Ludwig Goransson, the Swedish-born composer who won last year’s Oscar for his terrific music for Black Panther, resurfaces with an original score for the new Star Wars series The Mandalorian, which debuted on Disney+ on Nov. 14. Goransson invited me to his comfy, colorful studio for this Variety piece in which he discusses his fresh, unusual but effective musical approach for the series. Producer Jon Favreau chimes in with some behind-the-scenes thoughts on why Goransson was the right composer for the project.
A Los Angeles Times assignment to interview all of the principals associated with the music of Motherless Brooklyn turned out to be irresistible. Director Edward Norton’s detective drama takes place in late 1950s New York, so he enlisted jazz legend Wynton Marsalis as consultant and arranger of the Harlem club standards seen and heard on screen; Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, whose sad song “Daily Battles” plays a key role in the storytelling; and film composer Daniel Pemberton, whose experiments with saxophone riffs, lyrical themes and modern-music sensibility tied it all together in the end.
Every summer, the Hollywood Bowl becomes a showcase for film music — sometimes live-to-picture concerts, sometimes potpourri evenings of classic movie music, always an end-of-summer bash featuring the legendary John Williams. It’s been my pleasure (for more than 20 years now) to provide program notes for many of these evenings, as these concerts often feature music not previously played by the Los Angeles Philharmonic or the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. This year they included notes for “America in Space,” the annual Williams concert, and a live-to-picture presentation of the 1951 classic An American in Paris. The latter was especially fun to research, watch again and write about. Click on the image at left.
Last year, the Television Academy added a music supervision category to its many Emmy craft fields. Then, the newly admitted music supervisors could vote only in that category; this year, they can vote in all seven music categories, including four composition fields, which has many composer members up in arms. Considerable resentment is simmering in the music “peer group” over how the music-supervision issue has been handled, and I tackle this sensitive subject in a new story for Variety.
Every year at this time, Variety asks me to view all of the Emmy nominees in the music categories, interview as many as possible, and write a bit about their accomplishment. It’s gotten more complicated as the years have gone by, as there are now seven categories (music composition for a series, for a miniseries or movie, and for a documentary; songwriting; music direction; main title theme; and music supervision). The chart now covers two pages of the August Music for Screens issue, and is rarely reproduced online. Click on the individual pages (and then zoom in for a closer look at each).
The casting of the new Doctor Who — Jodie Whitaker, who is wonderful as the first female doctor in the 55-year history of the BBC sci-fi serial — demanded a new musical approach, too. Producers recruited Segun Akinola, who holds a slightly different distinction: he’s the first person of color to score Doctor Who. I had a fascinating conversation with him about the joys and challenges of adding his unique voice to the long-running franchise; it appeared in Emmy magazine earlier this year and is now online here.
This year Disney and Pixar have been on a roll, revisiting classics and asking their original composers to return with new music, or refreshed versions of their award-winning music from the past. Music is so critical to our appreciation of these fantastic worlds, and in each case Variety asked me to interview the Oscar-winning musical architects. First, Alan Menken talked about revisiting the songs and score of Aladdin for the live-action remake, and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul discussed writing new lyrics for it. Then Randy Newman discussed returning to the world of Woody & Buzz for the wildly popular Toy Story 4. And finally Hans Zimmer talked at length about returning to the African setting of The Lion King, now redone in an incredibly realistic computer-imagery version, and how diversity in music-making fueled his decisions.
I couldn’t let the 100th anniversary of the birth of Earle Hagen — one of the most important and most successful composers in TV history — pass without a look back at his massive impact on the medium. For this Variety story, I revisited the interviews I did when the Andy Griffith Show and Dick Van Dyke Show composer was posthumously inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2011. Van Dyke, Marlo Thomas from That Girl, and Stacy Keach from Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, all talked about Hagen’s role in setting the time, place and mood of each show. Hagen’s own words; those of fellow Emmy-winning composers Mike Post and protege Bruce Babcock; and YouTube clips of his classic themes, including I Spy and The Mod Squad, are also included.
I knew him as the composer of the themes for The Patty Duke Show and The Trials of O’Brien back in the 1960s — and as the creator of the “Come Alive!” Pepsi Generation jingle sung so memorably by Joanie Sommers in that same era. But Sid Ramin, who died July 1 at the age of 100, was much more than that: He won the Oscar, and a Grammy, for adapting Leonard Bernstein’s music for the West Side Story movie (which he and Irwin Kostal had originally orchestrated for the Broadway show in 1957). He was a triple threat composer, arranger and conductor, and one of the nicest men in music. I wrote this obituary for Variety.
One of the most interesting movie-music assignments of the year fell to composer Daniel Pemberton (Steve Jobs, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), who was recruited by director Danny Boyle to supervise all of the music, on-screen and off, in the romantic comedy Yesterday. There are 25 Beatles songs, heard in part or in their entirety, many of them sung by actor Himesh Patel (who, amusingly, plays a budding singer-songwriter who, in a twist of fate, seems to be the only person in the world who remembers the Beatles and turns his memory of their songs into a smashing new career). Pemberton explains how he went about it in this Variety story.