Unexpected, and very sad: The death of Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Grammy winner Marvin Hamlisch. Anyone who knew Marvin couldn’t help but smile at his energy, creativity and sense of humor. To this day I still have his cell phone number on a Post-It next to my desk. He was so kind, giving me all the time I needed while writing the Spy Who Loved Me chapter in my Bond book; and he really liked what I had written about his clever, should-have-been-nominated score for The Informant! Here is the obituary, and here is an appreciation of Marvin’s music that I was happy to write for Variety.
BMI asked me to write a piece acknowledging the celebrated film composer’s 80th birthday. Here it is. I drew on interviews that I had done over the previous months, for Classical KUSC and Variety, for some of the quotes.
To coincide with the release of Battleship, Variety asked me to interview Steve Jablonsky, whose Transformers music transformed him into one of the most bankable composers in the business. He’s quiet and self-effacing. The main story explains how he got there and has quotes from Hans Zimmer and Michael Bay. This one looks specifically at Battleship; another, my favorite, looks at the music of Desperate Housewives; another examines his music for video games.
When I learned that Universal was renaming one of its streets after Stanley Wilson, I jumped at the opportunity to write about it — and composers John Williams, Lalo Schifrin, Quincy Jones and Dave Grusin all immediately agreed to talk with me about him. That’s because he helped launch all of their careers at Revue/Universal TV in the late 1950s and 1960s.
Wilson is an unsung hero in the film/TV music business. Anyone who grew up in the 1960s will remember seeing “Music Supervision… Stanley Wilson” at the end of practically every show that came out of Universal City. And sharp-eyed jazz fans will recall seeing his name as conductor or producer on albums by Benny Carter and Quincy Jones. He was a great man who deserves to be remembered. In 2001 I wrote a 52-page biography of him for The Film Music Society’s Cue Sheet (available here) and it’s still among my proudest accomplishments.
The Simpsons has set so many records that it’s becoming hard to keep track. One of those, a little-known one — maybe because I’m the only writer who has ever actually noticed — is that composer Alf Clausen’s 500 scores for the series constitutes a record for total original scores written by a single composer for any prime-time series in the history of American television. I’ve visited Alf’s recording sessions on a number of occasions. Here is a Variety story about him scoring the 500th episode; there’s one from 1998, when I witnessed the recording of the 200th episode; and here’s one from 2007, about scoring the 400th episode. The latter two offer a lot of detail about how the process works and why Alf has been so successful at it all these years.
David Arnold is, without a doubt, one of the most fun composers in movies. He has a wicked, often dry wit — and yet takes his job very seriously. His five James Bond scores (from Tomorrow Never Dies to Quantum of Solace) took the series in new musical directions while maintaining a stylistic link with the classic John Barry scores of old. He was exceedingly generous during the writing of my Bond music book, giving me an entire day to discuss his music (and this was the morning after his stellar performance at Barry’s memorial concert in London). Here is a story I wrote in the aftermath of his acceptance of BMI’s highest award, when he was preparing to be musical director for the closing ceremonies of the London Olympics. And here is another, from 2002, that I wrote for BMI about his third 007 score, Die Another Day.
This was another in a series of composer profiles I’ve recently done for Variety. Chris Beck is one of those guys who has paid his dues, come up through the ranks and emerged as one of our most versatile composers (just contrast The Hangover with The Muppets). I talked to Chris, and several of his admiring directors, for the main story; visited the scoring stage for The Muppets; talked to him about working in TV, notably on Buffy the Vampire Slayer; and asked him to comment on 10 of his most interesting assignments.
This was a tough one to write. I was in South Carolina, visiting my dying brother, when word came that John Barry had died of a massive heart attack. I knew the career so well — and we had been friends for over 20 years — that I was able to write it in my hotel room before getting on a plane to head home. Two days later I wrote this appreciation of the man, and five months later I wrote about his memorial concert in London.
I’ve written a number of pieces about Giacchino over the years but this was one of my favorites. Another in Variety‘s series of “Billion Dollar Composer” sections, it offered a chance to place his career in a bigger context; the main story recounts his own background and sprinkles in quotes from directors J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird (and adds 10 favorite career moments as chosen by the composer). There are sidebars about scoring video games and theme-park rides, and a really fun piece in which frequent collaborators Abrams, Matt Reeves and Damon Lindelof talk about his contributions to their films and TV shows. Incidentally, here is a 2009 Variety story focused specifically on his music for Lost and my 2011 visit to the scoring stage for Giacchino’s Super 8 (when Steven Spielberg happened to show up).