One of the most intriguing musical assignments of Wynton Marsalis’ career had to be scoring the music for Bolden, the dramatization of jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden’s career around the turn of the last century. No recordings of his music exists, so Marsalis essentially invented it with the help of director Dan Pritzker. He ultimately wrote 18 songs for Bolden’s ensemble, then recorded 10 more appropriate for Louis Armstrong’s 1930s band. I interviewed composer and director for this Variety story.
It seems like the whole world is gearing up for the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones, the fantasy series that returns to HBO on April 14. In anticipation of this, I interviewed Ramin Djawadi — who won his first Emmy last year for his music for the final episode of the seventh season — about his history with the show. For this Variety story, he talks briefly (without spoilers) about working on the final season, about what the journey has been like (including a world tour with live orchestras playing the music) and what his top five musical moments in the series have been. Game of Thrones, you’ll not be surprised to learn, has changed his life.
Composer Benjamin Wallfisch — recently Grammy-nominated for his contributions to the Hidden Figures and Blade Runner 2049 soundtracks — has no fewer than three major projects being released in April: feature film scores for Shazam! (a big symphonic approach for the comic-book adaptation), Hellboy (a punk-infused score for the reboot) and Hostile Planet (a six-hour nature documentary for National Geographic). London-born, thoroughly trained in the classical world but relatively new on the Hollywood scene, he talks about his life and recent career in this story for Variety. And Hans Zimmer talks about their collaborations in this second story from the same issue.
His music was an integral part of our young lives, a Christmas tradition in many households — watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town and so many other holiday specials: Maury Laws was the unsung musical genius behind them all. As musical director for Rankin-Bass, the animation company that produced all of those shows (not to mention The Hobbit and Wind in the Willows), Laws was responsible for arranging the songs he didn’t write (as in Rudolph) and composing many of the songs in subsequent specials. He even earned a Grammy nomination for The Hobbit. Laws gave few interviews but, in later years, seemed genuinely surprised and grateful for the attention. He died on Thursday in Wisconsin; here is my obituary for Variety.
More than three decades later, composer Danny Elfman is still putting music to the films of Tim Burton. They’ve done everything from Batman to Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas to Alice in Wonderland. And now they’ve returned again to the Disney fold with a live-action remake of the 1941 classic Dumbo. Elfman’s musical journey took surprising turns, involving excerpts from the Oscar-nominated score for the animated original and writing all the circus music for the background of Danny De Vito’s small-town carnival. Here is my story for Variety.
A trend in journalism is generally defined by three or more happenings in the same field. So when I discovered that James Newton Howard (The Hunger Games) had written a cello concerto, Danny Elfman (Alice in Wonderland) a violin concerto and George S. Clinton (the Austin Powers movies) another violin concerto, I thought “here’s a trend” and decided to write a story. In fact, I discovered at least half a dozen concert works by composers generally known for their film music are getting premieres in the next six months — and that more than a half-dozen others had debuted in the past year, with still more on the way. It’s not just John Williams, it’s Michael Giacchino and John Powell and Bruce Broughton and Jeff Beal and many others. Here is that story for Variety.
Wow, two great Variety assignments in a row! First, writing about the year’s first stunning score, John Powell’s How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. And now, the chance to preview Pinar Toprak’s memorable music for Captain Marvel, which opens Friday. It’s a landmark moment not only because Toprak is the first woman to score a Marvel film, but its likely box-office success will shine new light on the unfortunate statistics about gender bias in film scoring. And the film’s huge opening weekend instantly made her the most successful female composer, box-office-wise, in American movie history. I used that statistic as a jumping-off point for a discussion of what this may mean for other women in film music.
John Powell’s music for How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is the first genuinely great score of 2019. I found it a stunning, unexpectedly emotional experience, and so asked for time with both Powell and director Dean DeBlois to explore their process and learn about the creation of the music. This, of course, is the finale of the Dragon trilogy; Powell was Oscar-nominated for the first film in 2010 and then penned an equally fine score for the second film in 2014. As you will see in this Variety story, the third film demanded a 98-piece orchestra and 60-voice choir.
The 91st Academy Awards are in the books at last. It was a joy to report on composer Ludwig Goransson’s victory in the original-score category, more than a year after I first called attention to his African-infused music for Black Panther in the pages of Variety. In the days leading up to the awards, we also broke the news about Alexandre Desplat’s inability to attend (recuperating from throat surgery) and about Bette Midler performing Marc Shaiman’s moving song “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from Mary Poppins Returns. My story about Sunday’s Oscarcast also discusses the L.A. Philharmonic’s performance of a touching John Williams piece from Superman (an Oscar nominee 40 years ago!) for the “In Memoriam” segment.
On January 24th, we at Variety received word that the Oscar producers had decided to perform only two of the five Best Song nominees on the show (Lady Gaga’s “Shallow” and Kendrick Lamar’s “All the Stars,” by the two most popular recording artists). Within an hour, I had three other solid sources confirming this, so that afternoon we broke the story. (It was the lead story on Variety‘s front page for nearly a day.) The Academy denied it, of course, but the backlash was immediate and the Twitterverse blew up over it. Producers were forced to retrench, and one week later, artists from the other three songs were invited to perform. And in our most recent exclusive, we broke the news that Bette Midler would perform the nominated song from Mary Poppins Returns on the show.