Co-author of some of the most popular songs of the twentieth century particularly those he composed with the lyricists Carolyn Leigh and Dorothy Fields, Cy Coleman (born Seymour Kaufman) rose far from his humble beginnings as the son of Russian immigrants. A child prodigy he was raised in New York's The Bronx where he began playing the piano from the age of four years old and so impressed a neighbouring music teacher that she gave the young boy free lessons. Remarkably he was just seven when he played Carnegie Hall and by the time he was nine he had already given piano recitals at a number of venues around New York including the Steinway Hall and the Town Hall and he later attended the High School of Music and Art and the New York College of Music. Despite his teachers' urging him to pursue a career as a concert pianist when he graduated, in 1948 he rejected their advice and embarked on a life in popular music.
Working as a cocktail pianist in late-nightspots including Billy Reed's Little Club and Manhattan's Sherry Netherland Hotel he also made a name for himself leading his own jazz trio and after signing to publisher Jack Robbins (who persuaded him to change his name to Cy Coleman) he teamed-up with lyricist Joseph Allen McCarthy. The pair composed numerous songs that later found favour with singers such as Frank Sinatra ('Why Try To Change Me Now"'), Johnny Mathis ('The Riviera') and Nat King Cole and Buddy Greco ('I'm Gonna Laugh You Right Out Of My Life'). Other than McCarthy, Coleman worked with Hal David and Bob Hilliard before he began one of his most successful collaborations of all-time when he teamed-up with Carolyn Leigh. Although theirs was a famously turbulent partnership it was equally prolific, and together they created such latter-day great American Songbook standards as 'Witchcraft', 'A Moment Of Madness' and 'The Best Is Yet To Come' that were popularised by Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jnr. and Mabel Mercer respectively. The duo's catalogue also included 'When In Rome', The Rules Of The Road', 'You Fascinate Me So', 'It Amazes Me', 'Playboy's Theme' (an instrumental composed by Coleman during this period) and 'I Walk A Little Faster'.<p>Coleman and Leigh also composed for several Broadway shows including Wildcat (containing the classics 'Give A Little Whistle', 'Hey Look Me Over' and 'What Takes My Fancy') and Neil Simon's 1962 production Little Me (featuring 'I've Got Your Number' and 'Real Live Girl'). While they were unsuccessful in gaining the commission to write songs for 1958's Gypsy, one of the songs they speculatively composed for it; 'Firefly' became a popular hit for Tony Bennett who included both it and 'It Amazes Me' in the set for his legendary 1962 Carnegie Hall concert that was documented on the superb Tony Bennett At Carnegie Hall.
When Coleman and Leigh's partnership ended, the composer worked both alone and with other writers before teaming-up with the established and highly successful lyricist Dorothy Fields. An unlikely pairing, Coleman was thirty-five while Fields was sixty but together they birthed numerous memorable songs. In 1966 they composed the score for the Broadway show Sweet Charity that featured the standards 'Big Spender' and 'If My Friends Could See Me Now'. Their songs were introduced to an even greater audience three years later when Bob Fosse turned the show into a film starring Shirley MacLaine and Sammy Davis Jnr. The productive working relationship yielded a second Broadway show in 1973 with Seesaw (containing 'It's Not Where You Start (It's Where You Finish)'and 'Nobody Does It Like Me') before being sadly cut short by Fields' death in 1974.
Coleman maintained a steady stream of work albeit without a regular lyricist, subsequent Broadway productions included I Love My Wife with lyrics and book by Michael Stewart, On The Twentieth Century with lyrics and libretto courtesy of Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Home Again with Barbara Fried and the 1980 smash hit Barnum that once again teamed him with Michael Stewart. He also enjoyed several revivals of earlier Broadway productions including Little Me and Sweet Charity before making a triumphant return in 1989 with City Of Angels that he created with lyricist David Zippel.
Cy Coleman died at the age of seventy-five on November 18, 2004 from cardiac arrest and left behind him a catalogue that contained some of the most popular songs of all time. He was a hugely prolific composer and musician who also wrote for television and film and worked regularly with several symphony orchestras around the world. He recorded a number of albums with particular highlights being his 1963 jazz trio outing Comin' Home and 2002's It Started With A Dream, a collection of his interpretations of some of his most famous and less famous songs. His outstanding contribution to musical theatre's canon saw him receive four Tony Awards, three Emmy's and two Grammy Awards.
Copyright © 2016 Omnibus Press