Thursday, October 1, 2020

Crime and Spy Jazz on Screen Since 1971 - Derrick Bang

 © Copyright ® Derrick Bang, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Elmer Bernstein's aggressive, jazz-laden score for 1955's The Man with the Golden Arm triggered the soundtrack world's first tectonic shift; Henry Mancini struck next, with his swinging scores for television's Peter Gunn. Four years after that, John Barry's brass-heavy cues for James Bond similarly shook our senses. By the mid-1960s — back on the tube — the secret agents on I Spy, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and numerous other imitators grooved to equally dynamic jazz cues from upstart "youngsters" such as Lalo Schifrin, Dave Grusin, Quincy Jones and Earle Hagen.

Action jazz fans' cups had runneth over for a decade. Could some other as-yet unknown jolt the soundtrack world again, in an unexpected way?

Absolutely. As the new decade dawned, a fresh name was on everybody's lips, thanks to the explosive rise of an entirely new film genre.”

- Derrick Bang, “Chapter 1: Do Your Thing: 1971”

“Lalo Schifrin gave an enlightening response, when asked to describe the difference between scoring a feature film versus a television episode.

‘If you write a letter to some relative, about a trip to Hawaii, you can write many things, all the details. [But] if you have to send a cable, you have to make it concise: reduce it to a minimum, and say as much as you can. Television [scoring] is like a telegram.’

As had been true for the past decade, Schifrin once again worked both ends of that spectrum this year.”

- Derrick Bang, “Chapter 6: God's Lonely Man: 1976”

“Call it accident, serendipity, deliberate planning or merely ironic. Just as Hollywood was losing interest in traditional instrumental film and television music, a new business model began to "rescue" and breathe new life into older, often neglected scores. Intrada, founded in 1985 and based in Oakland, California, became the first in a small wave of special-interest labels devoted to resurrecting, remastering and often expanding vintage film scores, many of which hadn't yet been issued digitally. Longtime soundtrack collectors, increasingly tired of being ignored by major labels, enthusiastically embraced this development. …

Intrada was followed by Film Score Magazine/Monthly (FSM), which released 250 richly varied titles between 1996 and 2013, when the label ceased production. Much of this book’s contents wouldn't have been possible without the efforts of Intrada, FSM and—in their wake—Screen Archives Entertainment, La-La Land, Kritzerland, Quartet (in Spain) and numerous other small tiffany labels, all of which continue to produce impeccably remastered scores generally accompanied by meticulously researched and detailed liner cotes. One need only examine this book's discography to appreciate the welcome impact these companies have made.

Although new jazz scores were increasingly scarce, it became much easier to obtain beloved vintage film and television music.”

- Derrick Bang, “Chapter 11: Freshly Squeezed: 1990-94”

For those of us who lived through it, reading the second volume of Derrick Bang’s insightful and interesting Crime and Spy Jazz on Screen Since 1971: A History and Discography [MacFarland 2020] evokes a feeling of sadness because we realize that the period it covers marks the end of an era.

No longer would musicians gather in a recording studio on a regular basis to perform and record various styles of Jazz composed to underscore and express the full range of emotions on display in films and television programs with crime and spy themes.

As the decades after 1971 came and went, Jazz, to the extent that it was performed at all as an accompaniment to these dramatic crime and spy films and TV shows, was “made,” first by using more and more electronic instruments which could produce a greater variety of “textures” thereby requiring fewer musicians and then ultimately by synthesizers which eliminated both the composed scores and the musicians who performed them.

In their place came - if the viewer was lucky - perhaps eight bars of composed music to serve as an opening theme - followed by a series of flatulent pops, eerie squeals and droning hums that are sustained for interminable periods of time to cause tension, jittery feelings and induce an aura of dread.

But things and times change and Derrick’s second volume is more than a journey through nostalgia. It’s a handy guide for those who want to relive 

Crime and Spy Jazz on Screen Since 1971, as well as, a roadmap for those who’ve yet to make the trip. For both, each page is filled with who, what, when, where, and why “information booths” that Derrick has created about domestic and international TV series to help enrich the trip.

The added bonus in all of this is that not only is this a well-told story but it is written in such a way that allows you to savour it. From conception to completion, Derrick’s work is a marvel of writing that takes you out of yourself and into a world of fun-filled and interesting facts about a genre that nearly all of us have experienced but rarely though about in terms of the skills and talents at work in this musical world.

In his INTRODUCTION, Derrick’s indicates his criteria for how he chose what to include in this volume with the following caveat:

“... some of my judgment calls are liable to raise eyebrows. That isn't crime/noir/action, you'll protest... or That isn't even jazz. I plead guilty: Some of my choices will be determined by historical context, or musicality, or simply because I wanted to include them. My book, my rules. ...

Jazz being a quintessential American art form, it's logical that most of the films and TV programs discussed herein emanate from the United States. But certainly not all: The United Kingdom is well represented, and some Western European films are too important to ignore. But arbitrary lines had to be drawn somewhere, lest this survey (again) become overwhelming. Ergo, don't take it personally if you don't find one of your favorite foreign films or TV shows in these pages. Such decisions resulted from practicality, not prejudice.

Even so, I fully expect to get a few outraged letters wondering how the heck I possibly could have neglected that classic (American or otherwise). Or that masterpiece. To which I can only reply, One tries one's best. And that's why God invented second editions. Suggestions are welcome, and I can be reached at this book's companion website: screenactionjazz. com.

He then goes on to explain: “Most films are scored (composed) by a single individual—or sometimes a pair of collaborators—who handle everything: the main title, any necessary character themes, and all cues employed from the opening to closing credits. ...

This model shifted in the 1980s and '90s, with the advent and rising popularity of electronic keyboards (synth) and "jukebox scores" built from period-specific or then-current pop/rock/rap/etc. tunes. Ensemble instrumental scores became unwelcome, as the film industry embraced the hyper-editing introduced by rock videos (helmed by individuals who, in many cases, went on to become film directors). 

Television shows were a different animal from the very beginning, in great part because of the far greater musical burden involved….

By the 1970s, very few shows had the luxury — or budget — to request wholly original underscores for every single episode. The first half-dozen episodes might get original underscores from one or more composers, and their various cues — for car chases, fist fights, gun battles, suspenseful skulking, romantic overtures, whatever — would establish an ever-expanding library used to track subsequent episodes.

Starting in the 1980s, many shows warranted only an original title theme, and otherwise were sweetened solely by jukebox soundtracks. Action jazz all but vanished, particularly when many television programs began to abandon opening themes and title sequences (and you'll learn why in the subsequent pages). Many big-screen films similarly gravitated toward synth and jukebox scores.”

These criteria, parameters and overviews are then applied to the book’s fourteen chapters using the home and abroad, big screen - little screen format which was employed to categorize the crime and spy Jazz music in the first volume.

In addition to plot lines, composer credits and socio-cultural contexts for each of the films and television programs he analyzes, Derrick often identifies the individual Jazz musicians participating on these soundtracks. In doing so, one comes away with a sense of how many Jazz musicians were able to earn a living, despite the paucity of strictly Jazz performance venues, by making the music for these films and TV programs in the Hollywood studios particularly during the last quartet of the 20th century.

The book also served as a guide for many of the films and TV series that I missed during a period in my life when I was actively involved in helping to raise a family and in developing and advancing a professional career. Derrick’s volumes have already served me well as a retrospective guide for numerous films and television shows and the music that passed me by.

Because of his assiduous research, Derrick provides the reader with an insider’s perspective that frankly I doubt even many cognoscenti of the genre are even aware of: [1] composer Dave Grusin “...always took every opportunity to work with Emil Richards, because he had the most amazing collection of ethnic and esoteric percussion instruments;” [2] Nelson Riddle recalled that David Merrick, the producer of Rough Cut, was insistent that the score consist primarily of Duke Ellington melodies and it was up to me to arrange these tunes to fit the many situations occurring in the picture” [paraphrase]; [3] Lalo Schifrin describing the difference between scoring a feature film versus a television episode."If you write a letter to some relative, about a trip to Hawaii, you can write many things, all the details. [But] if you have to send a cable, you have to make it concise: reduce it to a minimum, and say as much as you can. Television [scoring] is like a telegram."

The book contains lots of posters and an appendix with instrument abbreviations, one with a full discography and another with cover artists, compilation albums and boxed sets. The book is fully indexed and includes a bibliography of books sourced and interviews conducted.

If you are tired of Zooming or binging on streamed services during the current pandemic-induced lockdowns and are looking for a fun thing to do together with family and/or friends, here’s an idea: Why not get copies of Derrick’s books and used them as a guide to searching out the movies and TV programs he references, watch them while listening closely to the music and comparing your impressions with his commentaries. Feel free to disagree and write your own opinions and share them with him on his website.

Click on this link to order Derrick Bang’s new books on Crime and Spy Jazz on Screen direct from McFarland, its publisher.

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