When I was young and just learning how to play, my ear always focused on the music. Although co-writers like Michael Legrand, Roger Kellaway, and Marvin Hamlish were early inspirations in my playing, at that point I didn’t realize the magnitude of their lyrics or the wonderful way words worked with music to create a masterpiece.
Even then I was a big fan of Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s music, but it wasn’t until the early 90’s, when I first saw them along with Cy Coleman in a Tin Pan South concert at the Ryman, that it clicked: all those tunes I had learned as a kid had lyrics! My friend Melissa Delgado (aka Seay), who took me to that concert, told me, “You’ll meet the Bergmans someday!”
A few years after Roger and I started the Nashville Jazz Workshop, we offered the first literature class of the Bergman catalog. It was truly a therapy session, not only then but each time we offered the class. Then on September 4, 2011, I emailed the Bergmans just to check in. In my letter, I told them I was still thinking of them and wanted them to visit the NJW someday. I also mentioned that we were preparing for a fundraiser concert for the Jazz Workshop, to be held on September 14, 2011. Five of my advanced students, Dorian Woodruff, Melissa Delgado, Lynn Lewis, Lisa Taylor, Margaret Smith, and special guest, Sandra Dudley, would be performing the Bergman Songbook, so in my email I included our complete song list.
On Tuesday, September 6 at 3pm, I was sitting at my desk and just happened to glance at my email as one popped up from Marilyn’s personal account! I screamed! I could hardly believe it. Marilyn wrote that she was very glad to hear from me and that she and Alan would be in Nashville for the ASCAP meetings on September 14 and 15. She was sure that Alan could come to the concert, and she would try to arrange her schedule so she could come too. I wrote back as calmly as I could, but I was freaking out! I gave her the exact time and directions and told her we would be honored to have them as our very special guests. The next day, Marilyn wrote back to say that both she and Alan would try to be there. At that point, I was hyperventilating!
At first I wasn’t going to tell my students, because I wanted to surprise them. Then I decided that wouldn’t be a good idea. I knew that Melissa Delgado would recognize the Bergmans in the audience, and I had a feeling Dorian Woodruff would too. So on Thursday, September 8, I called another rehearsal to work through intros and endings. My students didn’t know anything was up. They just knew that saxophonist Denis Solee was going to be there to rehearse and thought this was an opportunity to practice more.
After the rehearsal, I told the students I needed to talk to them. I had them gather around the front table and hold my hands, and then I said, “You know how I tell you that you need to know your lyric and live it, know the melody and breath it?” But then I said, “All of this is about to come true, because the Bergmans are coming!”
The students squealed, and of course, I started crying. And then they cried. But it was a wonderfully special moment. Truthfully, I couldn’t have selected better students for this concert. They had bonded with the songs so much that our Bergman classes were really therapy sessions.
The afternoon before the concert, the students and band (Marcus Finnie, Roger Spencer and Denis Solee) met for one more rehearsal. We went through the entire show, and then at 6:40 pm, Roger came up to me and said, “There’s a big black limo in the parking lot!” OMG! Roger and I met the Bergmans at the door, and they hugged me. Then I showed them around, saving the green room/library for last, because that’s where the students were. It was so exciting to open the door and announce, “Hey everyone, meet the Bergmans!” Alan and Marilyn visited with us for a good 15 minutes talking about the significance of the Great American Songbook. It made all the difference in the world for the students’ performance.
I showed the Bergmans to their seats, and we started the show, but no one in the audience knew they were there until the middle of the set. After Sandra Dudley sang her first tune, “You Must Believe in Spring,” she introduced the Bergmans. The audience was so surprised and excited. As soon as Margaret sang her last tune, “That Face,” I thanked everyone for coming and said we just couldn’t leave without doing one more song: “What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?” Then I told the story of visiting the Bergmans the previous summer and spotting a picture above Alan’s desk that almost made me cry. It was a picture of Alan and Marilyn looking at each other. Engraved on the frame was, “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life – North and South and East and West of Your Life?”
Sandra sang the song, the audience gave us a standing ovation, and then to our surprise, the Bergmans came up on the stage. Alan said that the concert was lovely, they were both overwhelmed, and this was a night they would never forget. Marilyn said the same ad called our school a “jazz oasis.” Then Alan turned to me and said, “’The Way We Were’ in A-flat!”
Oh God, I thought, I hope I know this song. It wasn’t one I had taught. But we made through just fine, and as Alan sang, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
We took lots of pictures with the Bergmans, of course, and they were so gracious. I walked them to their car and kissed them both goodbye. Even after they left, we were so excited that we talked and celebrated for hours. It was one of those nights that none of us will ever forget!
Event photos above by Bo May. Thank you, Bo!
What some of the students had to say about that special evening with the Bergmans: