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Alex Freedman Remembers Phil Ramone

Alex Freedman is an exceptionally bright, very talented man.

He was the 1996 Staples High School salutatorian.

Alex Freedman

He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, then joined Advantage Testing. He’s now one of New York City’s — and Westport’s — most sought-after tutors, assisting the best and soon-to-be-brightest students on everything from the SAT, ACT, ISEE and SSAT to GMAT, GRE, LSAT and WTF (jk).

An outstanding classical and jazz pianist, Alex has worked with Stephen Sondheim, Kander and Ebb — and Phil Ramone. The famed record producer and engineer — winner of 14 Grammy Awards and responsible, in large part, for the success of Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Tony Bennett, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Barbra Streisand and Chicago — died last weekend, at 79.

Alex sent along these thoughts:

Phil was a universally venerated class act, an epically successful musical impresario whose projects ranged from music (with countless genres and artists) to movies, Broadway, television and beyond. His talents were breathtaking.

Phil always had a retinue of advisors, assistants, producers and managers, and for a time I was extraordinarily fortunate to be a member of that inner circle. From our home base at his barn and studio in Bedford, NY, we would discuss the projects of the day. There were always too many for a mere mortal to handle, yet somehow Phil was assiduous about giving each his full attention.

Phil Ramone (Courtesy PhilRamone.com)

I remember fondly my days with Phil: helping backstage at the Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremonies, working tirelessly at the studio to finesse every last detail of a sure-to-be platinum album; rehearsing dance steps with Kevin Spacey for an upcoming movie.

Phil would ask me to find “great songs” from the ’60s and ’70s that few would know well, so a famous actor and Broadway musician could put them on an upcoming album.  I spent nights at Tower Records (people still bought CDs in those days) researching the best albums of the day, listening for the B-side gems we could use. (And I thought all-nighters were for college!)

Or, “here’s a Broadway script for an upcoming hit musical, except right now it’s just a play and we need to make it into a musical. Alex, can you read the script and pitch me on where we should add the musical numbers?”

Through my relationship and friendship with Phil, I learned the value of an unbelievably conscientious work ethic (he never stopped working, planning, thinking or doing even when having his hair cut, driving or eating breakfast); what it means to truly love one’s job, and how best to tell Stevie Wonder to pose for a photograph (hint: don’t tell him to look at the camera).

I suppose that when your life is as immersed in music as Phil’s was, it’s difficult to have a bad day. Though he was an ardent perfectionist who would not tolerate mediocrity, his warmth and enthusiasm were infectious, permeating everything he did.

The next time you listen to “Still Crazy After All These Years,” “Just the Way You Are,” “The Girl From Ipanema,” “My Life,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” (or about a billion other songs), think about the man behind the scenes helping massage that song to its ultimate fruition.

Phil will always be considered a gem. He will be missed by the countless individuals whose lives he has touched, whether directly or indirectly through the music and memories he has created. I’m happy to have had a chance to know the man behind the music, and I carry his passion and quest for perfection with me every day.

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