Discovering Fran Landesman

A while back I was on a hunt for tunes that were beautiful, clever, and poignant, but somehow hadn’t had their due. I figured if I liked one song by a lyricist or composer, chances are I’d like others. “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” was one of these “starter” songs. Not recognizing the name of its lyricist, Fran Landesman, I started digging around to see what else she had written.

Fran and Simon, London 2009
Fran and Simon, London 2009

I soon learned that Fran has been on the scene since the 50’s and that top jazz singers have recorded many of her songs. Along with “Spring,” “Ballad of the Sad Young Men” had been a big hit. Her website gave a picture of her fascinating life in New York, St. Louis, and London (where she’s lived since the mid 60’s). I found more great songs (with charts) on her site, but also many lyrics with no music. I called music publishers and music stores and searched online, but there didn’t seem to be any published songbooks of this recent work. Finally I found an email address for Simon Wallace, the highly respected British composer and pianist who began collaborating with Fran in 1994. “I love your songs with Fran Landesman! Where can I find charts?” I asked.

Simon wrote me right back. He said that he and Fran had written more than 300 songs together, and, as it happens, he was just putting the final touches on their first songbook, containing thirty of their earliest collaborations. He was, he wrote, happy for a nudge to finish the project up. Not only that, in March he’d be performing at the Café Carlyle in Manhattan. We arranged to meet there, and when the time came, to New York I went. After the show we chatted over drinks at the Bemelman’s Bar, and I came home with the first copy of the Fran Landesman/Simon Wallace songbook.

Back in Cambridge, pianist/arranger Ron Roy and I sat down and played through the songs. We were thrilled beyond belief! Here were songs in the American Songbook style, but with a modern twist—funny, ironic, gorgeous, sexy, sometimes quite dark, and quite often about issues and topics other than love. We immediately began adding them to our repertoire, and then selected fifteen of our favorites for our album. Something Irresistible: Songs of Fran Landesman + Simon Wallace is the first recording of these songs by U.S. musicians.

In November of 2009, I made a trip to London to meet Fran. It was wonderful to hear her talk about her songs and her life. Simon was there too, at the piano, and the three of us had a grand time chatting. laughing, and best of all, singing.

To read more about Landesman’s life and work, please visit www.franlandesman.com. You can also read her obituary in The New York Times. Looking for lyrics and charts? Please contact Simon Wallace directly at spw@btinternet.com to purchase the Landesman/Wallace songbook.