German-American pianist, composer, arranger and conductor André George Previn (born Andreas Ludwig Priwin, in Berlin) was for eight decades a hugely influential and prolific figure in jazz, as well as classical and film music. Being Jewish, Previn’s family was forced to leave Hitler’s Germany in 1939. Hollywood naturally beckoned, since André’s grand uncle (Charles Previn) was already well established as musical director at Universal (1936-42). Child prodigy André recorded his first piano jazz album at the age of sixteen while continuing studies at Beverly Hills High School.
He joined MGM at age 17 in 1946 (initially as an uncredited music supervisor/arranger), later as orchestra conductor and still later as a composer of film scores. He remained under contract at the studio until 1960. During his tenure in Hollywood, he was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, winning four (all for Best Adapted Score: Gigi (1958), Porgy and Bess (1959), Irma la Douce (1963), and My Fair Lady (1964)). In the 1950s, he recorded several acclaimed jazz albums with drummer Shelly Manne and pianist Russ Freeman, featuring excellent tracks like “Who’s on First” and “Strike Out the Band”. He began conducting with the St. Louis Symphony in 1961 while still working primarily as a jazz and studio musician. Much of his recorded work consisted of show tunes adapted for jazz. Gradually, his interest in classical music won out.
By the late 1960s, Previn had settled in England and in 1968 was made principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, a position he occupied for eleven years. His popularity led to cameo TV appearances (including a famous sketch for the 1971 Christmas special of the The Morecambe & Wise Show (1968), in which he appeared as “Mr. Andrew Preview”) and television advertising (Vauxhall, Ferguson TX portable television etc.). From 1985 to 1989, he was musical director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic as well as with the Royal Philharmonic (1985-88, subsequently also principal conductor, from 1988-91).
In 1993, he was appointed conductor laureate of the London Symphony and three years later was made an Honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to music. He won 10 Grammy Awards (including two for jazz and two for film music) and was nominated for six Emmys. Previn latterly returned to recording jazz albums with, among others, Ella Fitzgerald (1983), Joe Pass & Ray Brown (1989), and Kiri Te Kanawa (1992). Two excellent tribute albums released, respectively in 1998 and 2000 for Deutsche Grammophon, were ‘We Got Rhythm: A Gershwin Songbook’ and ‘We Got it Good: An Ellington Songbook’.
Married (and divorced) five times, his ex-wives included Dory Previn and Mia Farrow. Previn died in New York on February 28, 2019, aged 89.