The man who inspired
Earle Hagen was simply the most extraordinary of men. His humanity, kindness, vital spirit and joie de vivre would have made him a towering figure if he'd never even touched the world of music.
However, his status as one of the giants in the field (or “benchmark for the profession” as one astute observer proclaimed) made him larger than life in every sense of the word.
And yet, he was one of the most approachable, unassuming and unaffected individuals one could meet. He knew the weight of his voluminous contribution to music, but he let it speak for itself.
Fluent with the snappy as well as the sublime, his achievements include television's most familiar theme” and probably the sultriest of the American standards.
And within that range from “The Andy Griffith Show” signature to “Harlem Nocturne” was a host of astoundingly complex and disarmingly simple music, most especially his dynamic scores for the “I Spy” series - the pulsating and electrifying main title, a wealth of ethnic-flavored jazz, and the poignant love themes for the “Tatia” and “Laya” episodes (winning an Emmy for the latter score)..
The most romantic of men, Earle Hagen's ability to portray tender feelings was clearly exhibited in these scores.
While any one of his musical accomplishments was done at a dazzling level, the most amazing thing was how many different musical summits he conquered.
As a fledgling trombonist, he was subbing for Tommy Dorsey within weeks of joining the legendary trombonist's band, then became an arranger and composer (of that entry in the canon of Americana) before leaving his teens.
After orchestrating major musicals at Fox, he became a successful businessman, supplying a one-stop service for television producers, only one part of which was scoring 3000 hours of original music for television, each minute of which was finitely sculpted to the frames it occupied.
Dean of film scoring educators as well as author of the primary texts on composing for the screen, he loved working with young composers, each one of whom still testifies to Earle Hagen's uncanny ability to clearly communicate his subjects.
And that doesn't begin to cover the many other areas where he distinguished himself, both inside and outside the musical sphere.
But his greatest thrill as a musician was inevitably giving the downbeat to an orchestra and hearing it come alive. His rapport with other musicians was just a hint of what left all who ever met Earle Hagen remembering one of the nicest people they ever encountered. For while that incredible mind turned out reams of psychologically perfect themes, the persona inspired and set people alight.
His graciousness and generosity were legend, and even those who were not direct recipients still felt it through his music. Seldom if ever have viewers spoken of the makers of music for television with the warmth that characterizes the feelings voiced about Earle Hagen.
It is not simply appreciation, but more, a genuine sense of the man behind the music as a very special someone, a man of understanding and perception. But perhaps what bubbled that fact to the surface from the pen and baton right into the brain of those who heard his music was that strength of character that was embedded in all Earle Hagen did. The truth and honesty of the man.
He was a gift to 20th century America, and God's gift to him were the two women who shared his adult life. For six decades, the ebullient Lou, beloved by all, and for the last years of his life, the sweet and caring Laura whose companionship gave him a joy and zest for living that sustained his heart well beyond its capacity to give life.
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