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OBITUARIES : Lou Teicher, 1924-2008

Pianist was half of hugely popular duo

August 06, 2008|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Lou Teicher, half of the popular Ferrante & Teicher piano duo that had top-10 hits in the 1960s with lushly orchestrated movie-theme singles, has died. He was 83.

Teicher, a longtime resident of Sarasota, Fla., died unexpectedly of heart failure Sunday at his summer home in Highlands, N.C., said Scott W. Smith, Teicher and Arthur Ferrante's personal manager.

In a musical collaboration that spanned five decades and ended when the duo retired from the concert stage in 1989, Ferrante & Teicher recorded 150 original albums that, along with dozens of singles, sold 88 million records worldwide.

In the process, they earned 22 gold and platinum records.

"No one was more blessed than I to have Lou Teicher as my best friend since we met at the Juilliard School of Music at the ages of 9 and 6," Ferrante said in a statement. "Although we were two individuals, at the twin pianos our brains worked as one.

"Lou was certainly one of the world's most gifted pianists."

Ferrante and Teicher were faculty instructors at Juilliard by day and performed standards on their twin pianos in posh Manhattan nightclubs at night for a couple of years before they made their debut as a classical two-piano team at Town Hall in New York City in 1947.

They were soon touring North America and in 1952 began recording.

They recorded eight albums in the 1950s featuring what they termed their prepared pianos, whose sound they altered by adding various objects to the piano strings, including rubber wedges, metal chains, glass, wood and cardboard.

If that weren't innovative enough, they also would reach inside their pianos to strum and pound on the strings.

"That became their gimmick to become noticed, and that got them on television in New York," Smith said. "Ernie Kovacs, Steve Allen and Dave Garroway picked them up immediately because it was avant-garde; it was weird."

Ferrante & Teicher's prepared-piano and classical albums of the 1950s were well received but no match for what came in 1960 with the duo's recording of "Theme from 'The Apartment.' "

"They told their producer/co-arranger Don Costa, 'Two pianos, it'll never sell,' " Smith said. "Those were their famous last words."

"Theme from 'The Apartment' " became Ferrante & Teicher's first million-selling single. And when their recording of the theme from "Exodus" was released five months later, it became their largest-selling single: some 6.5 million copies.

"The huge, dynamic, theatrical sound that they created is what people just swooned over," Smith said. "They just loved it, and that's what sold the records. It was a new sound. Nothing had ever been created quite like it: the twin pianos with their 60-piece orchestra.

" 'The Apartment' and 'Exodus' set what would become 'the Ferrante & Teicher Sound.' "

Dubbed "the Movie Theme Team," they had another million-selling top-10 single with "Tonight" from "West Side Story" in 1961. Throughout the 1960s, they charted many top-40 movie theme singles, including those from "Lawrence of Arabia," "Mutiny on the Bounty" and "Cleopatra."

Their recording of the theme from "Midnight Cowboy" in 1969 was their last million-selling top-10 single.

The piano duo frequently appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Tonight Show" and other variety programs and played at the White House, performing for presidents Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan.

Their annual tours covered more than 160 cities in the U.S. and Canada. Before retiring in 1989, Ferrante & Teicher had performed more than 5,200 concerts, which were booked two to three years in advance, Smith said.

Teicher was born Aug. 24, 1924, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and lived in Sarasota on Siesta Key, not far from Ferrante, who lives on Longboat Key.

"I will miss him dearly," Ferrante said in his statement, noting that "as pianists, it's ironic how we both ended up living on keys."

Teicher is survived by his wife, Betty; three children, Richard, Susan and David; and four grandchildren.

No funeral or memorial service is planned.

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dennis.mclellan@latimes.com

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