From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Michel Colombier (1939 — 2004), was a French composer, songwriter, arranger, and conductor, best known internationally for "Messe pour le temps présent" (1967) and his collaborations with Serge Gainsbourg.
He was born in France, and began his musical education at the age of six. By age fourteen, he had discovered jazz and improvisation and was performing with small combos and big bands. At twenty-two, he was hired as Musical Director of Barclay Records, and his freshman assignment was to arrange Charles Aznavour's first album in English for release in the United States. He composed the music for "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme" at the Comedie Francaise, his only creation for stage. Michel entered the world of ballet with one of Maurice Bejart's masterpieces, "Messe Pour Le Temps Present," co-written with legendary avant-garde composer, Pierre Henry. He went on to co-write for many years with the legendary Serge Gainsbourg. He collaborated with some of the most prestigious artists in his native France including Charles Aznavour, Brigitte Fontaine, Jean-Luc Ponty, Catherine Deneuve, Jeanne Moreau, and Stephane Grappelli.
Petula Clark chose him as her Musical Director and invited him to come with her to the United States. In addition to arranging her material, he co-wrote with her a number of songs. She introduced him to Herb Alpert of A&M Records, who immediately signed him as an artist/composer/performer. This collaboration gave birth to the legendary album Wings. A rock oratorio which made use of a symphony orchestra and choir and prefigured the work of such bands as Queen, it garnered three Grammy Award nominations and spawned a Genie Award-winning television special.
In Japan, he became known as "Fusion-sama", and has been referred to as the "Godfather of French Fusion." Colombier's music is best described as part classical, part jazz, part visual sonics . . . but always full of beauty. He continued to inspire and influence other artists throughout his long and vast career. During the course of his career, Colombier worked with an extremely diversified array of artists, including the Beach Boys, Supertramp, Herb Alpert, Quincy Jones, Roberta Flack, Barbra Streisand, Johnny Mathis, Neil Diamond, Herbie Hancock, Earth Wind and Fire, Joni Mitchell, David Sanborn, Branford Marsalis, Bobby McFerrin, Jaco Pastorius and Madonna. He arranged the strings for her theme to Die Another Day and worked on her album American Life. His score for her critically savaged film Swept Away was probably the movie's only saving grace.
Colombier scored more than one hundred feature, cable, and television films. In his native France, he worked with a legendary list of directors including Claude Lelouch, Philippe Labro, Agnès Varda, Vittorio de Sica, Jean-Pierre Melville, Henri Verneuil, and Jacques Demy. In the United States, his credits were eclectic and diverse, including the box office hits How Stella Got Her Groove Back, New Jack City, Ruthless People, The Golden Child, White Nights, Against All Odds, and - with Prince - the legendary Purple Rain, for which he won a Grammy as well as an Academy Award for Best Song Score. Colombier received many other film awards throughout his career, including two Cesar Awards, a Golden Globe nomination, a People's Choice Award, and an Ace nomination.
As a conductor, he led many of the world's great orchestras, including the London Symphony Orchestra, the Covent Garden Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Houston Symphony, the Chicago Orchestra, the Denver Symphony Orchestra, the Paris Opera, and the English Chamber Orchestra, among others. He wrote numerous classical and symphonic commissions, including works featuring Ernie Watts, Kronos String Quartet, Michael Brecker, Stephane Grappelli, Toots Thielemans, and Katia and Marielle Labèque.
Colombier also wrote the music for more than twenty ballets, and worked with some of the world's greatest dance companies and choreographers, including Twyla Tharp, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Daniel Ezralow, Roland Petit, and Maurice Bejart.
Colombier died of cancer in Santa Monica. He was survived by his second wife Dana, their daughters Emily, Siena and Arabella, and three children from previous marriages in France, Christian, Agathe, and David.
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