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Colombier, Michel (23rd May 1939-14th November 2004)

He was a keyboard player, songwriter, composer, conductor and arranger born in Lyons, France, who earned the nickname “Fusion-sama” from the Japanese where they called him the “Godfather of French Fusion”.

He started his studies in music when he was just 6 years old when his father taught him conducting, harmony, counterpoint and piano, later to be followed by Gregorian chant and church organ and by the time he was fourteen he was giving performances with big bands and jazz combos.

He did his service in the French Military, where he wrote several compositions, and after he had branched out on his musical career when he was 22, he was made Musical Director for Barclay Records in 1961. His first job with them was to arrange the first album by Charles Aznavour from French to English so they could release it in the United States.

At the same time he was working as a composer and wrote works like the stage production Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme and the co-written ballet Messe Pour Temps Present. This led to him working alone or in collaboration with many acclaimed French artists such as Catherine Deneuve, Serge Gainsbourg, Stephane Grappelli, Jeanne Moreau and Jean-Luc Ponty.

Soon he was being noticed outside of France and he went to the United States with the British singer Petula Clark after she had chosen him to be her Musical Director. This led to him meeting Herb Alpert who signed him straight away and with who he received three Grammy Award nominations for his work on the rock oratorio Wings.

Other artists he worked with in his musical career include Paul Anka, David Arnold, Brigitte Bardot, The Beach Boys, Neil Diamond, Earth, Wind & Fire, Roberta Flack, Herbie Hancock, Julio Iglesias, Liza Minnelli, Maxine Nightingale, Quincy Jones, Bobby McFerrin, Joni Mitchell, Prince, Jean-Pierre Rampal , Maurice White and Bill Withers.

Well known as a conductor and for his commissioned symphonic and classical works he was often called upon to lead some of the world’s biggest orchestras and ensembles such as the Chicago Orchestra, Covent Garden Orchestra, the English Chamber Orchestra, the Kronos String Quartet, the London Symphony Orchestra , the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Paris Opera. Added to that, he was the composer on at least 20 ballets and worked with many of the best choreographers and companies with artists that included Mikhail Baryshnikov.

He also became known for writing and/or arranging scores for movies for the big screen and television and is known to have composed for over one hundred films. They include Against All Odds, Die Another Day, The Golden Child, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, New Jack City, Ruthless People, Swept Away and his Academy and Grammy Award winning Purple Rain.

Albums he has worked on are many and varied and among them are his own Old Fool Back on Earth, Surrender and V? as well as Fandango by Herb Alpert , It Takes Two by Rodney Franklin, American Life by Madonna, That’s What Friends are For by Johnny Mathis & Deniece Williams, Emotion by Barbra Streisand, Even in the Quietest Moments by Supertramp and the soundtracks of Nadias Theme (The Young and the Restless), Get Carter, Trippin’ and Deep Cover.

In recognition for his services to music he was awarded the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres. His life was cut short by cancer in 2004 when he passed away in Santa Monica, California, at 65 years old.

Herb Alpert recordings
Angel (Juan Carlos Calderon )
Route 101 (Juan Carlos Calderon )

Here he is on piano performing “Night Bird” with Ernie Watts…