Dean Pitchford, a multihyphenate tunesmith and screenwriter, has experience on the awards show circuit. He won an Oscar for original song ("Fame") and he's been nommed for two more. He's been up for a Tony (for the tuner rendition of "Footloose"; he also wrote the screenplay for the 1984 pic), and nommed for multiple Grammy Awards.
This year he's going through the Grammy festivities all over again, but he's nommed in a category that he never dreamed he'd compete in -- children's spoken word album -- and for a project that has a significance to Pitchford unlike anything else he's ever written.
Pitchford's life changed seven and a half years ago when his younger sister, Patricia Colodner, died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. He had been a devoted uncle to his sister's two children, Colby, who was 9 at the time of her mother's death, and Jordan, who was 2, but amid the unspeakable trauma of losing their mother, the bonds between Pitchford and his niece and nephew grew immeasurably stronger.
Pitchford made a point of writing letters to Colby and Jordan whenever they were apart for long periods. That correspondence eventually mixed it up inside Pitchford's brain with a screenplay idea that he'd kept in his back pocket for years about a kid's experience turning 10 -- or"The Big One-Oh." But instead of a movie, Pitchford realized that he'd actually already started writing a children's book.
The young adult titlewas published by Putnam Juvenile in 2007. The audiobook version, recorded by Pitchford, was released last year by Random House and earned him his fifth career Grammy nom. (His competish includes Gwenyth Paltrow and Tony Shalhoub.)
"I would have never wandered into this arena unless I had such a strong urge to connect with them," Pitchford says.
Now, what started as a career tangent to help with the grieving process has become Pitchford's primary focus. He's got a deal with Putnam to write another young adult book, "Captain Nobody," about an 11-year-old boy who inadvertently becomes a hero after years of being overshadowed by his superstar older brother. And he's working on the concept for novel No. 3, which will be youth-oriented but aimed at a slightly older reader.
Given the trials that the music biz is enduring, Pitchford is happy to have segued into books, though he can't say no when friends like Johnny Mathis and Barbra Streisand ask for his help with an album cut every now and then.
Going through the pre-Grammy circuit this week has reinforced how much his focus has changed in the past few years, as he's had a chance to take a hard look at "what's left of the music business" and, on happier note, run into a host of old friends and colleagues.
"I still get a kick out of it, but (music) seems like a difference world now," Pitchford says.
Sunday night update: Them's the breaks. The Grammy for spoken word album for children went to Bill Harley for "Yes to Running!"