MacDermot was born in Montreal, Quebec, the son of a Canadian diplomat. He was educated at Upper Canada College and Bishop's University (Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada). He received a Bachelor of Music from Cape Town University, South Africa and made a study of African music his specialty. He also studied the piano privately with Neil Chotem. MacDermot won his first Grammy Award for the Cannonball Adderley recording of his song "African Waltz"; (the title track of the album of the same name) in 1960. He moved to New York City in 1964 where, three years later, he wrote the music for the hit musical Hair, which he later adapted for the 1979 film. Its Broadway cast album won a Grammy Award in 1969. The song from the musical "Hair Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" reached number one for six weeks in 1969. The song Hair reached number one on the charts in 1969. His next musicals were Isabel's a Jezebel (1970) and Who the Murderer Was (1970), which featured British progressive rock band Curved Air. MacDermot had another hit with the musical Two Gentlemen of Verona (1971), which won the Tony Award for Best Musical. For that show, MacDermot was nominated for a Tony for best music and won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music. His later musicals, however, including Dude and Via Galactica (both 1973) and The Human Comedy (1984), have not been successful on Broadway. MacDermot's film soundtracks include Cotton Comes to Harlem, a 1970 blaxploitation film starring Godfrey Cambridge, Raymond St. Jacques and Redd Foxx, based on Chester Himes' novel of the same name; Rhinoceros (1974) starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, and directed by original Broadway Hair director Tom Horgan; and Mistress (1992). He writes his own orchestrations and arrangements for his theatre and film scores. In 1979, MacDermot formed the New Pulse Band, which performs and records his original music. The band plays as part of the on stage band in the current Broadway revival of Hair. MacDermot's work also includes ballet scores, chamber music, the Anglican liturgy, orchestral music, poetry, incidental music for plays, band repertory and opera. MacDermot was inducted into the 2009 Songwriter's Hall of Fame. Film director Jeff Lunger is in the post-production phase of a documentary on the life and work of Galt MacDermot. Galt Macdermot lives on Staten Island. He has a son, Vincent MacDermot, who plays the trombone and drums on some albums. He also has a daughter, Elizabeth MacDermot, who teaches English at Staten Island Technical High School, Sarah and Yolanda MacDermot and Molly MacDermot. On November 22, 2010, MacDermot was awarded the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award by SOCAN at the 2010 SOCAN Awards in Toronto. MacDermot's music is popular with collectors of jazz and funk. Working with jazz musicians such as Bernard Purdie, Jimmy Lewis and Idris Muhammad, MacDermot created pieces that prefigured the funk material of James Brown. In recent decades, his work has become popular with hip-hop musicians including Busta Rhymes, who sampled "Space" from MacDermot's 1969 record "Woman Is Sweeter" for chart-topper "Woo hah," and Run DMC, who sampled the Hair song "Where Do I Go?" for their Grammy Award-winning ";Down with the King." Handsome Boy Modelling School "The Truth," DJ Vadim, DJ Premier and Oh No have all sampled the same segment from "Coffee Cold," from Shapes of Rhythm (1966). As part of his Special Herbs series, rapper MF Doom sampled three MacDermot songs from Woman Is Sweeter: "Cathedral" for his song "ennyroyal," & "Space" for "Cinqfoil", and "Princess Gika" for "Hyssop." In 2006, rapper Oh No released an album produced completely with MacDermot samples, titled Exodus into Unheard Rhythms. Spanish hip-hop group SFDK used MacDermot's "Coffee Cold" for their song "Ternera Podrida" off the 2006 album "Original Rap University."
Hair is a rock musical with a book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, and music by Galt MacDermot. A product of the hippie counterculture and sexual revolution of the late 1960s, several of its songs became anthems of the anti-Vietnam War peace movement. The musical's profanity, its depiction of the use of illegal drugs, its treatment of sexuality, its irreverence for the American flag, and its nude scene caused much comment and controversy. The musical broke new ground in musical theatre by defining the genre of "rock musical," using a racially integrated cast, and inviting the audience onstage for a "Be-In" finale. Hair tells the story of the "tribe," a group of politically active, long- haired hippies of the "Age of Aquarius," living a bohemian life in New York City and fighting against conscription into the Vietnam War. Claude, his good friend Berger, their roommate Sheila and their friends struggle to balance their young lives, loves, and the sexual revolution with their rebellion against the war and their conservative parents and society. Ultimately, Claude must decide whether to resist the draft as his friends have done, or to succumb to the pressures of his parents (and conservative America) to serve in Vietnam, compromising his pacifist principles and risking his life. After an off-Broadway debut in October 1967 at Joseph Papp's Public Theater and a subsequent run at the Cheetah nightclub from December 1967 through January 1968, the show opened on Broadway in April 1968 and ran for 1,750 performances. Simultaneous productions in cities across the United States and Europe followed shortly thereafter, including a successful London production that ran for 1,997 performances. Since then, numerous productions have been staged around the world, spawning dozens of recordings of the musical, including the 3 million-selling original Broadway cast recording. Some of the songs from its score became Top 10 hits, and a feature film adaptation was released in 1979. A Broadway revival opened in 2009, earning strong reviews and winning the Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for best revival of a musical. In 2008, Time magazine wrote, "Today Hair seems, if anything, more daring than ever."
In 1979, Galt MacDermot formed the New Pulse Jazz Band, which performs and records his original music. The band was the on-stage band in the Broadway revival of HAIR and performed at Carnegie Weill Recital Hall, Avery Fisher Hall and concert halls in the New York area. Musicians include Galt MacDermot on keyboards, Bernard Purdie on drums, Wilbur Bascomb on Bass, Seldon Powell on alto sax, Allen Won on soprano sax, Babe Clark and Patience Higgins performed at Carnegie Weill Recital Hall, Avery Fisher Hall and concert halls in the New York area.
Musicians include Galt MacDermot on keyboards, Bernard Purdie on drums, Wilbur Bascomb on Bass, Seldon Powell on alto sax, Allen Won on soprano sax, Babe Clark and Patience Higgins on baritone sax, Lew Soloff, Mac Gollehon, Adam Penenberg, Bill Wolfson, Paul Litrenta on trumpets, Eddie Bert, Vince MacDermot, Steve Callia on trombone, George Gesslein on bass trombone and Charlie Brown, Billy Butler, L. Berlin, Steve Tropea on guitars. BOOGIE MAN LP Galt MacDermot's New Pulse Jazz Band is a 12 piece group based in New York and led by the keyboard player and Broadway composer (HAIR). Rather than following Swing Era and post- Swing Era big band tradition, MacDermot mixes eras and styles - mournful New Orleans brass band dirges, German brass band music, Charleston-era saxophones (MacDermot's use of the soprano sax, played by Allen; Won, owes a lot more to Sidney Bechet than to John Coltrane), Ellington-like ; sounds, rock beats from the 60's, energetic electric bass lines from the 80's, and synthesizer sounds.
His 15 compositions and charts follow; Legend of the Boogie Man; as printed on the album cover, but more than this theatrical unity, there is the linear integrity of each tune. MacDermot conceives of arrangements as shifting foci of bass configurations, superimposed with solo melodies, ensemble melodies, and various countermelodies and dovetailing rhythms.
Jeff Lunger loved the music of Galt MacDermot, all of it. He was a fan and a collector of it ever since he was a young man and had seen HAIR for the first time. But unlike many people who saw HAIR as a young people and memorized the score and sang along with it for years and years and then stopped at some point, Jeff kept going.
He did the deep dive into Galt’s earlier jazz compositions, his country western forays and his subsequent Broadway work and film scores and then moved onto his later work with his New Pulse Jazz Band. And then when Galt’s beats were sampled on current hip hop recordings Jeff was collecting them too.
Jeff felt that many fellow music lovers were unaware of all these other compositions, they only knew HAIR. Jeff’s passion was to tell the rest of the world about Galt’s vast body of work. In 2005 Jeff and my husband Eric were sharing a post-production space in Little Italy. My husband’s company has been creating independent films and media since 1984 and Jeff and Eric had worked on a number of projects together.
One day Jeff asked Eric about the idea of doing a documentary on Galt MacDermot. Despite a fairly substantial knowledge of music Eric had no idea who he was. However, Eric told Jeff, “Find him, call him up and see if he’s interested in a film about his life and music”. Jeff looked up Galt’s name in the phonebook, got his number, called him, and set up an appointment to meet; something that you just don’t do today. Then Eric said, “You should do this project with my wife Meredith, she loves Hair!”
After I was introduced to Jeff, he and I of course bonded over HAIR and he set out to educate me, and fast, a crash course in the depth of the music of Galt MacDermot. I admit I was guilty in my lack of knowledge about the scope and reach of Galt’s music. I was a HAIR fan since seeing the Boston company in 1970 and knowing the soundtrack by heart. Sure, I’d heard of the film Cotton Comes to Harlem and the show Two Gentlemen of Verona, but never connected the dots to know they shared the same composer. Now how do we reach the masses, to enlighten everyone else who would be receptive to the beauty of his music? If only they only knew. The story needed to be told. Now completely infatuated by Galt’s music as well, I volunteered to create this film with Jeff, so we ventured out, assured that we had the right idea but nervous nonetheless, to Galt’s Columbus Circle apartment, to ask permission and hopefully receive his blessing. Jeff, with his super knowledge of Galt’s oeuvre, won him over right away. Over the next hour or so we met some other family members who came in and out, we talked shows, music, publishing, recording rights, and we left with handshakes, hugs, dreams and a plan to make this film.
We got to work in the summer of 2005 with Eric acting as key production person. Our first interviews were with Galt and Julie Arenal, the original choreographer of HAIR on Broadway. Next we interviewed James Rado, the writer of the book and the original Claude, and Tom O’Horgan, the legendary director who shaped the show into history. We were off to a great start and kept going; interviewing a wonderful array of people associated with Galt and his incredible music.
Jeff realized his dream and we made a film, Jeff’s film, which was called Ear of the Heart, from lyrics to a song from Galt’s musical version of The Human Comedy by William Saroyan. The film encompassed all of Galt’s history, from his college years in South Africa, to the present, which at the time of Jeff’s sudden and untimely passing was 2012. HAIR had come back to Broadway, winning the 2009 TONY award. Jeff was very happy those last years, being able to witness and take part in the revival, filming the opening night, interviewing members of the new cast, enjoying the show a few more times.
Jeff’s film was loved by Galt’s family, and we have preserved it. Ear of the Heart never played a festival or got any exposure aside from a couple of private screenings. Someday perhaps we will present it. However, now we feel it is time to move forward with redesigned film; to refresh it and reorganize how we tell Galt’s story. And it is a wonderful story, told through interviews with his family, collaborators and stage and screen luminaries. And the music, a lot of music… “Beautiful music is in the air, beautiful music is everywhere, It’s in the eye of the mind, in the ear of the heart…” We now present Shapes of Rhythm.
Statement by co-producer Meredith Marciano