Doctor Zhivago’s Pearl Kaufman The Legendary Pianist For Over 250 Films Still Orchestrating A Harmonic Musical Life On Stage And Shares Secrets Of Longevity In The Music Industry.
Pearl Kaufman has performed and recorded with musical luminaries from famed Igor Stravinsky to some of the most notable film composers of our time including Henry Mancini, John Williams, Elmer Bernstein and Maurice Jarre. In addition to her innumerable show business credits, Pearl was also music director and piano soloist for the Academy Award nominated Five Easy Pieces, which starred Jack Nicholson.
Her virtuoso performances have been featured in over 250 films including Doctor Zhivago, The Great Race, The Great Escape, Summer of ’42 and even Animal House.
Pearl sat down with Richard Cameron of Theatre Chat to share with local artsist the secrets of longevity in the music industry.
You have performed and recorded all over the world what has been the highlights of your career?
“I think performing and recording with Igor Stravinsky was the highlight of my classical career. The highlight of my motion picture career was probably Five Easy Pieces because of the integral part I had in the making of the movie.”
How old were you when you started playing the piano?
“I began playing the piano at age 8. I was inspired by a concert pianist playing in a movie. My parents were happy that I wanted to be a pianist and supported me in every way. I began to advance very quickly and by the time I was 10, I was playing concertos.”
What is your favorite film?
“It is difficult to say which is my favorite film because I recorded for such musical giants, but my favorite one was probably Doctor Zhivago because the score was so lush and I loved the movie. Another one just came to mind… Chinatown. Goldsmith created unusual sounds for the piano in that film. It also is a great movie.”
Have you ever had an embarrassing moment on stage?
“I was almost 9 months pregnant and giving a joint concert with a very famous violinist. He spoke about each sonata before we played and was very long-winded. Just before Beethoven’s Spring Sonata, he began talking, and I thought I would shut my eyes for a few moments. I must have fallen fast asleep and the next thing I remembered was Henry Temianka shaking me and calling “Pearl,Pearl“. My first response was to start playing, but without him. He yelled for me to wait for him and about 500 people laughed. That was embarrassing!”
What advice can you share with young performers who want to record in films?
“Sight reading is very important! It should be practiced constantly. This is really good advice. Also the musician should go where the action is and then try to perform everywhere…for pay or for no money. Go to a college in a place where movies are being recorded and play new and old music with all different groups.”
Do you feel agents are necessary?
“Most musicians in the recording field do not need agents. They become known by word of mouth through their playing. I think the best PR is the performance, then others promote you and composers want you. I became known while at USC. I performed contemporary and classical music everywhere and with everyone. Then I became Igor Stravinsky’s pianist and that opened every door.”
Have you seen changes in the recording field?
“There are huge changes in film recordings. Large orchestras are no longer hired the way they were. Many composers substitute electronics for the actual instruments. I don’t believe the musician can live off his own recordings….unless they are big stars. However, I am always surprised when I get checks from cd baby for Itunes, napster, amazon etc. for my CDS. I don’t advertise.”
Wher do you perfer to perform? Ships or recording studio?
“I much prefer playing for live audiences. I love to perform on ships and all kinds of venues like retirement communities, special events, benefits etc. I love talking to the people that I entertain; it is so much more rewarding then recording for a film.”
Do you choose music to perform and record?
“I choose the music for my show. I want music that is familiar to the audience, and it has to be really good music. I mix popular classics and motion picture music that I am associated with, and I talk about what I play. I find the audience loves hearing about the actual recordings. I don”t write out the actual parts for the instuments, but I arrange the music and design the sounds I want.”
What goals do you still set for yourself?
“I always want my music to sound fresh. I want to sound like it is the first time I am playing something. I listen to myself in performance and am always changing the way I play. I try to learn new music all the time, but it takes weeks until I feel secure enough to perform it; I do strive for perfection.”
Did you know the films you recorded for would become Classic Films?
“I have performed and recorded over 250 films. Many have become classics and cult films. I was so surprised that one of my first films “Lady in a Cage” became a cult classic and films like Animal House, Groundhog Day and Ghostbusters would become some sort of classic films. When you record a movie like “Doctor Zhivago,” you know it will be a big movie. But you never know what will become a CLASSIC when you finish the movie.”
Pearl, What are your favorite moments with legendary classic artists?: David Raksin
How did you meeet David Raksin?
“David Raksin was the first composer I worked for. I met him when he turned pages for me during a Stravinsky recording. I WAS ALMOST 9 MONTHS PREGNANT. He asked what we were naming the baby and I told him, if it was a girl, her name would be Laura because years before, I fell in love with the movie “LAURA“. After I gave birth to Laura, we sent out announcements with her name and one month later, I got my first picture call. It was from Goldwyn Studios and David Raksin was the composer. On the first day of the recording session, I discovered that David Raksin composed the music and the song “LAURA”. I became David Raksin’s pianist.”
Is there an artists score that you enjoyed to play? Elmore Bernstein
“Elmer Bernstein was a marvelous pianist, but he chose to compose music. Because he knew so much about the piano, he wrote a lot of piano in his scores. I was so fortunate to have become his pianist. I always had a lot to play. One of my very first pictures with Elmer was a film called “A GIRL NAMED TAMIKO. It had some very long cues in it. We had rehearsed a very long cue (about 5 minutes long) and finally got it perfect. Elmer began recording it, and it went perfectly with no mistakes. Then two minutes before the end of the cue, it had a pause of about 45 seconds when there had to be absolute silence. I had been holding in a cough for the whole recording, but during the silence, I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I had to loudly cough. I RUINED THE PERFECT TAKE. Elmer looked down at the score and said “Pearl please cough it all out.” Then he poured out a glass of his water and gave it to a violinist to bring to me. Before he picked up his baton, he asked if anyone else had to cough. He was so good natured about it, but it was pretty embarrassing. After that he and I would see one another and cough and then laugh; we became really good friends and I recorded most of his films.”
With so many award winning artsist which comes to mind first? MAURICE JARRE
“Maurice Jarre was nominated Eight times for an Academy Award. He won three. I worked with him on two of those films, but my favorite was DOCTOR ZHIVAGO. He wrote a big score for a movie called “IS PARIS BURNING”. He used 12 pianos in the score, and I was sent to London to rehearse and conduct the pianos. We used many musicians from the London Philharmonic. I rehearsed the entire orchestra (70 musicians) and that was thrilling!! We then went to Paris to edit the film, and that is where I learned to edit. It was a great experience.”
Who was the kindest legend to work with? Henry Mancini
“Henry Mancini (Hank) as we all called (him) was one of the most generous men I have ever known. If you played something well, he would immediately compliment you. He was also the easiest man to work with. He chose his musicians and let them play the way they thought best. I remember so vividly a score he wrote for ” Wait Until Dark.” He used two pianos tuned, 1/4 tone apart, and had them play the same notes. We played the cue, and it got me so nauseated I had to stop the recording and run to the bathroom at Warner Bros. When I came back, I told Hank how I felt. He was so delighted. He said “Pearl that’s great!! That’s the affect I was aiming for.” The story was about a blind woman trying to defend herself from an intruder. Hank wrote about my comment in his autobiography.”
Did you meet other musicians on studio grounds?
“John Williams. When I met John Williams, we both were recording pianists at Universal Studios. We often played two piano scores until he started conducting shows at the studio. He then began composing for television, and his enormous talent became quickly recognized.”
Next to such greats did any of them ever intimidate you? Igor Stravinsky
“THE GIANT OF THE 20TH CENTURY. I saved this true genius for last!! It was a great honor and privilege to play for him; however, I do have many funny things that happened while under his baton. My favorite story about Mr. Stravinsky is when we recorded a work called “The Flood” for CBS at Columbia Records. He had only finished writing the score the night before the session. In one of the sections, he stopped the orchestra and said “Pearl, where is the lightning?” I looked around and said I didn’t know. We started again, and a few bars later, he again stopped the orchestra and said “Pearl didn’t you look for the lightning? Where is it?” I turned and asked the tympanist if he saw any lightning outside? I stood up from the piano and said “Mr. Stravinsky, we don’t know where it is.” He threw his baton down and marched toward me, with my heart shaking, looked at my music and exclaimed “Oh My God, I forgot to write it.” He then scratched some chicken marks on my part, and I faked lightning for the recording.”
Pearl Kaufman World Renowned Concert Pianist and Hollywood Legend is available for bookings. She shares her classical and Hollywood film background through an evening of music and personal anecdotes. Ms. Kaufman has played on the soundtracks of some of Hollywood’s greatest films. For cruise bookings please contact: Linda Raff Bramson, Entertainment Bureau by calling 212.265.3500 or Email: [email protected] For all other appearances please contact: Edwin Rojas, Rojas Talent Group Inc. by calling 888.898.0908 or Email: [email protected]
Richard Cameron of Theatre Chat thanks the legendary pianist Pearl Kaufman. Cameron’s articles have featured conversations with Tony Award winning Producer Stewart Lane, Emmy Award winning Casting Director Jeff Greenberg, multiple Broadway and TV stars and creative teams bringing arts lovers together around the world for the largest social media arts movement. Tag You’re it! Click Subscribe above and share with your communities.