Laura

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Laura (m. David Raksin, w. Johnny Mercer) is the title theme composed by David Raksin for the Twentieth Century Fox film Laura (1944), musical direction by Emil Newman. The film had its New York premiere on 11 October 1944, followed by general release in November. A lyric by Johnny Mercer was added in 1945.

Excerpt from WICN.org Song of the Week feature on the song’s genesis:

Inspired by a “Dear John” letter from his wife, David Raksin composed the instrumental theme for the 1944 film noir classic “Laura.” Director Otto Preminger wanted to use Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady” as the film’s theme, but Raksin, who had composed the score, protested that the song had nothing to do with the plot. Preminger, well known for his dictatorial ways, told Raksin on a Friday that he had until the following Monday to come up with something else. William Zinsser in his book Easy to Remember described how Raksin came to write the “Laura” theme. The young composer had just received the unwelcome letter from his wife and stuffed it in his pocket to avoid dealing with it. By Sunday night he hadn’t been able to come up with anything. Later Raksin recalled, “I knew my big chance was fading fast: I didn’t really believe in any of the themes I had written. As a boy, when the music wouldn’t flow, I would prop a book or a poem on the piano and improvise. The idea was to divert my mind from the conscious awareness of music-making. I hadn’t done that for a long time, but I took the letter out of my pocket, put it up on the piano and began to play. Suddenly the meaning of the words on the page became clear to me. She was saying: Hail, farewell, better luck next life – and get lost! Knowing that, I felt the last of my strength go, and then, without willing it, I was playing the first phrase of what you now know as “Laura.” I knew it was the real thing, and I stumbled through it again and again in a sweat of catharsis and self-indulgence.”

Selected links:

Gene Tierney-44-Laura-1

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From the soundtrack of Laura (1944), musical direction by Emil Newman

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Woody Herman and his Orchestra, vocal Woody Herman — recorded on 19 February 1945; issued on Columbia 36785, c/w “I Wonder”

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Jerry Wald and his Orchestra, vocal: Dick Merrick — recorded in February 1945; issued on Majestic 7129, c/w “Candy”

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Dick Haymes with orchestra directed by Victor Young — recorded on 2 March 1945; issued on Decca 18666, b/w “The Night is Young and You’re So Beautiful”

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Freddy Martin and his Orchestra — instrumental issued in 1945 on RCA Victor 20-1655, b/w “A Song to Remember”

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Buddy Clark with orchestra directed by Carmen Dello — from June 9, 1945 Notes From Your Soldier’s Notebook radio program

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1945 Laura-Erroll Garner-Savoy 571-A

Erroll Garner Trio — recorded on 25 September 1945; issued on Savoy 571, b/w “Somebody Loves Me” — Garner’s first name spelled “Errol” on the label

Erroll Garner: piano, John Levy: bass, George De Hart: drums

Recording not presently available

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Johnnie Johnston with Paul Baron and his Orchestra – c. 1945

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Don Byas Quartet — recorded on 6 September 1945, in NYC — Don Byas (ts), Johnny Guarnieri (p), Slam Stewart (b), J.C.Heard (ds)

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Charlie Parker with strings-Buddy Rich and Ray Brown-1-d7

Charlie Parker with Strings at Birdland, spring 1951

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Erroll Garner Trio — recorded on 11 January 1951; issued as the first track on the 1951 10 inch LP Gems, Columbia ‎CL 583

Trio: Erroll Garner (piano) John Simmons (bass) Shadow Wilson (drums)

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dave-brubeck-quartet-1951 (1a)

Dave Brubeck Tri0 – 1951

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James Melton – 1952

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Clifford Brown – from Clifford Brown with Strings, 1955

  • Clifford Brown – trumpet
  • Richie Powell – piano
  • Max Roach – drums
  • George Morrow – double bass
  • Barry Galbraith – guitar
  • Neal Hefti – arranger, conductor

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The Four Freshmen – from the 1960 LP Voices and Brass

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