American songwriter and jazz pianist Cy Coleman would have been 85 today, June 14. Coleman, who died in 2004, may not quite be up there with the Gershwins and Porters in terms of his worldwide reputation, but some of his songs are, and here we present a playlist that underlines how widely he’s been covered, by some of the all-time greats.
This is the man who co-wrote two classic Frank Sinatra songs, ‘Witchcraft’ and ‘The Best Is Yet To Come,’ which like many others in Coleman’s songbook, were interpreted by countless artists, and still are today. ‘Witchcraft,’ for which Coleman wrote the music with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, was forever associated with Sinatra from the moment he released it as a Capitol single in 1957. He recorded it twice more, in 1963 and then as an “electronic” two-hander with Anita Baker on Frank’s hugely successful ‘Duets’ project of 1993. In the 1960 TV special that saw Sinatra welcome Elvis home from the army, Presley even performed it.
‘The Best Is Yet To Come,’ for which Coleman again collaborated with Leigh, was recorded not only by Sinatra but by Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, Peggy Lee and others, with more recent versions by Michael Bublé, Lisa Stansfield and Diane Schuur. How about this for another distinction: ‘Best’ was the last song Sinatra ever performed in concert, in Palm Springs on February 22, 1995.
There at least two more Coleman co-writes you may well know, without necessarily realising they’re his: ‘Big Spender,’ closely associated with Shirley Bassey but recorded by many, including the great version we include here by Peggy Lee; and ‘If My Friends Could See Me Now,’ originally in the 1966 Broadway hit ‘Sweet Charity’ and sung in the 1969 movie version by Shirley MacLaine. That song is typical of the versatility of Cy’s songwriting, cropping up in many versions by everyone from Pearl Bailey to Lena Zavaroni, Dusty Springfield to the Three Degrees, and even surviving a disco reading by Linda Clifford.
Coleman wrote the music for many other musicals, including ‘Wildcat,’ ‘Little Me’ and ‘Barnum.’ He won consecutive Tony Awards for Best Score, for ‘City Of Angels’ and ‘Will Rogers’ Follies.’ As you’ll hear, his work also attracted such greats as Louis Armstrong and Nat ‘King’ Cole. Exactly 85 years since his birth, Cy Coleman lives on in song.