By Eli Freund
HARTFORD – When mentioning the name Jack Elliott, more often than not, blank stares appear on countless confused faces. But what Jack Elliott lacks in name cache, he more than makes up for in accolades. An Academy Award nominated Hollywood composer, Elliott grew up in the West Hartford suburbs. This past April, the late composer’s “Foundation for New American Music” donated 350 of commissioned works by a variety of renowned jazz composers to his alma mater — the University of Hartford’s Hartt School of Music.
At th age of six, Elliott began taking piano lessons. “When he took piano, he loved playing jazz, he had a collection of old jazz magazines,” says his younger sister, Paula Homonoff.
Elliott’s family was very involved in the greater Hartford Jewish community where they were members of the original Emanuel Synagogue, then located in Hartford.
Eventually, Elliott found his way to a refuge for struggling Jewish musicians and aspiring actor: a bustling Manhattan. At the time, a young Jew from a small town in America could make it to the top — and that’s exactly what Elliott did.
After playing in various jazz clubs in Manhattan, Elliott got his first break as a musician on the “Judy Garland Show.” It was a stepping-stone to a long and storied career in Hollywood. From there, he eventually went on to the “Andy Williams Show” and then created easily recognizable themes for shows such as “Starsky and Hutch” and “Love Boat.” One of his greatest accomplishments was his 30-year stint as musical director of the Grammys.
When Elliott died of a brain tumor in 2001, Hollywood lost one of its great musical geniuses. However, the legacy he left behind — the imprints of his work — can still be seen throughout the entertainment industry.
Now, the donation of so many commissioned works to the Hartt School will ensure that his imprint continues to spread posthumously. Jack Flagg, Dean of the Hartt School, was ecstatic when learning about the donation: “This unique collection of symphonic jazz music not only contains works by film, jazz and television composers such as John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Ray Brown, Oliver Nelson, and Bill Holman, it also celebrates the coming together of diverse musical styles and people for the love of music that is quintessentially America,” Flagg told the Ledger. “Through performance, recordings and digitalization of these scores, faculty and students of The Hartt School will be able to enrich their research and education for generations to come. Since so many graduates of Hartt performed this very music under Jack’s baton in Hollywood, it is especially fitting that Jack’s commitment to creating opportunities for this music to be heard lives on at his alma mater. For the Hartt School and the University of Hartford, this project is a perfect opportunity for our Composition Department, Orchestral Program, the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz, and the Music Production and Technology department. This work models the cross-disciplinary collaboration that is essential for all 21st century performing artists.”
From his roots as a small Jewish boy from West Hartford, Elliott carved a niche for himself in the entertainment industry. His impact on the world of music is still felt today. Every time you whistle the theme to “Love Boat,” or are watching an episode of “Starsky and Hutch,” remember the name Jack Elliott, because his heart and soul went into every note.