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Paul Misraki: 1908-1998
Paul Misraki
Piano, songwriter, composer, writer

Born: January 28, 1908 in Constantinople, Turkey
Died: October 30, 1998 in Paris, France

Popular Songwriter With Jazz Credentials

Copyright © 1999 

The Scotsman, 1998

Misraki, Paul Paul Misraki enjoyed notable successes in several fields in the course of a long career in music. He was born Paul Misrachi in Constantinople, then capital of the Ottoman Empire but now known as Instanbul in modern Turkey, to French parents of Italian descent, and showed an early aptitude for music. He began playing piano at the age of 4, and was writing his own juvenile music within three years of that precocious start.

He moved to Paris to attend school and to study music, where his formal classical studies were complemented by the discovery of jazz, and the songwriting of the likes of Cole Porter and George Gershwin. In the early 1930s, he was recruited by Ray Ventura to join his successful band. The bandleader had been the original pianist in a band formed in 1925 as the Collegiate Five, but had taken over the leadership in 1929, and established the group -- now expanded to big band proportions and renamed the Collegians -- as the leading French dance band of the 1930s, winning followers in the UK in the process.

As well as playing piano in the band, Misraki assumed most of the responsibility for arranging and composing their material, the direction in which he would make his primary reputation. The opening up of French culture to more populist pursuits and the spread of radio made the decade a fruitful one for songwriters, and Misraki was quick to capitalise on the opportunities it offered.

As is often the case, he scored a major success with an unexpected hit in 1934. He has told the story of how he was eating a piece of ripe Camembert when the idea for the song which became "Tout va tres bien" struck him. A darkly comic tale of a Marchioness's mounting disasters, each soothed by her butler's reassuring formulation "tout va tres bien" ("all is well") became a major hit, not only for the Collegians, but also for Maurice Chevalier.

The fall of France forced Misraki, a Jew, to flee to America, initially to Buenos Aires, and subsequently to Hollywood, where he developed another reputation as a film composer, an activity he had begun while still working with Ventura in France. He went on to write around 150 film scores for a variety of projects on both sides of the Atlantic.

He worked on occasion with lyricists, including Andre Hornez, John Hess and Charles Trenet, but most often wrote words as well as music for his songs. They furnished hits for artists as diverse as The Starlighters, an American group who recorded an English version of his Argentine song "Maria From Bahia", Jean Sablon with a French version of "Passing By", and Yves Montand with "La Tete a l'Ombree".

He amassed an impressive string of film credits, initially in Hollywood and subsequently in France, where he worked with many of the leading directors. Notable among them are his scores for Orson Welles's Mr. Arkadin (1955, also known as Confidential Report), Roger Vadim's And God Created Woman (1956), Claude Chabrol's Cousins (1959), and Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville (1965), as well as films for Jacques Becker and Luis Bunuel.

He also wrote several novels and numerous essays on spiritualism, a preoccupation reflected in his biography of the French theologian, palaeontologist and philospher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and his translation of Raymond Moody's Life After Death into French. He received a number of honours in his lifetime, including being made a Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur and an Officier des Arts et des Lettres. He is survived by his wife, and three children.

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