I can't quite remember
exactly when I met Peter Matz, but our careers seemed to keep bumping
into each other. It was probably when I was called in to act as
Music Supervisor for the film of "Torch Song Trilogy." Peter had
written the original music, and I put together the sound track of
existing material (songs by Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Anita
O'Day, etc.). I basically spent several days in Peter's office watching
and re-watching the rough cut of the film and talking about possible
music choices with Peter. I was new to L. A. and steadfastly remain
a non-driver, so Peter took me under his wing, drove and showed
me around, introduced me to people, and became my best friend and
surrogate dad for the duration of the project. We also co-produced
the sound track album for the Polydor label, and it did pretty damned
well on the jazz charts in both "Billboard" and "Cashbox." Although
I had a number of producer credits to my name, this was a first
for me: my name along with Peter's was actually printed on the CDs
and LP record labels. We even got some radio play with our single
of "Skylark" by Marilyn Scott.
When I was working
at PolyGram Records, I did a lot of CD reissues of Broadway cast
albums, and Peter and I had some good laughs when I put out the
CD of the legendary 1959 flop, "Whoop-Up": Peter had done the dance
arrangements and his name was on the album cover. He shared some
wonderful (and unprintable) stores about the show with me.
Later, I spent the
better part of a year trying to convince PolyGram to record the
original cast album of "Grand Hotel" (for which Peter did the orchestrations).
Peter and I spent hours and hours going over the project on paper,
trying to see how we could make a great album for little money,
intricately plotting recording sessions around union rules, and
calling in every favor we could think of. After PolyGram finally
gave up on the project, Peter eventually got to do the album for
BMG, and it still stings that I never got to work on it with him.
I left the record
industry in the 1990s, so I had less occasion to see Peter, but
we stayed in touch. I could always count on one or two great, long
letters from Peter each year, self-typed on an ancient machine on
his old "Breaker Enterprises" stationery.
In December 1999,
I was at the opening of a play (something with Elizabeth Ashley,
the name of which I can't recall) at NYC's Promenade Theatre, and
in the lobby, I thought I recognized somebody (I hadn't had a chance
to look at the program; Peter had written the incidental music).
"Peter?" I asked. It had been nearly a decade since we had seen
each other: he was looking a bit thicker and grayer than I had remembered,
and I was looking very, very bald. "Larry! You're the first person
on my call-list for tomorrow!" So we had, yet again, a few days
of close catching-up. Later that week, I attended a workshop performance
of a new musical Peter had been working on in L. A. We had a long
talk about the show that night, and just as I'm not exactly sure
when I first met Peter Matz, I think that was probably the last
time I saw him.
We continued to keep
in touch, and I always got the season brochure for the musicals
which Peter conducted in L. A. along with a note about how happy
he was to be doing one show, or how he regretfully had to miss a
production because of other commitments.
My career has now
landed me in Central Europe, where I have lived since the beginning
of 2001. I still got the odd letter from Marilynn, Peter's wife,
but hadn't heard from Peter himself in quite a while. I had no idea
that he had been ill. I actually learned of his death when I was
surfing the Internet to see what shows had won Emmy awards this
year, and there was Peter's name on the "In Memoriam" list. I am
still recoiling from the shock.
What can I say that
hasn't already been said? Peter was one of the most talented, dedicated,
generous, down-to-earth, and truly funny human beings I have ever
encountered, and I consider myself blessed to have had the times
with him that I did. (And I would never, ever let him forget that
he produced "The Ethel Merman Disco Album" - now I regret never
getting him to autograph it!) Peter never let his success go to
his head, and if he was ever angry (something that didn't happen
a lot), it was because somebody else wasn't getting what they deserved.
I remember a long tirade against CBS when some young executive ordered
massive cutbacks on what was to have been a lavish tribute to "The
Carol Burnett Show." Peter was incensed that Burnett was not being
treated as the great artist and American icon she is.
The musical he was
working on when I last saw him in New York in December 1999 was
still another example of Peter's generosity. Here he was, multi-award-winner
who had worked with the likes of Marlene Dietrich, Barbara Streisand
and Noel Coward, working with a young kid on his first musical,
simply because he believed in the project and the kid's talent.
Peter's reputation and bank-account didn't need to be doing this
show, but his heart did.
Then there's the
charity work he and Marilynn did, which speaks for itself.
The world has lost
a great musician, and a man of great warmth and humor, and I have
lost a mentor, a collaborator, and a great buddy. If I was ever
having a crisis, personal or professional, I knew I could always
count on Peter for a sympathetic ear and some realistic advice.
I join the thousands of other members of the music community in
mourning the loss of this marvellous human being.
Larry L. Lash
6 October 2002
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