Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


BENNETT, Richard Rodney

(b 29 March 1936, Broadstairs, England; d 24 December 2012) Prolific composer, pianist and cabaret singer. Composing since he was a schoolboy, he studied at the Royal Academy, then in 1957 won a French government scholarship to study with Pierre Boulez. He has written operas such as All The King's Men for children, ballet music, concerti for many different instruments, and much else, some listed in classical record catalogues; his opera Victory based on Conrad flopped at Covent Garden in 1970 (and of course was then known as 'Defeat'; but critic Rodney Milnes wrote '95 that 'in an operatic climate healthier than ours it would long since have been revived'). British music lovers at first thought of him in the same class as Alexander Goehr, Harrison Birtwistle etc; he was younger than the others and a fine pianist, but light music claimed him: 'Soon he was scribbling arrangements for Eartha Kitt to sing with the Nash Ensemble when they were slumming,' wrote Max Harrison.

He wrote music for British films since 1957 including Only Two Can Play '62, Nicholas And Alexandra '71, Murder On The Orient Express '74, Equus '77 etc. Bennett toured in cabaret revues called 'Just Friends', then 'Fascinatin' Rhythm' with Marian Montgomery (b Natchez MS, an established cabaret artist when she came to the UK '65; her two volumes of For The Love Of Mercer with the Laurie Holloway Trio were released on Elgin '97). Their albums together included Surprise Surprise '81 (probably made earlier) and Town And Country '82 on Cube, Puttin' On The Ritz '84 on Dakota; Nice And Easy was released '90 on Ronnie Scott's Jazz House label, made live in that club. His albums included Plays George Gershwin And Billy Mayerl mid-'70s on Polydor, which helped spark a revival of interest in Mayerl (see his entry); A Different Side Of Sondheim '78 was released '95 on DRG, and that label also has Special Occasions: the ballet music of Harold Arlen, Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers arranged for two pianos with Bennett playing both parts. There were alsso Little Jazz Bird '83 and I Got Rhythm '87 on EMI; I Never Went Away '90 on Delos. Solo piano and vocals Harold Arlen Songs '81 (six new tracks on CD), The Magic Window '86 (Jimmy Van Heusen songs) with Sandra King, Gene Bertoncini and Michal Moore, Take Love Easy: The Lyrics Of John LaTouche '84 and Lovers After All '93 with vocalist Joyce Breach were all on Audiophile. He has also worked on albums with Carol Sloane, Chris Connor and Charles Cochran, and collaborated with Franklin Underwood on lyrics for ballads composed by Johnny Mandel; he returned to film music with the British TV movie Enchanted April '93, followed by the hit Four Weddings And A Funeral '94.

His solo show was called 'Nobody Else But Me'; his album Plays George Gershwin's Solo Piano Works was on IMP Classics '93. In '95 his 'Concerto For Stan Getz' had been recorded with John Harle on sax. He had moved to New YOrk City around 1979 saying that he couldn't listen to "difficult" music any more; he came back to the UK to take up the International Chair of Composition at London's Royal Academy of Music in the 1990s and a CD from BBC Music magazine was devoted to Bennett, who played and sang his 'Four Jazz Songs', while others conducted his 'Partita For Orchestra' and 'Suite From Enchanted April'. The instrumental music was disappointing from someone who once promised much more.