One of my favorite pastimes as a kid, and still is as an adult, was watching TV and going to movie theaters.
While the aroma of buttered popcorn (microwave at home) and an ice cold cup of soda go hand in hand with movies in my book (add some chocolate candy to the mix, too), the main thing that has always captivated me was the music!
Think about it-regardless of how great the special effects, action scenes, moments full of drama and on-the-edge-of-your-seat tension are, without the integrated music, it just wouldn’t be the same. While music of all genres plays a huge roll in propelling films and TV shows, my focus here will be none other than jazz.
So, what is a score? The common misconception about film scores is that they are songs used in a film. Soundtracks are pre-recorded songs chosen for integration into the film. A score, on the other hand, is music that is composed and orchestrated specifically for that particular film.
A film score has a number of functions in a film and are normally dictated by the film’s director. One of the main functions of a film score is its ability to evoke an emotional response from the viewer as he/she is watching a film. It assists in intensifying the pace of the film.
There are many great composers of jazz music who have put there musical stamp on numerous TV shows and films via scores, but the two who stand out for me are Dave Grusin and Lalo Schifrin (another very cool name in my book!). Some of you may not know them by name, but you have almost certainly heard their music on both the small and big screen. Submitted for your approval are the following video clips:
Dave Grusin absolutely killed the piano on the score for The Firm!
And Lalo Schifrin’s Mission: Impossible theme may be the most recognizable on the planet! Here are some others that may not be as familiar to the readers (unless you are, like me, being recruited by the AARP):
(I love this theme!!!)
One of the best definitions that I have heard for music is from a former musical director and mentor, George Turpeau. “Music is an art, based on science, using organized sounds as a means of expression.” I’ve often wondered why TV and film scores have the effect that they do on the audience. Let’s hear what Messrs. Grusin and Schifrin have to say. According to Grusin, “How you respond to a Mahler symphony will certainly differ from your reaction to a Donna Summer record, but in both cases, something happens to you. You may not even be aware of it.
What we try to accomplish in film scoring is to channel those responses in an organized way, so that the audience can be moved in one direction or another without actually knowing why. That’s the most functional use of film music.”
As for Schifrin’s point of view, “Ideas for film scores come from the screen. Most of the time the images dictate the sound and quality of the music. The main thing is to get the emotion of audience without any story.”
From where I sit, jazz scores are effective in TV and film because jazz has always had an aura of “coolness”. When I was growing up, jazz was considered sophisticated music. If you were really cool, wanted to be cool or wanted other people to think that you were cool, you listened to jazz. Likewise, when a character or scene in a film is supposed to impart to the viewer an atmosphere of composure in the heat of battle, a jazz score is the ticket!
Look for more articles to come on the use of jazz scores in TV and film. Stay tuned and above all else… stay cool!
Lights, camera, action-cue jazz music!
Dave Grusin Archive (http://www.grusin.net)
The Official Website of Lalo Schifrin (http://www.schifrin.com/main.htm)
Film Score Monthly (http://www.filmscoremonthly.com)