Burt Bacharach Can't Wait to Swing Back Onto Israeli Stage

Half a century after last playing here, the world-famous songwriter, 85, is returning as part of a tour across three continents.

Gil Karpas
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Gil Karpas

The last time Burt Bacharach played in Israel was in 1960, and he was a band leader and string-arranger for Marlene Dietrich.

"When we got to Tel Aviv, we were informed that she shouldn't sing any German on stage, because it was not being done," recalls the American composer in an interview with Haaretz, ahead of his concert in Binyamina on Tuesday. "She sang nine songs in German -­ Richard Tauber songs, heavy."

Fifty-three years later, Bacharach is back, and still upbeat. "We're gonna do a lot of music, all my music. I'm really looking forward to coming to Israel. It was something we wanted to do on this tour, and we wanted to make it happen. We are really excited to be coming."

The world famous songwriter behind countless songs, film scores and stage shows, who turned 85 last month, is on a 13-date tour across three continents. Beneath a thick white crest of hair, his piercing eyes peer out atop protruding cheekbones and his voice, sounding paper-thin with its soft whispering tones, shows its age.

Raised as a Jewish kid in Queens, New York, Bacharach faced playground prejudices; "Growing up with a bunch of Catholic kids that I played ball with, there was lot of anti-Semitism, so it screws you up as kid," he recalls.

When he grew older and was studying in New York, California and Canada, he began gravitating towards music. It was jazz that captured his imagination, and as a young graduate he would often take the subway into the heart of Manhattan to catch some of the newly emerging acts of the day.

"I was listening to Harry James Big Band, Tommy Dorsey Big Band, through to what was going on on 52nd St. with Dizzy Gillespie's Big Band through to Charlie Parker, Tadd Dameron," he remembers.

This impressive list of 20th-century innovators evidently impacted well upon his impressionable young mind, since Bacharach's style has been characterized as having unusual chord progressions, striking syncopated rhythmic patterns and irregular phrasing. All of which bear the hallmarks of modern jazz. "All of this was light years ahead of any music I had heard, and it was exciting," he explained.

Proving that everything comes full circle, Bacharach's songs now form a significant part of the main standards of the international jazz repertoire being improvised nightly, alongside Gershwin, Bernstein and Rodgers and Hammerstein. Many of the multi-platinum songs that he wrote, like "The Look of Love," "Walk on By," "Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head," and "Do You Know the Way to San Jose," remain staples of worldwide daytime radio playlist to this day.

Having produced so many songs for the charts, stage and film industry, I asked him if there could possibly be such a thing as a favorite?

"I like scoring films," he answers, after a long pause. "'What's New Pussycat,' 'Casino Royale,' 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.' I get into doing a film so much that I know it by heart. I know the dialogue. I know where the film should come in, come out by the time I'm conducting. If you don't like the film by the third week you are working on the score, then you're kicking a dead horse."

Disaster movie of a sort

The dead horse he was eluding to was the 1973 film "Lost Horizon." Throughout the 1960s and early '70s, Bacharach and lyricist Hal David had been working successfully with singer Dionne Warwick, but when "Lost Horizon" came out it was a critical and commercial failure. It resulted in a slew of lawsuits that wrecked key working relationships.

"The songs were good, but it was a disastrous film, and it created a breach in the relationships with Hal, Dionne and myself," admits Bacharach. "It was such a disaster, and you know you could go back and say it was something we shouldn't have done... but forget it, you make mistakes," he adds, regretfully.

The pace quickened when he begins talking about Dionne Warwick. "I'm partial to a lot of what we did with Dionne. [The song] 'A House is not a Home" is extraordinary," he states proudly. "Aretha singing 'I Say a Little Prayer' was actually a better record that the one I made with Dionne. The original record of 'Close to You' that I made with Richard Chamberlain was the worst record. But to then see how The Carpenters interpreted the song and how they turned it around."

Reaching a certain age, allows people to become more outspoken, and being an octogenarian affords a liberty to speak one's mind. It is a time in life that provides a certain perspective. "I appreciate every day. Every day is a treasure. I try not to think too far into the future, but stay in the moment and appreciate everything I have," he says.

Talking to Bacharach, it is clear that he isn't thinking in terms of weeks or months, or even years for that matter. He is engaged in a number of ongoing productions, creative partnerships and has just had a book on his life story published. Having decided now to embark on such a high-profile international tour, it signals that the hitmaker still has a lot more to offer.

Burt Bacharach.Credit: Scott Gries/Invision/AP

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