Seriously. It's funny, I was thinking as I was writing up the new Criterion disc of Peter Yates' 1973 The Friends of Eddie Coyle, that Coyle could actually have been that rarest of things, a perfect movie, had it not been for the overstated and thoroughly dinky electric piano-driven "jazz combo" score by Dave Grusin. As I said in my post on Coyle, it's the sort of thing that gives the electric piano a bad name. (For contrast, check out some of Herbie Hancock's electric-and-electronic instrument-driven early '70s work—records for Warner such as Fat Albert Rotunda, and Columbia albums Sextant and, of course, Head Hunters. They haven't dated at all badly, and the dink factor on any of them is pretty low. Not entirely surprisingly, as Hancock's kind of a genius. But anyway...) The optimal music score for Coyle would be none at all but of course that sort of thing wasn't really kosher even in the putatively permissive Hollywood of the '70s. Still. Fielding, Goldsmith, any guy like that could have produced more appropriate music, and also probably would have had the good sense to churn out less of it. Or, you know, maybe Lalo Schifrin, if the producers wanted a "jazz" score. Or Lennie Neilhaus, who also had the good sense to use true jazz greats for his movie music—that's Art Pepper soloing on the alto sax throughout Eastwood's The Gauntlet.
So the other night I'm watching the new Paramount Blu-ray of Sydney Pollack's 1975 Three Days of the Condor, a film my lovely wife was staggered to learn I had never seen before (hey, you can't see everything), and, chafing at the film's unaccountably jaunty opening theme music ("Isn't this the movie that begins with Redford's character stumbling upon all of his CIA cohorts slaughtered?" thought I), I was soon offered an explanation:
Ugh. Overall, the score for Condor is marginally less egregious that Coyle's, but still not enjoyable. And not to disparage the recently departed Mr. Pollack, who was a man of taste for sure, but his weakness for Grusin was...well, a weakness. An entirely creditable comedy in most respects, Pollack's Tootsie is very nearly sunk by the moments combining Grusin's music and Stephen Bishop's crooning (Belushi really had the right idea when he smashed Bishop's guitar in Animal House). You want more? How about The Goodbye Girl? Yeah. Now you can't get that goddamn song out of your head, can you? I know I can't. And it hurts.
His film music isn't even the worst of Grusin's sins. Here, let Wikipedia fill you in: "Grusin is often thought of as a jazz or smooth jazz artist." You hear that? Smooth jazz. Which is to say, that which is not actually jazz at all, motherfuckers. And another thing: Grusin was the "G" in GRP records, the company that got put in charge of Universal Music Group's jazz catalog in the late '80s. GRP subsequently sat on the most interesting stuff therein (e.g., the entire run from the Impulse! label), instead favoring the work of Acoustic Alchemy, Patti Austin, Al Jarreau. I believe it was my then Stereo Review cohort Steve Simels who told me that the rank and file over at the label regarded much of the COMPLETELY LEGENDARY AND SEMINAL material from that catalog as nothing more than so much noise. In other words, Dave Grusin, however nice a guy he may be or whatever, is still ONE OF THE COCKSUCKERS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE FACT THAT THERE WASN'T A LEGITIMATE CD OF ALBERT AYLER'S MUSIC IS THE HEALING FORCE OF THE UNIVERSE UNTIL TWO THOUSAND FRICKIN' FIVE!!!!!!
Son of a bitch!
I will entertain defenses of Mr. Grusin below.