Today is a very special day, friends. It is the 96th birthday of our dear friend and collaborator, the incomparable Norman Leyden!
Norman is one of the most talented, inspiring, and prolific musicians with whom we’ve had the good fortune to work. Norman began his professional music career with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra while attending Yale University in the late 1930s. After graduating from Yale in 1938, Norman joined the United States National Guard, eventually ending up in the US Army Air Force during WWII. During his time of service in the AAF, Norman conducted the Moss Hart Army Air Force’s “Winged Victory”, arranged for Miller’s Air Force Band, composed the theme music for the radio series “I Sustain the Wings”, and led the Air Force Falconaries of the Air Force Band of the Rockies in the PBC TV special “Glenn Miller’s Last Flight”.
But Norman wasn’t just an Army man. In 1956 he began work as the musical director for a variety of radio and TV shows, including Arthur Godfrey’s radio program, The $64,000 Question, and The Jackie Gleason Show. He also composed and arranged music for many well-known and loved Disney classics, including Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan, and Pinocchio.
Luckily for us, Norman moved to Portland in 1968 to take over the Portland Youth Philharmonic. While in Portland he worked as associate conductor and then conductor of the Oregon Symphony and Oregon Symphony Pops. Norman was gracious enough to give us our first concert with the Oregon Symphony Pops, and much to our astonishment, he even asked us back for a second show not too long afterwards. To our even greater astonishment, Norman agreed to record with the band, performing the clarinet solo on “Hang On Little Tomato”, the title track off our 2004 album. He’s even played sold-out shows with us at such venues as the Hollywood Bowl, Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, and McMenamin’s Edgefield in Portland.
Norman introduced symphony audiences nationwide to Pink Martini and helped keep us working at a time when were struggling to stay afloat and define who we were as a band. His impeccably-executed clarinet solo was one of the defining parts of 2004’s “Hang On Little Tomato” and helped make the song — and the album — a hit. And even though he is well into retirement, Norman continues to collaborate with the band on studio recordings and live performances. Norman has played a huge role in Pink Martini’s success — without him, we wouldn’t be where we are today. For that, we’re forever grateful.
Thank you for all you do, Norman! We hope you have a wonderful birthday.