Cy Coleman, who composed the ebullient musical scores of such Broadway hits as "Sweet Charity," "On the Twentieth Century," "The Will Rogers Follies" and "City of Angels," died Nov. 18 of a heart ailment in New York, after attending an opening night party for the Broadway show "Democracy." He was 75 and lived in Manhattan.
For more than 50 years, Mr. Coleman's bouncy, jazz-inflected music enlivened and sometimes shaped the shows in which they appeared. He collaborated with some of the Great White Way's most celebrated songwriters, including Dorothy Fields, Carolyn Leigh, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
Many of Mr. Coleman's songs, such as the pop standards "Witchcraft," "Hey, Look Me Over," "The Rules of the Road" and "The Best Is Yet to Come," were recorded by Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett, Nat "King" Cole, Barbra Streisand and other singing greats. He continued to write music and, as recently as last month, led a piano trio at a New York nightclub.
One of the last of the traditional show-tune composers schooled in the classics and jazz, Mr. Coleman wrote in a style that predated the arrival of rock-and-roll. He was a superb pianist, and his music reflected his flair for jazz -- by turns sassy, insinuating, elegant and seductive. He prided himself on writing melodies that the audience could hum on the way out of the theater.
"I like to have fun and try to be witty, including private jokes," Mr. Coleman told a Texas newspaper in 1994, describing his composing style. "But you can't force it. If it doesn't come naturally, you try too hard to be funny, and the audience can tell."
His masterpiece may well be "City of Angels," which won a Tony Award for best musical score in 1990 and was the first hit Broadway musical with a score built exclusively on jazz. Newsweek critic Jack Kroll wrote that the musical's "key element is Cy Coleman's appealing score, which swings and bops with an easy, melodic grace that conceals an intricate mastery."
Mr. Coleman also won Tony Awards for "On the Twentieth Century" (1978) and "The Will Rogers Follies" (1991). In addition, he garnered three Emmys, two Grammy Awards and an Academy Award nomination. He recorded more than a dozen albums and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1981.
Once asked for the secret of his songwriting, Mr. Coleman said, "You know what the trick is? My whole theory is, and always has been, to just keep on writing."
He was born Seymour Kaufman on June 14, 1929, in the Bronx, N.Y. His family owned two apartment buildings in the Bronx, and at the age of 4, Mr. Coleman discovered a piano left behind by a tenant. Annoyed by his son's playing, his father, a carpenter, nailed the piano shut. Mr. Coleman pried the keyboard cover off and continued to play.
He was a child prodigy who made his precocious debut at Carnegie Hall before he was 9. By the time he graduated from the New York College of Music in 1948, he had turned away from his classical training and was performing in hotels and jazz clubs in New York and Chicago. He played for several early television shows, appeared with Ella Fitzgerald and jazz saxophonist Illinois Jacquet and briefly had a nightclub -- "Never run your own jazz club unless your mother is behind the till," he later said -- but by the early 1950s, he had turned primarily to songwriting.
A chance meeting led to his early partnership with Leigh, whose urbane lyrics were a good fit for Mr. Coleman's catchy melodies. Together, they wrote such sophisticated songs as "Why Try to Change Me Now?" (1952) "Witchcraft" (recorded in 1957 by Frank Sinatra) and "The Best Is Yet to Come" (1959). By coincidence, Tony Bennett performed "The Best Is Yet to Come" on NBC's "Today" show yesterday. Those were also the words chiseled on Sinatra's tombstone.
Mr. Coleman's first Broadway show with Leigh, "Wildcat," produced in 1960 and starring Lucille Ball, featured the show-stopping "Hey, Look Me Over." The two also worked together on "Little Me" (1962), a vehicle for Sid Caesar. But after some "legendary fights," in Mr. Coleman's words, he found a new collaborator in 1964, when he met Fields, who had written the words for "A Fine Romance," "The Way You Look Tonight" and other songs from Broadway's golden age.
Mr. Coleman brought her out of semi-retirement to write lyrics for "Sweet Charity," which included the songs "Big Spender" -- a hit for Peggy Lee -- and "If My Friends Could See Me Now."
They worked again on "Seesaw" (1973), and Mr. Coleman later wrote scores for the Broadway musicals "I Love My Wife" and "Barnum," as well as the films "Father Goose," "The Heartbreak Kid," "The Art of Love" and "Garbo Talks." His final Broadway show, "The Life," was produced in 1997, but he continued to write music. His "Portraits in Jazz" premiered at the Kennedy Center in 2002, and a new play, "The Great Ostrovsky," opened in Philadelphia this year.
"Retirement? It won't work for me," Mr. Coleman told the New York Times last month while performing at a New York club with his trio. "I'm lucky to be in a profession where you can keep getting better. When you can play piano as well as I do, and I can say this unabashedly, you don't like people not to be able to hear you."
Survivors include his wife, Shelby Coleman; a daughter, Lily Cye; and two sisters.