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July 10, 2009

More details on instrumental album Michael Jackson started before his death, and his love of classical music

TV and film composer and conductor David Michael Frank may have been one of the last persons to collaborate with Michael Jackson on an artistic project. The pop singer’s untimely death left that project in an uncertain state. Initial reports suggested that Jackson planned to do an album of “classical music” he had written; the pieces were to be orchestrated by Frank. Actually, Frank says, the pieces were closer to film music and would have gone into an all-instrumental album had Jackson lived. The Baltimore-born Frank, interviewed by phone in California, gives an account here of his experience with the King of Pop:

Four or five months ago, I received a call from Michael Jackson’s longtime personal recording engineer, Michael Prince, who told me Michael was looking for someone to arrange some music for orchestra. I thought it was going to be for the tour he was going to do. For the next month or two, he would call, saying, ‘Michael Jackson says he’s going to call you.’

At the end of April, another Michael, Michael Jackson’s personal assistant, called me and asked me to come the next day at 10 a.m. and asked me the make and model of my car. I drove to the Holmby Hills home. I drove up to the front door, and was met by an assistant who told me to go inside. I was met there by a woman dressed like a housekeeper, but with a white turban on her head. She said, ‘Michael Jackson will be with you shortly.’ About two minutes later, he came down the stairs.

I was reluctant to shake his hand because I had heard that he was concerned about germs, but he immediately stuck his hand out and gave me a very firm handshake. He was very skinny, but not the least bit frail. He was wearing a suit and a hat. He was going to rehearsal later for the tour. He said, ‘You look familiar.’ I told him a long time ago I worked on a TV tribute to Sammy Davis, Jr. at Shrine Auditorium [that he had participated in]. I told him I had met him briefly there.’ He said, ‘I never forget a face.’

He told me, ‘I have three projects going on simultaneously.’ One was the tour that the whole world knew about. The other two I believe no one knew about. One was to be an album of pop songs. Then he said, ‘The other one is that I want to record an album of classical music’ — what he called classical music.

He said he listened to ...

classical music all the time; it was his absolute favorite. I was impressed with the pieces he mentioned: Aaron Copland’s Rodeo, Fanfare for the Common Man and Lincoln Portrait; Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. I mentioned Bernstein's On the Waterfront. Then Michael mentioned that he loved Elmer Bernstein's film music, too, and he specifically mentioned To Kill a Mockingbird.

I realized that almost all the classical pieces he mentioned are childlike, very simple and pretty, like Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. He also mentioned Debussy several times, specifically Arabesque [No. 1] and Clair de lune. He was very soft-spoken when were talking about music, but when he got animated about something, he was very changed. When he mentioned how he loved Elmer Bernstein, and I said I liked the Magnificent Seven score, Michael started singing the theme very loudly, almost screaming it.

He said, ‘I’m making a CD.’ Then his son, Prince Michael, came in, and Michael asked him to find a CD player. Paris found one and brought it in with Prince. Michael played the CD. It was very pretty music. He said, ‘But a section is missing.’ He played a second piece. And he said, ‘But a section is missing, too. But I can hum it to you.’ I asked if there was a piano in the house, and he said there was one in the pool house. We headed out there, but Michael stopped when he saw the dog was outside, soaking wet from being in the pool. He didn't want us to get splattered. It was kind of funny. Michael got another assistant to hold the dog while we went to his pool house.

I sat at the piano and Michael hummed the missing part of one of the pieces. I had taken a little digital recorder with me and asked if I could record him. He was in perfect pitch. I tried to figure out chords to go with it as he hummed. He said, ‘Your instincts are totally right about the chords.’

We talked about classical music some more. I played some Debussy pieces. Michael seemed very happy and I think he felt very comfortable with me. He mentioned Leonard Bernstein again, and I played some of West Side Story. He told me he had met Bernstein once and that Bernstein had said he was a big fan of Michael’s.

Back in the house, whenever he’d go from room to room, you’d hear, ‘I love you, Daddy.’ ‘I love you, Paris.’ They all seemed pretty normal and happy.

Michael was very anxious to get the pieces orchestrated and record the music with a big orchestra. I suggested we record it at the Fox, Sony or Warner Brothers lot. I asked if he could have someone call me to discuss the budget and he said he would take care of it. When I left there were several fans outside the gate.

[Later] I talked to Michael on the phone. He asked me how the project was going and I said I was waiting to hear from someone so we could set the deal. I suggested we could record the music in London while he was doing the show there. He liked the idea. He again brought up Arabesque.

I laid the music all out on my computer and started on the orchestrations. Finally, a week before Michael died, his manager, Frank Dileo, called and asked me for an email with the budget and an electronic mock-up of the music, the costs of orchestration.

Now I have no idea what’s going to happen with this. I’m hoping the family will do something to get this done. I will not bring it up [with them] until after what I think is an appropriate time.

My guess is that each piece would be seven to ten minutes long. [Each one] is more substantial than a song. It’s very pretty music. One piece had an Irish quality about it. I suggested that we could use a Celtic harp. The pieces sound like pretty film score music, with very traditional harmony, and definitely very strong melodies. One of them was a little John Barry-ish, like in Out of Africa -- that kind of John Barry score. I could hear [in my head] sweeping strings and French horns in unison.

I told Michael I was going to use one of Leonard Bernstein’s batons I had bought at auction when we did the recording. I knew he would have gotten a big kick out of that. I guess I still will use that baton if I ever get to conduct the music.

PHOTO OF DAVID MICHAEL FRANK COURTESY OF THE COMPOSER

In honor of Michael Jackson's interest in classical music, as reported by David Michael Frank, here's a performance of Debussy's 'Arabesque' that the late singer apparently held in high regard: 

 

Posted by Tim Smith at 4:36 PM | | Comments (61)
        

Comments

What a fascinating story about a truly fascinating personality. Thanks for your reporting!

I hope that this dream of Michael's does indeed come to fruition with Frank's assistance.

This music should of course be used if they make a film about Michael's life, and released as the film's score. I'd like to see all three of those projects see the light of day somehow, and I'm sure they will as long as those with greedy financial interests don't hold things up. I can't wait to hear this music.

Thank you so much for sharing this with us. "I love you daddy", "I love you, Paris"... so sweet... and Michael, so full of projects and dreams... life is soooo unfair. I feel so bad about Michael´s dead. 15 days have already passed, and I still can´t believe it. I will always love Michael Jackson, such a good person and artist.

Thanks for sharing. TIM

RIP Michael, we love you! I hope to hear this album soon, and I hope I'll be the high bidder on http://www.profilesinhistory.com/new/index.php?option=com_jackson

great story! Something positive, finally, after hearing all this gunk on the news. Loved the part about the "I love you" exchange.

Beautiful music indeed!


Now that I think about it, I've never seen Micheal play any instruments

. Did he play any and if so, what instruments did he master?

I don't have the answer, but I'm sure others will. TS

I would have loved to see him work with John Williams. And I wonder how close he worked with James Horner for Captain EO, or for the additional music on Moonwalker and Ghost !

Wow, speaking as a Jackson-fan through many years, it would be devastating if these pieces of Music went down the drain!
I most definitely think the right thing to do, is contact the family in a few months. They will be able to say what to do... Wow, a classical album! I mean, we always knew hé was making the pop album, and we knew he had done instrumental music before - but a full album? A complete surprise!
Please don't let this Music be forgotten. You are the keeper now, so be sure to fulfil your responsebility as so, by getting this Music out in public!

Thanks for the wonderful blog!

Thanks for commenting. It will be interesting to see what happens with this. TIM

This is wonderful...
Michael has always loved classical - he's such a musical genius. Michael Jackson had a whole orchestra in his head. I can't wait to hear his classical music.

In strict definition terms, it doesn't seem that he was thinking classical, but certainly a departure from his usual. I hope we get to hear it someday. TIM

Michael's creative genuis kept flowing right up until his death. What a remarkable person he was.

Finally a story and uplifting news about this man i can imagine he himself would be very happy with. This is what he was all about!! I can`t wait to hear more. Thank you.

Thanks for one of the best pieces I have read since the great man's death.
Quite a coup!

We will all be looking and hoping that this
develops! It sounds off the charts awesome!

Thank you so much for the article. Please do make sure that this project will come into fruition.I have always respected Michael's artistic genius. I assure I would buy this cd.

Thanks for the wonderful insight of your experience with Mike. It was objective and clean I am really impressed. Please see to it that that music sees the light of the day. They were too many people who destroyed Mike but I hope the truth will come out one day and he will be honored for what he really did, his dedication for his work(music & dance) and pure love for everybody.

Oh man!! I hope to see this come into being. He was a fascinating man, one I will miss so much. Such a genius. Please, Tim, don't give up on this. Crossing fingers...I would love to hear his work.

I'll keep you posted on anything I learn about this project. TIM

My, now _that's_ a touching story! Just looking at the classical pieces mentioned, we have no doubt in this world that the man was a natural dancer! (I listened to "Nutcracker" -- and other magnificent Tchaikovsky showpieces -- quite a bit when younger; it's positively "magical" stuff, which sadly lost its appeal as I became more jaded -- I'm definitely _all_ "Pathétique" now). As for Debussy and Elmer Bernstein -- the man had darn good taste, no doubt.

(Boy, how ironic that I mention the "Pathétique" at this time, a piece which received its premiere a mere week before Tchaikovsky's death. And now I can't get "Rodeo" out of my head -- thanks!!! ;^)

No surprise, then, that he liked Leonard Bernstein's music, too. And, knowing Lenny, I'm 100% sure that he enjoyed MJ's work. ;^)

I wonder what MJ would have thought of the finales to Bruckner's 3rd and 7th symphonies, not to mention the scherzos... (And if he never had any exposure to Mahler, then that's almost criminal!)

Just another reason why the man was so brilliant. He crossed race, gender, and music genres.

michael was a genius.rip mj

Michael was a true genius, the king of music, the world has lost the most talented artist and the most beautiful human being that has ever lived. Please, do not let his work be wasted, any of it...this world needs it.I miss you Michael desperately! :'(

This is deeply moving, and very sweet. It goes to figure that for a musical genius like MJ, he owuld have a personal love of classical music. My personal two favorite types of music are pop and classical, so this article is good news. I do hope they try to release this, and it would make a very good sountrack to MJ's life movie, if there ever was one. I don't think he would've wanted that, but if they do one, they should use this CD.

Thanks for commenting. TIM

Utterly fantastic story! Thanks for sharing. I HOPE MJs music gets recorded!

Thanks so much for sharing this... Michael is well loved and idolized here in the Philippines and we hope his last projects would materialize the way he would have wanted...

Thanks for the comments. MJ's world-reach really is amazing. TIM

This text is such a blessing! It confirms once again the fact that Mr.Michael Jackson was a great musician, besides being one of the most gifted dancers of all time. Reading what I have read above, I feel the wounds healing..I mean the wounds provoked by those who have no idea what art is but they afford to throw stones at all values....Thank you, Mr. Frank, thank you, Mr. Smith...THANK YOU, MR. JACKSON!

Thank you for the honest story. I am impressed by the part of telling "love you" to his kids. LOVE MICHAEL JACKSON AND HIS PURE SOUL!!!

When I think of MJ, I can't help but think of Mozart. They were both incredible musical prodigies and geniuses for their time that took their genres to the next level. Both had financial troubles, although I'd say MJ did better on that score! RIP MJ

In regards to instruments Michael Jackson played: He is credited with both piano(keyboards) and guitar on his various albums, along with percussion. And he was very much a living musical instrument. Search Michael Jackson beatboxing on Youtube to see him displaying this talent.

Michael Jackson played the piano and drums by "ear".

I FEEL SO BLESSED TO HAVE BEEN ON EARTH THE SAME TIME AS MICHAEL JACKSON

Sometimes for just a little while God lets one of his Angels come to Earth to sing to us and teach us how to love one another. But then, of course, he calls them back to Heaven ever so much too soon.
One such Angel was Michael Jackson.
When I finally get to Heaven, I'm going to demand front row seats to all of his Heavenly Concerts.
I WILL LOVE YOU FOREVER, MICHAEL JACKSON
THANKS FOR THE LOVE.

It was be tragic if the world doesn't get to hear this music. I always wondered why he didn't release a CD of classical music because he loved it so much. I guess he was planning on it. Please make this happen and get the music recorded and out to the public. It would no doubt be a sensation and it's what he would have wanted I think, even if it's not entirely complete. It's better than nothing. We could have at least seen the vision he had...get the focus back on the musician and not the ridiculous tabloid press he didn't deserve.

Even though MJ is physically gone from us, we are blessed through technology and the internet to have him as an ever present part of our lives. We can also choose to read and listen to beautiful accounts such as this one, that allow the very best of MJ to permiate our memory and love for who he was. I hope MJ is singing with the angels.

What a wonderful story ... it feels so geniune and is a comfort to hear of a happy home surrounding them and beautiful music playing there. I also hope this project will take wings so we can enjoy another dimension of Michael's artistry. I enjoy most types of music... but at heart, I adore classical/movie music the best.
Thanks for sharing this experience with us and please keep this project moving, when timing is appropriate of course.

Ironicly I told my girlfriend. Before I read this if I had the chance to ask mj one question I would have asked him was he going to make a instrumental album.rip mj

Michael did play piano, but not very well and percussion, but not often. I don't believe he could read music. He has said he heard the music, the entire composition, fully developed in his head and he would beatbox out loud to studio musicians to come up with what he heard in his head. He was not satisfied with many of his songs and felt they didn't sound exactly like what he wanted, but that was as close as they could come. Truly, a genius comparable to Mozart.

Recently a rabbi told us Michael threw away his life, but after reading this article I just cannot believe it. He kept his passion for music. I really hope this project will be completed.

This is so nice, and it again hurts a lot at te same time, because of July 25th...I hope we will ever be able to buy this CD.
Michael was a genious, but also a man to be loved for just being human.

I found an article that described how Michael met Leonard Bernstein, which is a very heartwarming story.
RIP Michael.

http://blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendId=460323563&blogId=497224703

Oh, thank you, thank you for such a wonderful article. Thanks for sharing your experience with Michael Joseph Jackson. He was such a beautiful spirit. He will be missed. Please keep us posted. I pray his family will take this project seriously. I along with many of Michaels fans would love to see his name under the title "classical music".
Blessings to you.

This is a wonderful story. Please see what you can do to get this music recorded. His fans know that Michael wasn't done yet. We anxiously awaited his return. Unfortunately, it was not to be. But his music, an extension of his spirit still lives on. His fans would be very interested in classical pieces he wrote. Don't let the music die, and don't allow Michael's talent to be wasted. Blessings to you always.

Michelle

Thanks for this. RIP MJ!

Thanks for sharing this. Only proves that Michael was a genuis in every way- always the innovative challenger; constantly re-creating, re-inventing himself. The master at work on perfecting his craft! I hope his unfinished work comes to fruition and we get to share in his final labour (projects) of love.

Please, please don't let this project fall by the wayside. Michael was a genius. And I am so happy you were able to meet with him and get a glimpse of it. you two definitely connected.Thank you, Frank. I will be looking for it.

It would be wonderful to hear this music-the very first instrumental album from MJ-I would certainly be very interested to hear and buy it-please please keep in touch and pushing with the estate to do something about it- we would love to fund this as fans in his memory but we dont have the copyright! We will all be looking out for it.

Wow, I really hope we get to hear Michael's instrumental work one day. Some here have made comparisons between him and Mozart...I have also noticed the similarities. Thanks for the article!

Thanks very much for commenting. TIM

I absolutely agree. As a professional classical musician with degrees from a conservatory, I want to hear MJ's instrumental (classical/movie/whatever) album. Please let me know if it ever comes out.

There is a video clip on YouTube of Michael being interviewed at the age of 25, in which the interviewer asked him what type of music he liked to listen to just to relax with. Without missing a beat, he said, "Classical. I listen to classical music all the time. It's my favorite."

Cool. Thanks for sharing. TIM

Very interested to enjoy Michael's creation. He's so talent and he's the best. I look forward for this CD to coming out. Then I will certainly own one ... Love Michael

Thanks for commenting. TIM

Very interesting article .. I knew MJ loved classical music so much and he listened to it when he was at home..
I wish we someday could hear this instrumental music he was working on..
Thanks for the post..
I am going to share it at my FB

Thanks for the response. TIM

I absolutely loved reading this article ... I was spellbound.

Thank you.

As a former violinist and pianist who saw Michael Jackson in concert 3 times in my life and prayed that one day I could ask him who t is your favorite classical musician, you have answered some questions I always wondered about and that is Michael's appreciation to classical music.

I'm eager to see what happens with this possible album!

Bless you bless you! xo

Thank you so much for sharing this info. My cello instructor was one of his biggest fans and together we shared some MJ love on our celli.
It's fun to hear how he used harps or celli in his music!
He was a major inspiration to many musicians, transcending any genre.
His (pop)music inspired me to write (classical) music...
Thank you for this article!

I loved what Frank had to say about Michael Jackson. It was gratifying to hear again about another facet of Michael’s loving-kindness: the love between him and his children; and another facet of his artistic musical genius: classical. I also like the fact that Michael used by permission some of Mussorgsky and Ora’s music in his beautiful composition “Childhood.” I agree with the other comments that it would be another injustice against Michael, if we never get to hear his classical music compositions. I have been waiting for something like this from Michael ever since I read in his autobiography, 1988 that he loved classical movie. I Love You, Michael (RIP).

Mellina
5 April 10

Any news on the recording and publishing status?
Wouldn't it be wonderful if Mr. Frank and the Estate could work together on that? I wonder if the music is already part of that new deal that Sony and the Estate struck recently?

I try imagining what it would sound like and always pictured MJ taking part in a collaboration with Tim Burton.

Thank you. Finally, we have solid news on the instrumental album!

Tim, if you are in contact with David Frank, would you please tell him that he HAS to publish this record!! He MUST!!!!!

The person to contact is John Branca (http://www.johnbranca.com), not the Jackson family. Please! It would be a crime not to release this music to humanity!

Thank you, thank you, Tim and Mr. Frank, for this wonderful article that shows Michael in such a human way: loving his children, loving and expanding his music, always searching for the best, always pushing his boundless creativity. He had so much he wanted to do, so much planned for his life. What a tragic loss.

PLEASE let us know if there is any movement on this album. It would be such a joy to experience another facet of Michael's genius.

Thanks for the article! It's a shame that this project couldn't be completed in MJ's lifetime -- it sounds very interesting and I'm dying to hear the music! Hopefully one day I will. :) I'm sure the MJ estate would be interested in this project, given the story behind it.

thanks for this wonderful story you have shared with the world. We will keep thinking of you and the potential you have to make this a possibility. Michael would be so so happy.

Thank you for the work you have put into this post, it helps clear up some questions I had.I will bookmark your blog because your posts are very informative.We appreciate your posts and look forward to coming back...

Michael Jackson - King of Pop going to classical music- one of the greatest, surprising news of the century!

That's bold and I wanna hear it bad!
Probably it will not be mature complex symphonies, but sketches of a musical genius!

There is almost 2 years of this great and wonderful news. And I just read it ! I didn't know anything about this yet but I could imagine. Michael was a true genius, surprises about him come often.
Thank you, Mr. Smith, to show this to the world, to make us, Michael's fans, even more proud of him. And I really believe that Mr. Frank will find the right time to show this music to the world. I hope with all my heart that this will be SOON !!!!!!!

Thank you for this article. I am continually uplifted by the information I learn about Mr. Jackson. It's been two years since his passing, and I am still learning that there is so much to learn about this genius.

Just don't use Sony! Michael hated Sony!

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at baltimoresun.com/artsmash. This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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