Mike Lang, Celebrated Jazz and Soundtrack Pianist, Dies at 80

Lang worked on ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind,’ ‘Catch Me If You Can,’ and more.

Published on

‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ - Photo: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ - Photo: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Mike Lang, one of the most celebrated pianists in Hollywood history, died of lung cancer Friday morning at his home in Studio City. He was 80.

Lang played piano on an estimated 2,000 film and TV scores dating back to the mid-1960s, including scores by a number of star composers over the course of his career: John Williams (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Catch Me If You Can), Jerry Goldsmith (Gremlins, The Russia House), John Barry (Body Heat, The Specialist), Henry Mancini (10), Alex North (The Shoes of the Fisherman), Elmer Bernstein (The Rainmaker), Miklós Rózsa (Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid), and many others.

Composer James Newton Howard provided a statement to Variety, saying, “Mike was a dear friend, colleague and teacher, gifted with monumental talent. Anyone who knew him would agree there was never a more gracious, humble and brilliant musician – a musician’s musician.”

Variety also reported that when he was interviewed for the “Legacy of John Williams” podcast, Lang reflected on his composition style: “The music itself tells me how to relate to it. I have a sound in my head. I play as an improviser, even if I’m playing Beethoven. I’m hearing the music as if it’s in Beethoven’s head. When I get it to match, so that the real sound comes out of the piano and it matches [what’s in] my head, the piano disappears. It’s a facilitator for me. The last thing I think about is, ‘I am a pianist.’ I try to make the music breathe, be vocal and expressive, and to that end the piano loses its identity.”

Variety also revealed the fact that in July 2019 he played a sold-out Piano Spheres concert at the Colburn School’s Zipper Hall that earned a sterling note from the L.A. Times: “one of L.A.’s great known unknowns, a pianist and composer who doesn’t often get the spotlight… Lang reminds us of the seldom recognized but significant intersection between contemporary music and Hollywood… the revelation here was hearing our city’s musical identity in a single voice.”

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

uDiscover Music - Back To Top
uDiscover Music - Back To Top