Featured alto sax soloist and arranger for the famous Stan Kenton Orchestra, he has also recorded several albums of his own with jazz greats Mel Lewis, Shelly Manne, Jimmy Giuffre, Hampton Hawes and more.
Lennie has also been composer for numerous Clint Eastwood's films including Pale Rider, Unforgiven, The Bridges Of Madison County, Absolute Power, True Crime, Space Cowboys, and Bird, the award- winning tribute to legendary bebop artist Charlie Parker. In 1994 he won an Emmy for his score for the Showtime film Lush Life.
Lennie Niehaus admits that he “has every reason to be proud and happy”. In his early career he was acclaimed internationally as jazz altoist, composer and arranger (Stan Kenton and his own six albums as leader). Then, in these latter years, Lennie has garnered accolades as a leading Hollywood film composer. Yet he has always continued to utilise and expose his jazz background. This has culminated in his much-envied assignment as musical director and composer on the upcoming Charlie Parker Bird film, produced and directed by Clint Eastwood.
Lennie’s sister was a concert pianist and his father was an expert violinist. Père Niehaus started his son on violin at age seven. “I went from violin to oboe to bassoon,” Lennie recalled. “Then, at thirteen, I took up alto and clarinet.” He went on: “I was always interested in composing and writing; I wrote music as a young teenager. I had always heard advanced chords, listening to my sister and father play romantic era music.” In 1946, while still studying music at college, Lennie started his professional career, along with reedmen Herb Geller, Herbie Steward and Teddy Edwards. He went with the Stan Kenton orchestra for six months, and then was drafted into the Army in 1952. Discharged in 1954, he rejoined Kenton for five years.
“I left in 1959"I wanted to write. I came back to town (Los Angeles) to arrange for the King Sisters, Mel Tormé, Dean Martin and Carol Burnett.” It was in 1962 that Lennie started orchestrating for that great film composer Jerry Fielding, whose untimely death at a young age musicians still mourn. “I did about sixty or seventy TV shows and films for Jerry,” Lennie recalled. Since Fielding’s death, Lennie has been a leading film composer in his own right. “And I always do my own orchestrating. I always think orchestrally,” Lennie informed.
In films Lennie never forgets his jazz roots. He instanced: “The story of the film City Heat was cast in the ‘thirties. I wrote jazz of that period using people like altoist Marshal Royal. Bill Perkins came in and played like Lester. I had a jazz violinist who sounded like Stephane Grappelli. Then there was a boogie woogie sequence with three pianists Pete Jolly, Mike Land and producer Clint Eastwood.” In the last eight years Lennie had not played his alto at all. Today he’s back blowing, reportedly in top form, although he confessed: “Now I hear a little differently.” The Charlie Parker film, tentatively titled Bird, has just finished shooting. Release is expected for the Autumn.