Remembering the legendary studio pianist who worked on several film scores by John Williams
Legendary studio pianist and film & TV composer Artie Kane passed away last Tuesday, June 21, in his home on Whidbey Island, WA, near Seattle.
Artie Kane was one of the true icons among studio musicians in Hollywood, having performed piano and keyboards on hundreds of film and television scores for virtually all the great composers especially during the 1960s and ’70s, including John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Henry Mancini, John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, Michel Legrand, Johnny Mandel and many others.
For John Williams, he performed piano and keyboards in several of his scores during the 1960s and ’70s, including the delightful solo passages on How to Steal a Million, Fitzwilly, The Reivers and The Poseidon Adventure.
Artie Kane also mentored the subsequent generation of studio pianists including Ralph Grierson and Mike Lang, who inherited from him the role of 1st pianist/keyboardist for many of the above-mentioned composers. “Artie was a brilliant musician, a dear friend and colleague, and a mentor to me,” said Ralph Grierson to Variety‘s Jon Burlingame. “Prior to him, studios would hire a specialist for each style of music – cocktail piano, jazz, classical. He changed all of that. Artie established a tradition that as a studio musician you could play anything.”
Pianist Mike Lang wrote a lenghty and affectionate tribute on his Facebook page, remembering their first days together as studio musicians and his influence on his own career. “When we first met, playing together on a recording session, he was immediately both complimentary and helpful to me, letting me know when I was doing something good, and, more importantly, letting me know when there were important things to consider and improve on, mostly just understanding what the specific needs were for recording musicians… being quick, not wasting composers’ time with unnecessary questions etc. He always did all of this with a unique charismatic energy and humor too… It was easy for me to see how intoxicating he was to others, and why so many people wanted him to be a part of their musical life. His spontaneity, talent and unerring craft so identified him as a ‘must have’ on composer’s and arranger’s projects.”
Kane was also a fine composer and wrote the scores for such acclaimed films as Looking for Mr. Goodbar (Richard Brooks, 1977) and The Eyes of Laura Mars (Irvin Kershner, 1978), and his composing can also be heard in many episode scores for hit television shows like Dynasty, The Love Boat, Wonder Woman and Matlock. During the 1990s, he also became one of the most sought-after studio conductors and conducted for several top film composers including Danny Elfman (Mission: Impossible, Men In Black, Flubber), James Newton Howard (Wyatt Earp, The Postman, My Best Friend’s Wedding) and Marc Shaiman (The American President). In 1993, he assisted John Williams during the recording of Jurassic Park and conducted some of the scoring sessions as the composer was recovering from backache and couldn’t conduct himself.
In addition to his many film and television credits, Kane also performed on countless session for top musicians, including record dates with Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Peggy Lee, Quincy Jones and Barbra Streisand among others. In 1975, he was also nominated for a Grammy Award together with Ralph Grierson for their recording of two-piano arrangements of George Gershwin tunes titled ‘S Wonderful.
In 2017, Kane published his memoir, Music To My Years: Life and Love Between the Notes (Amphora Editions), reflecting with candor and wit on his unparalleled 50+ years career making music in the entertainment industry. “His memoir is infused with provocative and poignant stories about the celebrities he worked with and gives an insider’s look at Hollywood culture, films, and TV shows of the last five decades […] capturing the romantic as well as the rough-hewn and unrelentingly perfectionist sides of the world of professional entertainment.”
Artie Kane was married since 40+ years to JoAnn Johnson Kane, the founder of the world-renowned JoAnn Kane Music Service, the premiere music preparation house in Hollywood who serves virtually all the great composers working in the film industry including John Williams.
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Kane was a child prodigy and started playing piano since a very early age and later attended the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. He moved to New York and started working as a rehearsal pianist on Broadway, before moving to Los Angeles in 1960 to work as a studio pianist for films. Like many musicians of his generation, Kane was a superb player capable of switching to any style requested while remaining always brilliant and consistent, bringing A-level playing to the music of many famous composers. He also navigated successfully in the entertainment industry, reinventing his career more than once while always staying true to his impeccable craft and discipline. He retired from musical activity in the early 2000s, but he spent the last years of his life doing lovely short videos of him playing dozens of classic tunes from the Great American Songbook that he regularly released on his social media pages.“In those performances, he always made me feel that he totally “got” the intention of the composer,” commented Mike Lang. “His harmonic and arranging choices really went to the focal point of each song in such a striking way.”
“He was an enormous influence on my life and career,” added Ralph Grierson to The Legacy of John Williams. “I’m proud that I convinced him to record the album of two-piano Gershwin arrangements, ‘S’Wonderful’ for Angel records. He was a consummate musician and a dear friend.”
Artie Kane was indeed the consummate musician and a talent that inspired a generation of great studio players, conductors and composers working in the film industry. Rest In Peace, Artie.
Selected Film Credits of Artie Kane for John Williams
Not With My Wife, You Don’t! (1966)
How To Steal a Million (1966)
A Guide For The Married Man (1967)
The Reivers (1969)
The Cowboys (1972)
The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
The Towering Inferno (1974)
Artie Kane Official Facebook Page
Obituary by Jon Burlingame on Variety