Bergman. With his wife Marilyn, Bergman has written lyrics for songs that have been featured on the radio, on the Broadway stage, on television and movies, and won three Academy Awards for “The Windmills of Your Mind,” “The Way We Were” and the score for Yentl. On Sunday, July 28, Bergman will make a rare live appearance at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, where he’ll be performing classics from his extensive songbook.
While Bergman has spent the majority of his musical career writing lyrics, he has always loved to sing. In 2007, he released Lyrically, Alan Bergman, featuring Bergman singing some of his most popular pieces and, by the Berlin Big Band and Radio Orchestra. “A few years ago, we did one of those ‘Lyrics and Lyricists’ shows at the 92nd Street Y, and [a producer from Verve Records] came up and said he loved the way I sing and wanted to make an album with me,” Bergman explains. “He sent some CDs that were just beautiful, so we said okay and he organized an orchestra! I had a wonderful time doing it.”
It’s not surprising that Bergman, who has been in the music industry since the 1950s, is still finding success with new projects that involve his complete body of work. So many of Bergman’s songs, like “After the Rain,” “Ordinary Miracles,” and more are timeless. “For that, we’re very grateful. Hopefully, the songs appeal to the mind and the heart, no matter what generation you are,” Bergman says. “And we were brought up on the great writers—Berlin, Porter, the Gershwins, Johnny Mercer…we had wonderful mentors.” In fact, Johnny Mercer was Bergman’s mentor. “Johnny Mercer spent three years working with me on and off. I met him in California and he was just wonderful. I wouldn’t be where I am without him.” Marilyn, meanwhile, “was at the high school of music and art and spent afternoons playing for [late songwriter] Bob Russell. She learned a great deal from him.”
Bergman and his wife first met professionally. “I was writing with a composer in the morning and she was writing in the afternoon. And we wrote a song together one day, and a year later we got married!” Coincidentally, the two were born in the same hospital in Brooklyn. As was Barbra Streisand, who’s sung many of his songs, including “The Way We Were.”
“It’s been a long time. We met her when she was 18 years old. She was a muse to us; she’s recorded about 64 songs of ours,” Bergman marvels. “There’s no better. It’s a thrill every time she sings for us. To be a great singer, you need talent in three places: heart, mind, instrument.”
Bergman’s songbook also includes theme songs from sitcoms, most notably Maude and Good Times, both created by Norman Lear. “First of all, Normal Lear, for whom we wrote a lot, creates wonderful characters, like Maude. The song that people really love is the one from Good Times. They’re just wonderful characters that you can grab onto.”
For someone with such a storied career, it’d be impossible for Bergman to single out one single favorite work. But he has a definitive time he looks back on the fondest. “My favorite time is when we were writing songs for movies; for example, a director like Sydney Pollack, who really knew how to use songs. Another one, Richard Brooks, wanted the songs in the films as an extension of the screenplay, rather than as a marketing tool. The scenes for which they wanted songs to appear were really inspiring for us and we have had the luck of having composers who really write beautiful melodies.”
So, what comes first—the music or the lyrics? “The phone call,” Bergman jokes, before adding, “We prefer music first. Johnny Mercer said get the music first if you can, that’s where you find your inspiration. For ‘Windmills of Your Mind,’ the whole melody we didn’t change a dot on the note.”
The Bergmans will be staying with his friend, talent agent Kenny Sunshine, while they’re in the Hamptons. And this show isn’t all they have coming up. Bergman and his wife wrote the music for the touring Visions of America: A Photo-Symphony Concert for America, a multimedia concert with photography by photo-historian Joseph Sohm based on his Visions of America photo collection. Judith Hill, Steve Tyrell and more will perform songs written by the Bergmans for the concert and Clint Eastwood provides a recorded narration. “At this point, it’s gotta be fun,” Bergman says happily. “And this is fun.”
Alan Bergman will perform at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on July 28. For more information and tickets, go to whbpac.org.