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Dave Grusin

Robert David Grusin was born on June 26th, 1934 in Littleton, Colorado. He was born into a musical family; his mother a pianist and his father a violinist. Grusin originally planned to be a veterinarian, but switched his major to music three weeks before entering college at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He majored in piano and minored in clarinet, graduating with a music degree in 1956. When not in class, he would back performers like Anita O'Day at local clubs.

In 1959 Grusin went to New York City to begin graduate work at the Manhattan School of Music. Discovering that he had to wait six months before his union membership transferred locally, he was forced to find a job outside the city to support his young family. He explained in an interview, "An ex-roommate of mine found out that singer Andy Williams needed a piano player. Andy had had a couple of hit records but he was still a new guy." The work for the singer involved extensive travel, so Grusin eventually left graduate school.

Grusin soon found himself in Los Angeles, where he was appointed Williams's musical director and arranger when the vocalist began a weekly television variety show. Grusin noted in Down Beat, "It was a nice music show in the early '60s and we didn't perform any music that we would be ashamed of, even though it was on commercial television. It was a grind, a very hard job; but for me it turned out to be an amazing workshop."

In the mid-1960s, he was composing TV music at Universal and sharing space with future fellow Oscar winners John Williams, Lalo Schifrin and Quincy Jones.

Grusin produced his first single, "Subways Are for Sleeping", in 1962 and his first film score for Divorce American Style in 1967. Other scores followed, including The Graduate in 1967, Winning in 1969, The Friends of Eddie Coyle in 1973, The Midnight Man in 1974, and Three Days of the Condor in 1975.

In the late 1970s, he started GRP Records with his business partner, Larry Rosen, and began to create some of the first commercial digital recordings. He was the composer for On Golden Pond in 1981, Tootsie in 1982 and The Goonies in 1985. In 1988, he won the Oscar for best original score for The Milagro Beanfield War. He also composed the musical scores for the 1984 TriStar Pictures and the 1993 Columbia Pictures Television logos.

From 2000-11, Grusin concentrated on composing classical and jazz compositions, touring and recording with collaborators, including jazz singer and lyricist Lorraine Feather and guitarist Lee Ritenour. Their album Harlequin won a Grammy Award in 1985. Their classical crossover albums, Two Worlds and Amparo, were nominated for Grammys.

Grusin has a filmography of about 100 titles. His many awards include an Oscar for best original score for The Milagro Beanfield War, as well as Oscar nominations for The Champ, The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Firm, Havana, Heaven Can Wait, and On Golden Pond. He also received a Best Original Song nomination for "It Might Be You" from the film Tootsie. Six of the fourteen cuts on the soundtrack from The Graduate are his. Other film scores he has composed include Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?, Three Days of the Condor, The Goonies, Tequila Sunrise, Hope Floats, Random Hearts, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Mulholland Falls and The Firm.

His other TV credits include The Wild Wild West, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., and Columbo: Prescription: Murder. He also did the theme song for One Life to Live from 1984–92. Grusin also wrote the music for the This Is America, Charlie Brown episode "The Smithsonian and the Presidency", and two of the cues from the episode "History Lesson" and "Breadline Blues" (the latter covered by Kenny G) appear on the tribute album Happy Anniversary, Charlie Brown.

He received honorary doctorates from Berklee College of Music in 1988 and University of Colorado, College of Music in 1989.

Filmmaker Barbara Bentree feels Grusin’s body of work puts him in rarefied company. “Dave will go down in history as a uniquely American composer … in the same pantheon as Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin and Henry Mancini.”

As of 2022, Grusin is 87 years old and is still performing concerts. He resides in Montana.

Selected Performances

Thanksong (1980) - “Thanksong” came out on Grusin's 1980 album Mountain Dance and showcases his more classical side. In my opinion, it’s one of his most beautiful piano compositions.


Cuba Libre (1990) - Here's a wonderful Dave Grusin composition from the score he produced for the 1990 Sydney Pollack film "Havana." Grusin performed the version you hear in this video on his CD "Now Playing."


On Golden Pond (1981) - "On Golden Pond" was written for the 1981 movie of the same name. Grusin wrote the original version of this piece for orchestra, but created a solo piano version for his 2004 album "Now Playing." This is the version you hear in the video.

Locating The Music

While you can buy piano arrangements of Grusin's music, these are simplified arrangements and not worth spending your time on. Instead, run some google searches on the term "Dave Grusin piano transcriptions." One of my favorite transcribers for Grusin's music is Uwe Karcher. Visit Uwe's YouTube channel for more information on obtaining these wonderful note-for-note transcriptions. Grusin's website also has a nice collection of resources.


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