I am delighted to announce my latest project as producer: the very first authorized soundtrack from the classic 1960s series The Wild Wild West. Many of you will remember the Robert Conrad-Ross Martin series, a kind of “James Bond in the Old West” adventure that aired Friday nights on CBS. Despite its popularity, no recording (even of its memorable theme by Richard Markowitz) was ever issued of this music. La-La Land Records, in the wake of our success with Mission: Impossible, authorized a two-year project involving a search for original musical elements, a massive restoration and eventual creation of a 4-CD box consisting of the excerpts from the 26 best scores over the series’ four seasons. The set even premieres the original recordings of an unused Dimitri Tiomkin theme for the series. Among the other composers represented: Robert Drasnin, Richard Shores, Dave Grusin, Harry Geller, Jack Pleis, Fred Steiner and Walter Scharf.
Over the past eight years, the Film Music Foundation has been interviewing composers and others active in the movie-music business — getting down their life stories, their career anecdotes, their thoughts about this curious profession. I have been privileged to conduct many of these, and the Foundation (as part of its educational initiative) has now made them available online. Visit the website here — but be ready to spend a lot of time there, because most of these interviews are between two and three hours long! So far, I’ve done songwriters Alan and Marilyn Bergman; and composers Bruce Broughton, Bill Conti, Danny Elfman, Dave Grusin, Maurice Jarre, Laurence Rosenthal and Lalo Schifrin. (Others feature such giants as Patrick Doyle, Johnny Mandel, Van Alexander and Richard Sherman.) Three more interviews are scheduled for the first quarter of 2016.
Patrick Williams is one of our finest composers: Oscar nominee, winner of multiple Grammy and Emmy Awards, and veteran big-band leader and arranger (whose Threshold and American Concerto are genuine classics in the field). So it was a special pleasure to visit his Capitol Studios sessions and then pen the notes for his new album, Home Suite Home, now out on the BFM Jazz label. He brought in great soloists (Dave Grusin, Tom Scott, Arturo Sandoval, Peter Erskine, Dan Higgins, etc.) and singers (Patti Austin, Frank Sinatra Jr., Tierney Sutton) and the album is a real treat for jazz fans.
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.
Today was my favorite day in ages: Spending the day at Judie Rosenman’s house interviewing Dave Grusin about his life and career in film and TV music. I’ve loved Grusin’s work since the mid-1960s and it was an honor to delve into both his history and his work process: the TV scores, the Sydney Pollack films, the Oscar for Milagro Beanfield War, you name it, we covered it. All done for the Film Music Foundation, which plans to make these video “oral histories” widely available to the public. (Best part: recalling my favorite of his TV themes, The Name of the Game, and having Dave go over to the piano and play it for me. Oh, man, it doesn’t get better than that.)
This was another favorite assignment. Most of this 5-CD set consists of TV-movie scores composed by some of the greats of the ’60s and ’70s: Lalo Schifrin (Earth II), Dave Grusin (Assignment: Vienna), Leonard Rosenman (The Phantom of Hollywood), Don Ellis (The Deadly Tower), Billy Goldenberg (High Risk), Jerry Fielding (Shirts / Skins) and George Duning (…Then Came Bronson). Throw in a TV-episode score by Johnny Williams (for The Eleventh Hour), George Romanis’ theme for Assignment: Munich and Richard Chamberlain’s vocal from Dr. Kildare and you really do have a potpourri of great TV music from 1962 to 1976. It was especially exciting to revisit Grusin’s three jazzy scores for the short-lived Robert Conrad spy series Assignment: Vienna (part of The Men trilogy on ABC, 1972-73) and Schifrin’s wonderful score for the Earth II pilot of 1971.