Meeting Dudley Moore

In 1992 I recorded Dudley Moore’s fantastic concert from the Royal Albert Hall from the radio. It made a deep impression and connection with me. Dudley was famous as a comedian and actor but his first love was music. He was one of Britain’s finest jazz pianists in the swing style (influenced by Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner), a brilliant classical pianist, organist, sight reader and composer. This concert showed many of his abilities – playing Gershwin and Mozart concertos with the BBC Concert Orchestra, jazz with his trio and his famous musical parodies.  Most movingly, he played and conducted his own beautiful compositions. Somehow Dudley found time to compose music for some films he starred in like Bedazzled and Six Weeks. He returned more to music later in life, performing, recording and making television programmes like Orchestra with Sir Georg Solti.

I fell in love with his playing and music to Bedazzled. Years later I had heard Dudley was ill and I wanted to let him know wonderful his music was. I dedicated a solo piano transcription of Bedazzled from the concert to Dudley. I found his agent’s address in a library and posted it to his agent in 1998. A year later, shortly after my sister’s wedding, Dudley phoned me out of the blue to thank me and invite me to meet him in London.

Dudley was visiting his first wife Suzie Kendall in December 1999, accompanied by his friend, the musician and writer Rena Fruchter who looked after Dudley with her husband Brian Dallow in his final years of ill health.

Dudley was suffering from progressive supranuclear palsy, which robbed him of his passion for playing the piano. It was badly affecting his speech and movement, but his mind was totally unaffected. It was so sad to see, looking at him I empathised with his frustration. Yet, he maintained an electric and palpable charisma. He was warm, caring and generous. He told me my transcription was extraordinary (too kind!), but the transcription was made to show my appreciation.  I was so pleased to be able tell him how wonderful his music was. I asked him about his improvisation in the concert – he told me he knew roughly what he was going to play (his playing was immaculate). We talked about the day he performed in front of one of his idols (and mine) Erroll Garner – Dudley spilt a bottle of Coke over the middle section of piano keys rendering them unplayable! It is a pity I did not record the visit, but it was before the days of our obsession with smart phones!

I dedicated a song to Dudley called It Isn’t Even If from the opera I wrote for my Masters degree. I included a little chord progression from Bedazzled which he nodded at when I played the cassette tape! He said liked it very much, along with the overture.

Just before I left, he said he was so happy I had been the way I was – I suppose, being genuine and not trying to be funny or try to impress him. Whatever he meant, it meant a lot to me.

Had I realised how much his 1991 album of original piano pieces Songs Without Words meant to him – he died listening to it – I would have transcribed it when he was still alive. I kick myself that I didn’t. Rena asked me to transcribe two pieces for Dudley’s memorial service at Magdalen College Oxford in 2002, which I attended.

As Dudley had not written down the music, I was later asked to transcribe the full album. I did this meticulously for Dudley and it was published by Faber in 2011.

In 2012 I performed a series of tribute concerts starting at St James Piccadilly in London, recreating his jazz playing and compositions from my transcriptions. You can find some posted on YouTube and my website. Dudley played It’s Easy To Say by Henry Mancini in the film 10. I have transcribed some beautiful melodies by Mancini and I think Dudley’s film music is comparable in many ways.