Composer, pianist and conductor

Born: February 24 1932;

Died: January 26, 2019

MICHEL Legrand, who has died aged 86, was a prolific composer who penned some of the most popular love songs of the late 20th century, among them What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life? and The Windmills of Your Mind, which won him the first of his three Oscars. He was also a five-time Grammy winner and, right up to his death, a headlining pianist and conductor at concert halls and jazz festivals.

Legrand was born in the Parisian suburb of Bécon-les-Bruyères to a French father, who was a composer and actor, and an Armenian mother. After Legrand’s father left the family, times were hard but Michel and his sister enjoyed visiting a friend’s apartment where there was a piano – and before long it was clear that he was something of a prodigy. At the age of ten he began to study classical composition at the Conservatoire de Paris, where his teachers included the celebrated pianist Nadia Boulanger.

In his late teens, however, he became hooked on jazz. In an interview for The Herald before his concert at the 2011 Glasgow Jazz Festival, he said: "Just after the war, Dizzy Gillsepie came to Paris to give concerts. I was in the audience and I was ecstatic. I was extremely excited by it."

Legrand emerged as the boy wonder of the French music scene in the 1950s, juggling playing jazz piano with being in demand as an arranger for such top stars as Edith Piaf and Yves Montand. Indeed, it was as Maurice Chevalier's music director that he made his first trip to America. And it was there, in 1958, that he made his first recording with American jazz musicians - LeGrand Jazz, a collection of his contemporary reworkings of classic jazz tunes from earlier decades.

It's a sign of how highly regarded the young Parisian arranger was (he had already sold seven million copies of his LP I Love Paris in just two years) that he asked for - and got -most of the biggest names in jazz at the time, including the notoriously temperamental Miles Davis who, he told The Herald, “was adorable with me”.

In the late 1950s, Legrand began working with the young film directors who launched the New Wave style of cinema. One of his most enduring scores was written for Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), in which all the dialogue was sung. The English version of its melancholy main theme – I Will Wait For You – went on to be recorded by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli. Legrand and Demy - plus the film's star, Catherine Deneuve, were reunited three years later for The Young Ladies of Rochefort, a gloriously vibrant and OTT homage to the Hollywood musical which also starred Gene Kelly.

After ten years’ scoring films in France, he relocated to the States where, almost immediately, he won an Oscar for his song The Windmills of Your Mind, from The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). Among the many other film scores he wrote are The Go-Between (1970), Summer of '42 (1971), Lady Sings the Blues (1972), Never Say Never Again (1983) and Yentl (1983).

His insatiable appetite for music-making saw him cross genres and collaborate with everyone from Diana Ross to Iggy Pop, and write everything from stage musicals to an oratorio.

Legrand – who was made a commander of the Légion d’honneur in 2003 – was last in the UK in September 2018, when he conducted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on a programme of orchestral arrangements of music from his soundtracks with at the Royal Festival Hall, in London. He was set to perform there again this autumn.

He is survived by his third wife Macha and his four children.