Every December I review the top 20 “classic soundtrack” albums: expanded reissues, first-time releases of great film music of the past, and re-recordings. This year, for the first time, Variety agreed to publish it. It’s a bounty of great movie music, including four John Williams scores, three by Jerry Goldsmith, more by Dave Grusin and Nino Rota, and two from the new Universal Heritage series. Here is the list, with commentary about each.
I get to do a lot of fun things in my job, but the best part is always getting to listen to the music I love, performed live by top musicians in beautiful settings. On Oct. 13, the New West Symphony performed an evening of music by the great Henry Mancini, with guest vocalists Monica Mancini (the composer’s daughter) and Joshua Henry at the Soraya in Northridge, Calif. I was asked to pen the program notes for the concert, which included such classics as “Moon River,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” The Pink Panther and such TV themes as Peter Gunn and The Thorn Birds.
Each year, for its summertime Music for Screens section, Variety asks me to prepare a chart listing every nominee in all six music categories including a brief description of the music itself, or something relevant to the nomination. It means a lot of TV watching in July and August! And often interviewing the composers, songwriters and music directors about what their jobs were and how they went about the task of writing or supervising the scores of each show. Editors always call it the Emmy “cheat sheet,” although I don’t know if that’s for the voters or the viewers…
The Television Academy announced its nominees for the 70th annual Emmy Awards on July 12. There are now six music categories in the prime-time race. My overview of the music nominees ran that morning in Variety, highlighting the possibility that an Emmy win for songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul could make them EGOTs (having won all four major show-biz awards). For an Aug. 13 story, I interviewed the nominees for Music Composition for a Series (including Game of Thrones, Jessica Jones, Once Upon a Time, SEAL Team, Star Wars Rebels and Westworld). And for an Aug. 14 story, I interviewed the nominees for Music Composition for a Limited Series, Movie or Special (including Alias Grace, Black Mirror, Godless, March of the Penguins 2 and two different episodes of Electric Dreams).
Fans of the Mission: Impossible television series of the 1960s probably know that ABC remade the series (with Peter Graves reprising his famous role of Jim Phelps) in 1988-90. What few seem to remember, however, is that Grammy-winning composer Lalo Schifrin (who created the iconic theme and early scores) returned with three new scores. His then-protege Ron Jones came aboard to write even more music after Schifrin’s departure. La La Land Records has unearthed those scores and it was a joy for me to revisit this material after so many years. Lalo updated his Mission theme to incorporate synthesizers and a heavier beat — well worth a listen.
The Hollywood community was stunned last week by the death of Grammy- and Emmy-winning composer Patrick Williams. Not only among the most talented composer-arrangers of his generation, “Pat” Williams was one of the nicest guys in the business, one of the all-time great big-band leaders and a strong supporter of music education — a rare combination. I was lucky to get to know him over the past 30 years and it’s been hard to say goodbye. I wrote a fact-filled obituary for Variety and a slightly different version for the AFM’s Overture, but I also wrote an appreciation of the man and his music that I think conveys a bit more of who he was and why we all loved him.
Adam Taylor has just finished scoring the second season of the acclaimed, Emmy-winning Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale. I got to attend the final recording session for the season and was sworn to secrecy about the details of those last two episodes — but it was worth it to watch a 27-member string ensemble enhance the drama with their exquisite playing on the Warner Bros. recording stage. What was even more fascinating was interviewing both Taylor and, via email, star-producer Elisabeth Moss about the importance of music in the series. The story ran July 11 in Variety.
One of Hollywood’s greatest studios has launched a long-range program to find, preserve and release some of its previously unreleased film scores. It’s called the “Universal Pictures Film Music Heritage Collection” and launches this week with the first-ever release of the music from Colossus: The Forbin Project. Scores by Henry Mancini, Ennio Morricone, Lalo Schifrin and other top composers will follow. It’s an exciting proposition for us film music fans, and I was pleased to break this story in the pages of Variety.
It’s only a matter of weeks after Oscar season ends that Emmy season begins. I know, it’s hard to believe, but within the industry — especially the many publicists we deal with on a daily basis — the calendar year has become one long awards season. Still, Emmy season is a great way to catch up on the many fine shows that now grace the small screen, and in this first of a series of stories about Emmy-worthy work in music for television, we look at a handful of potential nominees in the series- and limited-series-scoring categories. In this second story, the role of music in current science-fiction series is examined. A third story looks at the music for four of the season’s top limited series, including Howards End and Patrick Melrose. And a fourth story looks at the odds of documentary scores, including The Vietnam War and Blue Planet II, attaining Emmy glory.
Composers John Powell and Germaine Franco took top honors at this week’s ASCAP Screen Music Awards. Powell won the Henry Mancini award for lifetime achievement as a film composer (for such scores as How to Train Your Dragon, The Bourne Identity and Solo: A Star Wars Story), while Franco (songwriter for Coco, currently scoring TV’s Vida) received the Shirley Walker award for contributing to “the diversity of film and television music.” Other honorees included Gordy Haab and Dave Porter; a full rundown of the evening is in my Variety story here.