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May 09, 2009


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Larry Aydlette

I also reading once that the only problem with BAKER BOYS is that when Jeff Bridges aspires to be a true, bop-driven jazz pianist, playing from his soul, the music he's playing is the soulless rhythms of Dave Grusin. That observation about the film has always stuck with me. Well, that and Michelle, of course.

Glenn Kenny

@Larry: I thought "Condor" was, as they say, very good of its sort, although I was brought up a little short by its (not entirely unexpected, given the star) detour into celebration-of-the-whistleblower territory at the end. I appreciate the sentiment, but I never much dug message movies...

greg mottola

if nothing else, you've inspired me to listen to some art pepper and lennie niehaus

greg mottola

I'd like to hear your thoughts, Glenn, on movies that have used jazz scores to great effect. The obvious ones "Lift To The Scaffold", "Sweet Smell of Success", "Anatomy of a Murder" ... okay, I know there's a ton more, but I'm too tired to think... For light jazzy scores, I'm a sucker for John Barry ("The Knack", for instance)

Glenn Kenny

@ Greg: I think Herbie's score for "Blow-Up" is pretty sharp, albeit sparsely used by Antonioni; I haven't revisited the notorious "Death Wish" in a while, but as I'm in the middle of a Herbie-can-do-no-wrong phase I imagine I'd not find it objectionable. Obviously films with a musical backdrop often use jazz well, as in Ritt's "Paris Blues" and Tavernier's "Round Midnight." The French LOVE jazz scores—see Vadim's "Dangerous Liasons '60," with music, and featuring an appearance by, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. (Way back in the day, Keith Jarrett borrowed my laser disc of that picture via my mom's proxy—she managed a video store up his way, and they were friendly.) Ron Carter did an excellent (albeit unidiomatic) score for Tavernier's "The Passion of Beatrice" right after "Midnight;" he also scored the 1971 adaptation of Paula Fox's "Desperate Characters," directed by Frank Gilroy (Tony's father!).

Do not miss the Jack Nitzsche-produced score for Dennis Hopper's ultra-trashy "The Hot Spot," which teams Miles with John Lee Hooker. A fantastic piece of music.

Anyone else have some suggestions?

greg mottola

I've never seen Vadim's "Dangerous Liaisons", but I have the soundtrack, which is great. I believe that the excellent Barney Wilen guests with the Jazz Messengers? Tthe score to Cassavetes "Shadows", which I think was supposed to be Mingus, is still an evocative jazz score. There are certainly a lot of classic scores with jazz elements...


Great thread! Even though I haven't seen it in sometime, "The Pawnbroker" with the Quincy Jones score was evocative of the frenzy the Rod Steiger character was going through. Also, Miles work on Malle's "Elevator to the Gallows" is memorable for how well that form of music worked for French films at the time.

Herman Scobie

Am disappointed that Glenn didn't care more for Condor, one of my favorite films. Seeing it when it was released may account for my high opinion. It perfectly captures the paranoia of the Vietnam-Watergate era. It's too entertaining to be dismissed as simply a message movie. And then there's Max's greatest non-Bergman performance.

Cannot defend Grusin's oeuvre. No one's dared to mention that obscenity that is One Golden Pond. Yet he is trying to do something right in Condor. The occasional dissonance underscores Redford's fears. He keeps cutting between lighter and darker tones to show Dunaway's uncertainty about whether to trust/love Redford. There is a big difference, though, between intention and execution.

Dude got his start as Andy Williams' accompanist/bandleader: a case of the bland leading the bland.


MICKY ONE by Stan Getz is sweet for such a sour movie. And Barry's score for THE KNACK is my favorite outside his Bond work. His scores for 1965 all had that jazzy, cool organ vibe.


If nobody's mentioned it, I can't believe I actually said jazz doesn't work for film scores because "Get Carter" (no, the GOOD one!) has a great jazz score. The Internet makes fools of us all. Usually me.


I was going to bring up GET CARTER, but Budd's stuff falls between the jazz and pop zone...

Also, Dave Gruisin did do the incidental music for THE GRADUATE, and nailed the plastic muzak backdrop perfectly, which was probably Nichol's intention...


Others seem to hate it, but I've always been awfully fond of Quincy Jones's score for Anthony Mann and Laurence Harvey's A DANDY IN ASPIC. (Which btw is an underrated movie, too.)


Although not one of my favorite composers, I do love his work for Polonsky's "Tell Them Willie Boy is Here".


@Christian: I also admire the MICKEY ONE score. But it's worth noting that Getz' work consists of bravura sax solos and improvs in the context of Eddie Sauter's score; It's a unique collaboration. [As the soundtrack lp liner notes put it, "Stan Getz IS Mickey One!"]

I think Robert is right -- Grusin's score for the Polonsky film is pretty good.

Don Ellis' "jazz-tonal" scores for the FRENCH CONNECTION films and THE SEVEN-UPS still hold up pretty well.


Say, Glenn...

"...Lennie Neihaus, 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'."

Yes, It's Pepper on the GAUNTLET soundtrack, but Jerry Fielding composed and conducted the film's musical score.

Ellen Kirby

NAKED LUNCH had some nice stuff in it. Ornette!

Glenn Kenny

Right as usual, Griff—while Neilhaus and Eastwood have gone together like pancakes and syrup since the '80s, it would not do to slight the ever-fantastic Mr. Fielding and his '77 score.

How could I have forgotten the late, great Don Ellis. His music is used very sparsely in "FC," but to great effect. (Friedkin was always pretty sharp about music. I daresay Richard Branson owes Friedkin a share of the Virgin empire—it's quite doubtful that "Tubular Bells," the record that made Branson's label, would have been such a hit had Friedkin not lifted the then obscure piece for "The Exorcist," which also features George Crumb's work. And Friedkin hired Tangerine Dream before they got all wimpy.) Ellis' still sui generis "Electric Bath" was one of the first jazz records I ever got into, courtesy of a very hip high school teacher back in the day. Think I'll crank it on my iPod for my trip out today...

Benjamin Russell

Interesting, I'd forgotten that Grusin did BAKER BOYS, because I came rushing here to defend his honor... only to find I was thinking of Mark Isham instead. However, since I'm here, I will take the time to back up Chris B.'s point that BAKER BOYS works quite well within the context of the film itself, and even as a soundtrack album if one has the film and specific scenes and their component emotions in mind while listening to it. However, at a few years remove, I found the soundtrack almost unlistenable on its own. The contrast between the jazz classics that were part of the soundtrack and the smoove jazz that was the score was too jaunty and too jarring.

Tony Dayoub


I love all the scores you mentioned (especially Don Ellis'), but does anyone out there love David Shire's score for The Taking of Pelham One Two Three as much as I do?


I love The Hot Spot score. Used to have it on cassette tape back in the day. Can't find it on CD, though. Know where I could get it?

Glenn Kenny

Tony: right here, my friend:


A nice price, and it's in stock!

I really ought to install one of those Amazon kickback widgets, huh?

Steven Santos

@Tony Dayoub: I love David Shire's score for "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three", probably my favorite score of his. It's a score with a pulse right from the opening credits to how it plays out from the famous final shot.

If there was ever a movie to be studied for how cinematography, editing and music can set a brisk pace without it being overdone (like I'm sure Tony Scott's unnecessary remake will), it's "Pelham".

The soundtrack is surprisingly available on iTunes.

Tony Dayoub


Thanks, man. And I had forgotten Taj Mahal is on it, too.

@Steven Santos,

Pelham is a perfect movie in many respects that fit in with Glenn's measure of The Friends of Eddie Coyle. And it's directed by Joseph Sargent, who - the reinvigorated Trekkie in me must point out - directed the first episode of Trek to have the crew we're familiar with (McCoy, Uhura, Rand being late additions to the mix).


Sargent had a nice low key early 70's run, particularly the smart, underrated COLOSUSS: THE FORBIN PROJECT only available in a ridiculous pan-and-scan DVD version.

Tom Russell

God, PELHAM is a great movie. Some of it hasn't aged well-- those subway passengers aren't just broad stereotypes, they're Broad Seventies Stereotypes-- but the acting/direction/pacing/music is superb.

The remake does look pretty awful-- John Travolta, really? And Denzel Washington? What?


And is there any way for the remake to improve on that fantastic final shot? Ahhh, where are the Matthaus of yesterday?


I saw "Taking" in about the worst way possible, on Hulu with ads and it's still a gripping and fun feature. I love how half the movie is middle-aged overweight men delivering rants that are equal parts profanity and technical jargon. And, of course, the score is great. I'm kind of glad the heavy-brass sound of the '70s is retired, but on some pictures of the time, it really works.

Oh, and Mr. Santos? Thanks for the heads-up. I didn't think to look there and had been trying to find it on CD.

giles edwards

French jazz lovers should take an ear-gander at the score for Johnny To's new picture "Sparrow". Completely sublime. Great picture too.

The earliest parts of Horner's "Aliens" score accompanying Ripely's ship through space are indeed lovely. They're also from Aram Khachaturian's "Gayane" ballet. Used in "2001" as well.

"Brainstorm" of Horner's I really, really like.

James Keepnews

Yeah, Grusin's a hack and Ayler's catalog took its own sweet time being made available, but GRP did release BOTH versions of Ascension in the mid-90's. And Om. And Kulu Se Mama. And Pharaoh's Tauhid. And...I think you get the point. These are not exactly the smooth jazz hits of the latter-half of the 20th century, and GRP doubtless had far more lucrative things it could (and did) release in the same time period.

As for Herbert Hancock (dig that credit from Blow-up!), surprised to see no mention of his soundtrack for Ivan Dixon's The Spook who Sat By the Door, featuring Hancock and his Mwandishi fellow explorers. (Random, but related: The Herbie cover story in a recent issue of waxpoetics details the Mwandishi band specifically -- apparently, in that week before Spook was pulled from theaters, Hancock and band were on tour and went to see a screening in Philly. Who should they see on line but Sun Ra and his band!)

Glenn Kenny

Cool story, James. And of course do understand that my rant about GRP was at least partially tongue-in-cheek. I loved that they re-issued Ascension, with both takes and all.

Speaking of Sun Ra and the Mwandishi band, I hear that trombonist Julian Priester makes an appearance on the new album from black-robed drone metallists Sunn 0))). Heavy!

James Keepnews

Julian Priester + Sunn0))???!?!!! That. Is. Insane!!! What, Roswell Rudd was off playing Dixieland somewheres and couldn't make the session? George Lewis thought they weren't heavy enough for him?? (They probably aren't...) I'll now be looking for J.J. Johnson to sit in with Comets on Fire...

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