Sunday Night Jazz Showcase
Program #327 (May 16 at 8:00pm)
Artist Biography by Bruce Eder
Michael Franks was born in La Jolla, California in 1944. His parents weren't musicians, but they were music lovers and he was soon immersed in swing music and vocal jazz and pop.
Franks' early idols included such jazz-cum-pop legends as Nat King Cole and Peggy Lee, as well as composers and lyricists such as Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Johnny Mercer. His first instrument was the guitar, and he got the only formal instruction of his life -- a total of six private lessons that came with his first instrument -- at age 14.
Franks was drawn to poetry as a high-school student, especially the work of Theodore Roethke, and began singing and playing folk-rock during this period. He majored in English and then comparative literature at UCLA and also embraced the music of Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz, João Gilberto, and Antonio Carlos Jobim, among others. He never studied music in college, however, and seemed on track toward teaching American literature as the '60s drew to a close.
It was during this period that he started writing songs, which led him to compose an antiwar musical entitled Anthems in E-Flat, a piece that found life as a workshop production starring a young Mark Hammill. He also began to get some film work, including music for Monte Hellman's Cockfighter and Jan Troell's Zandy's Bride (both 1974), the latter starring Liv Ullmann and Gene Hackman.
Franks reached his commercial peak with the album Passion Fruit (1983) and the accompanying hit "When Sly Calls (Don't Touch That Phone)." His later records showed a slackening of focus and a falloff in both his appeal and sales, although 1990's Blue Pacific marked a comeback, after a three-year layoff.
He continued to mine his fascination with Brazilian music into the '90s, including one album, Abandoned Garden (1995), dedicated to the memory of Antonio Carlos Jobim, and he cut a duet with his longtime idol Peggy Lee, near the end of the latter's career, on "You Were Meant for Me" from the album Dragonfly Summer (1993).
(provided by Allmusic)