Melissa Rose Bernardo
December 03, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST

At 15, Cy Coleman was a New York City nightclub pianist. At 75, just weeks before his Nov. 18 death of heart failure, he was still crooning at a piano, at Feinstein’s in NYC’s Regency Hotel. This time, though, he was singing his own well-known tunes — including one made famous by Sinatra, ”Witchcraft.” ”He was just an old-school, Tin Pan Alley jazz musician,” says James Naughton, a frequent star of Coleman’s shows (like 1989’s City of Angels). Perhaps, but that old-school musician earned three Tonys, two Grammys, three Emmys, and an Oscar nod for composing some of Broadway’s greatest melodies, including ”Big Spender,” from his signature show, 1966’s Sweet Charity. He also wrote the scores for 1960’s Wildcat, 1980’s Barnum, 1991’s The Will Rogers Follies, and1997’s The Life.

At the time of his death, Coleman was working with Neil Simon on a revival of Charity, and with playwright Wendy Wasserstein on Pamela’s First Musical. ”If you saw him walking down the street,” says Naughton, ”you could see notes coming out of his head. He lived and breathed music.”

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