Before starting with the questions, we would like to thank you for your participation; it's a privilege for us to have the chance to interview you.
When you were a boy, you studied piano, violin and trumpet. Is the trumpet you preferred instrument?
As a performer the trumpet is - absolutely - my preferred instrument. I fell in love with it at a very early age and still feel that way.
As a trumpet player you played for jazz and rock groups, also for the San Francisco and Oakland Symphony Orchestra among others. What do you remember about those years?
My first professional gig was in a symphony orchestra playing for a Gilbert and Sullivan summer theatre group. I think was 14. A few years later I started playing with the Oakland Symphony, 7th or 8th trumpet you know, for special concerts. By the very end of high school I also started playing with rock bands. Those two things started simultaneously, and continually, for many years and didn’t seem to conflict. I remember one Sunday morning, after having played a long evening of rock and roll, having to play a church concert, a Bach cantata and having the first technical conflict. After that I never quite had the same goal to become a classical musician. I found it too hard to keep the precision.
In Jazz history we have had great trumpeters like Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Louis Armstrong… Who have you mirrored yourself after?
Well, Miles Davis is my greatest influence. Not only as a trumpet player but also as a conceptionalist. He was a master at reinventing the background, on which he would improvise, and I found that to be a huge influence upon me. His ability to take the trumpet and expand its vocabulary, to not only being capable of aggressive, loud and exciting communication, but also whispering, romantic communication, was a major influence.
Another interesting facet within your marked musical eclecticism, is your contribution as a player, in famous pop-rock group’s albums like the Rolling Stones “Voodoo Lounge”, Bruce Springsteen’s “into the music” and Van Morrison’s “Beautiful Vision” What can you tell us about that experience?
Well, - ”The Rolling Stones came out of a relationship I’ve had for a number of years with Don Was, an excellent producer. When he was in need of a trumpet player, especially in the style that I played, he has always called me and has given me the opportunity to play on some great albums. The Stones were a very interesting experience. They are exactly like you think they’d be. They’re the epitome of a rock and roll band and at the same time they are precise professionals at what they do.
Bruce Springsteen’s recording session came about when Bruce heard a recording of mine from the Alan Rudolph film,“ Trouble in Mind”. It was a song I arranged for Marianne Faithfull. He wanted to bring a feeling like that into a song of his. He contacted me and asked me to come and play.
My relationship with Van was quite different and lasted over six years. I started off as simply, his trumpet player, and at one point was functioning more like his musical director. I played mostly trumpet with him, but would also play keyboards from time to time. I was in his band for over six years and helped, along with PeeWee Ellis, to formulate a lot of the arrangements.
Is it true you became interested in electronic music and synthesizers when you heard Morton Subotnick’s “Silver Apples of the Moon”?
That is very true. My father, who was a professor of Humanities at San Francisco University at the time, brought home this record and when I first heard it, it struck me as being totally unique. I had never heard anything like it before. I would come back to it every so often until synthesizers became something that the common man could actually experience. Companies, such as ARP and Moog, were making instruments that were affordable. The record has always been an inspiration to me, even up until a number of years ago, when I was tempted to recreate those compositions. It never panned out but it allowed me to actually speak to Morton Subotnick briefly about his ideas at that time, which was fascinating.
Due to your “avant-garde” interest you joined “The Rubisa Patrol”, with whom you published two Albums, and later you founded “Group 87”, a progressive jazz group. What can you tell us about these experiences?
Well, “Rubisa Patrol” came out of a desire to play with pianist, Art Lande. I was living in San Francisco at the time, playing a lot with Terry Bozio, Peter Maunu and Pat O’Hearn. We were very good friends and were basically learning how to play jazz together. We had heard of this pianist, who was, supposedly, the best that had been in San Francisco. So, we called him up and asked to play with him. It led to “Rubisa Patrol” being formed, which Terry, Art, Bill Douglas and I were the original members. “Group 87” was the band, which Terry, Pete, Patrick and I had for many years. We made 2 records together. Terry was never an official member of the group. At the same time that this band actually got a record deal, he was forming “Missing Persons” . He played on the first record and it was really the jam sessions between Peter, Patrick, Terry and I that formed that band.
As a soloist, you recorded “Vapor Drawings” with Windham Hill Label, and later “Tibet”, for which you got a Grammy nomination. In those albums you worked with electronic sounds, trying to get the listener inside ethereal and minimalist universes, and for “Tibet” with a very enjoyable ethnic sense. Was the time you spent at Windham Hill a satisfactory experience?
Yes, it was. The fact that Windham Hill allowed non-jazz instrumental music to actually have a bin in the record store, a place where customers could go and find this music, was a big help. Up until that point, people such as Brian Eno would be found in the rock section and people such as Weather Report, would be found in the jazz section. People who were coming into this music for the first time, without a previous association, were having a hard time being labeled and given a genre by which their music would be categorized. Windham Hill gave some of us a home, although we didn’t necessarily agree with the title, the “new age” moniker.
The record company was very successful and allowed a lot of marketing potential that smaller record companies couldn’t afford. So even though I think there was a disagreement in the labeling of some of the music, overall it was a very satisfactory experience.
Due to the boom of instrumental music, represented by Kenny G among others, Virgin proposed to record a few albums with you: “Castalia” and “Mark Isham”. I’ve read that you weren’t happy with the relationship with Virgin. What was the reason?
My relationship with Virgin went through a cycle. It started off very positive and the bulk of the relationship was very positive. They were very enthusiastic that they could take my career, what Windham Hill had established, and propel it to a new height, which is exactly what I was interested in. Things started off very, very well with the first two albums- the first album nominated for a Grammy and the second actually won a Grammy. The problem was, what to do after that. And quite frankly, Virgin went through a lot of transitions. The whole direction of the label changed. Richard Branson put it up for sale and a lot of focus to actually break new artists was not there anymore. This was really the only aspect of the relationship that I wasn’t satisfied with. Because, all of a sudden, they didn’t have the same goals that I did and after those goals changed, we parted ways.
Recently, you worked very closely on jazz albums with great critical success, like “Blue Sun” and “Miles Remembered: The Silent Way Project”, both of them for Columbia Records. Do you feel more comfortable working with other musicians instead of working alone?
I find both experiences equally rewarding. Sometimes working alone is more comfortable, but it depends on the people you are working with. I have managed to keep very wonderful people around me in the bands that I’ve had. Both the “Blue Sun” band and the “Silent Way Project” band are very good friends of mine and we had a great time making those records.
Actually, with the “Earle-Tones Music” company (run by your wife), and with the creation of your recording studio “Wetdog Studios”, have you obtained enough independence to do more satisfying work to develop all your ideas in a more creative way?
Perhaps. Having the studio has allowed me to realize any ideas that I have had, without having to go for outside support. But the problem still remains: how to market and how to sell a product that isn’t as obviously tailored to the current trends of music.
Let’s go to your career as a film music composer. With your first film, “Never Cry Wolf”, directed by Carroll Ballard, you reflect an electronic vision, in a direction more atmospheric than descriptive. How did you become interested in film music?
I had a passing interest in film music as a listener. I was a huge fan of Henry Mancini as a teenager and appreciated a good score or an interesting score where I heard one. But it was never a career that I had decided I would pursue until it was offered to me. Carroll Ballard heard some music I had written and decided that it had a sound that he wanted to experience with “Never Cry Wolf”. It was he, who gave me an opportunity to score a film. It was that experience which proved that it was rewarding and that it was a career worth pursuing.
With Carroll Ballard, you worked on one of your greatest scores, “Fly Away Home”. What do you remember about this work?
I remember that it was a great joy for me to come back and work with Carroll again. As I said, he was the director who gave me my first opportunity to score a film- who thought the music I wrote would make good film music. It was quite interesting that at that time, when I started, I only had one particular area or genre, musically, where I felt
comfortable working. When I started working with Carroll on “Fly Away Home”, quite a number of years had passed and my experience as a film composer had broadened considerably. I felt like I could offer him a lot more variety, subtlety, in what I might write for him. I really wanted to find something unique and wonderful for that particular film. We spent quite a bit of time talking about it and working with it. He always wanted a female voice and it was a great opportunity when Mary Chapin Carpenter expressed interest. That was a wonderful experience working with her. She certainly delivered a fantastic performance.
How do you define yourself as a film music composer? What aspect of the music do you prefer to emphasize?
I never truly have been able to define myself as film music composer. I try to find a vocabulary that I feel will reflect the universe that the director is trying to create in his film. The aspect of the film that inspires me the most is the imagery and then the emotion of the story. The aspect of the music itself differs from score to score. Certain scores are highly melodic, such as “A River Runs Through it”. Melody was the backbone of that score. Other scores, such as “Crash” for instance is very ambient. Although there are melodies, it is the atmosphere of the score that is emphasized.
In your first film music works, you developed some electronic scores, in a pseudo-romantic way, like “Mrs. Soffel”, and dark and atonal like “The Hitcher” and “The Beast of War”, or action and rhythmic like “Point Break”. Due to movie language’s special idiosyncrasies, does this diversity of techniques help you to polish up your style? Any special thoughts about the music for these movies?
This actually addresses what I was talking about in the last answer. The style of the movie itself, to me, will help define the style of the score. In the examples you give, and those are very good examples, “Mrs. Soffel” is half acoustic, half electronic. “The Hitcher” feels more electronic. “Beast of War” certainly feels mostly electronic although it features a tremendous amount of guitar. “Point Break” is half electronic, half orchestral. Those choices came directly out of the needs and desires of the film and the film maker.
“Mrs. Soffel” was an interesting experience as it was my next big studio picture after “Never Cry Wolf”, where I wasn’t being championed by a director, but being sold to this director, by my agent. It was a good match with Gillian Armstrong, however, because she did not want a traditional score and I was at a point in my career where I felt much more comfortable making something non-traditional. It took some time to find the vocabulary that satisfied us both, but once we did, the score went very well.
“The Hitcher” was the first film I did for director Bob Harmon, whom I’ve done a number of films for. He called me up after seeing “Never Cry Wolf” and said “I have never made a movie but when I do I’m going to call you to score it for me”- which he did. He’s a marvelous director who needs to make more movies.
“The Beast of War” was a fascinating movie to make. I wanted to really find a blend between the ethnic sound of that world and the aggression of modern electronic rock music.
“Point Break” started off to be more of an electronic score with a lot of rock influence but half way through, Katherine decided we needed to go orchestral. She said the story was turning out more epic than she initially had thought and that an orchestral score would really suit the movie. I think she was right and to this day it’s one of my favorite scores.
From this first stage, I want to emphasize your connection with director Alan Rudolph, with whom you have worked with nine times. How is it working with him?
I love working with Alan. We seem to have a relationship where we don’t have to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what the other is thinking or wanting to do. We seem to think along the same lines. His love of jazz and alternative music has been a great inspiration for a lot of the scores I have done for him. “Trouble in Mind” was a great learning experience for me as it gave me an opportunity to try a lot of different styles and blend them into a single score. Of course, “The Moderns”, I still think, is one of my best scores.
With Alan you used electronic sounds, like in “Trouble in Mind” and “Made in Heaven” and overall, a jazz style with scores like “Mrs. Parker” and “Afterglow”, which is a masterpiece in our opinion. For “The Moderns” you also wrote in a jazzy way. Is there any special preference in all the works that I said to you?
I answered this one with my last answer but “The Moderns” and “Afterglow” are my two favorites. “Afterglow” was a great experience and an opportunity to write a truly jazz score. By that I mean, an opportunity to let great jazz musicians improvise jazz music that would then fit into the picture and run parallel to the picture and help the picture tell it’s story, without telling jazz musicians exactly what to play. Giving them free reign to play, to create what they do.
For your jazz scores, you have worked with musicians like Kurt Wortmann, Sid Page, David Goldblatt, Peter Maunu and Bob Sheppard. What can you tell us about those collaborations?
These are people that I have worked with over the years are people that I feel I know musically, people that I have confidence in, that I can express an idea to quickly and they will duplicate what I mean. People who’s musical vocabulary is one that I admire tremendously and that I have a tremendous affinity for, who would play things I wish I could play.
1991 was a “diametrical turn” in your film music career. You began to write symphonic scores. Ken Kugler, your orchestra director, was a very important person in this new step, wasn’t he? How did you meet him? I heard that you give him the Midi files and then he translates them into orchestral language.
I met Ken Kugler on the “Tibet” album for Windham Hill. I’d written a section for a 10 part brass choir and I needed some help in arranging it. There was this trumpet player that I know, John Moldafsky, he and I use to play duets and I mentioned I was looking for someone. He said “I went to school with this guy who would be perfect for this. He lives here. Let me introduce you”. That was Ken and we worked together ever since.
Yes, I’ve always worked with a midi computer, so the way I deliver music for Ken to orchestrate is in terms of a midi file.
With “A River Runs Through It” you got an Academy Award nomination. A score with a clearly “Americana” influence. Here you started your relationship with Robert Redford, whom you wrote, “Quiz Show” in 1994, a very swing score based on the 50’s style. How is it working with a star like Redford?
It was a great pleasure working with Robert Redford. He is a very intelligent guy. He knows exactly what he wants as a director and he is tenacious in going after it. He’s a hard worker and I think he’s got a great aesthetic.
You have also worked for directors from the 60’s TV Generation like Sidney Lumet “Night Falls on Manhattan” and Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts” and “The Gingerbread Man”. How do you remember your work on those films?
One of the great things about my career is that I have worked with some of the finest directors of our time and these are two of them, Robert Altman and Sidney Lumet. I remember Sidney saying to me, when we met on “Night Falls on Manhattan”, “I’ve directed a number of films, quite a few of them which had no music. This may be the next one of those but why don’t you tell me if there are places in this movie where music will help us?” - and there was. There weren’t many, but there were a few places. It was one of the shortest scores I’d ever written but that’s Sidney’s style. He never wants to overstate anything.
Robert Altman, of course, is also a legend and it has been a tremendous opportunity working with him. I’ve also worked with him with Alan Rudolph because he’s produced several of Alan’s movies.
I remember on “Short Cuts”, I came in towards the end as there was tremendous amounts of music as part of the story of the film, that had been previously recorded and produced by Hal Wilner. Part of my job was to weave the score in and out of this other tremendous music.
“The Gingerbread Man” was exactly the opposite. Bob called me up and said “You know, I had first thought there would be very little music in this movie but what I think we need is a huge action score.” We literally had 4 weeks to turn out a rather gigantic score.
“The Public Eye” is a work where you mixed symphonic, jazz and electronic music. What can you tell us about your experience with the director, Howard Franklin?
Working with Howard was a wonderful and educational experience. He also, of course, is a great writer and had written this script. This was one of those time were I had to replace a previously recorded score (Jerry Goldsmith), so there was a lot of work to be done in a short time. Fortunately, I got the tone he was looking for very quickly.
After “A River Runs Through It” you began to develop a sophisticated series of symphonic works with a sweet use of strings and folk influence, like “Of Mice and Men”, “Nell”, “The Education of Little Tree”, “At First Sight” and the beautiful and evocative “October Sky”. Tell us about those works.
The folk influence, for me, has been something that’s gone through my career quite a bit. One of the interesting things about that is when I found someone like Sid Page, who can take a melody and interpret it as beautifully as he does, you get inspired to write for them. So most of these movies that you mentioned here feature the wonderful playings of Sid Page.
“October Sky” was a case of the temp score. They had used as temp score my work for “The Education of Little Tree”, and worked beautifully –when I saw the screening with the temp, I felt intimidated. If a temp score can be constructed by the music editor from of one previously recorded score, and it works perfectly, it's hard for the filmmaker to not at least meet that person and tell them that their music is working perfectly in their film, and can they work on this movie too? That's what happened here.
For “At First Sight” you wrote your first original song for a film, “Love is where you are”. Sung for the film by Diana Krall, and for the album by Gigi Worth. How was that experience?
Well, it was a very educational one. It was a tremendous opportunity to work with the Bergman’s. They are definite legends and they came up with a beautiful set of lyrics. I think Diana did a beautiful job but unfortunately, we weren’t able to get her rights to the album version. At the last minute a fantastic singer named Gigi Worth came through and helped us out. She did a marvelous job.
This style is continued with scores like “The Majestic” and one of your greatest works, “Life as a House”, where your style seems more stylized. What do you remember about making these scores?
“Life as a House” was a special score for me. I wanted to try and find a particular type of contemporary orchestral style that wouldn’t make the film too mellow-dramatic. I think it’s one of my favorites and it worked out quite well.
“The Majestic”, of course, was the great, Frank Darabont. The opportunity to work with him has been one of the highlights of my career. If I had to pick one of my all time favorite scores, it may very well be “The Majestic”. I remember working very hard on that score, mostly because Frank was so inspirational. I think he is one of the greatest directors of our time.
With “Timecop” and “Blade”, you have approached action films, writing very energetic and “violent” music, where you mix orchestra and synthesizers. Does this mix of sounds make these kinds of films more interesting to you?
Con “Timecop” y especialmente con “Blade”, has tenido la oportunidad de acercarte a la acción en un score donde mezclas orquesta y electrónica. ¿Debido a tus inicios en este último campo, permiten estos scores mostrar el lado que mas te interesa de la composición?
I think mixing electronic sounds and orchestral music is a way of adding an emotional edge that a traditional orchestra may not be able to achieve. I certainly find it helps. There are those composers who, (and I think of Howard Shore, specifically, when I say this) that have a masterful hand at orchestration but with my back-round in electronic music, I find the blending of electronic music and orchestra to be a huge tool. It can bring a level of aggression and other-worldliness to pictures such as these.
Actually it is very sad when a composer’s score is rejected. You have suffered this experience in 1995 with “Waterworld”. Can you tell us what happened in both occasions?
With “Waterworld”, I did lose out. That was part of a political mellow-drama that went down during the making of that film. There was a major disagreement between the star and Producer, Kevin Costner, and the director, Kevin Reynolds. I was Kevin Reynolds’ composer. When he left the film my place on the film became very tenuous. I tried to convince Kevin Costner to keep me but he decided on James Newton Howard, with whom he had worked with many times before. That was a decision I completely understood and Kevin Costner and I have remained friends.
How were you involved in “Crash”? What could you tell about the score?
I´ve been friends with director Paul Haggis for a long time. We met years ago, he was a friend of my wife´s, and Paul always said that once he got something that was "worthy" of me, he wanted me to score it. So the first thing that came along was a television show called "EZ Streets” I also did two more television shows with him: "Family Law" and "Michael Hayes".
Then Paul said he wanted to write and direct films, and so a few years later, he did exactly what he set out to do - and took me along with him!
For “Crash”, Paul wanted there to be two moments where the score was prominent: the fire at the car wreck, and then the locksmith´s daughter, with the gun. Those are bold moves - the director has to believe in the music.
The movie had a temp score, and it was all over the map genre-wise, but emotionally it was consistent. It was a decent temp score- from ambient sounds, all the way up to this marvelous piece from the “Prayer Cycle” by Jonathan Elias. So I talked with Paul to see what the emotional essence was for each piece, to see how I could capture it, and one of the things he said was that he loved the female voice.
What are the other projects you´re involved in currently?
I´m working on the new Wayne Kramer film called “Running Scared”, a dark thriller to be released in January 2006, and I´ve just finished “In Her Shoes”. A film directed by Curtis Hanson. It will be released in October.
Finally, there´s need to ask you about the cinema music world today. In you opinion, which composers are doing interesting work? What scores do you especially like from them?
Some composers I find particularly interesting to listen to are Tom Newman, John Powell and Gustavo Santaolalla. Gustavo´s work on Motorcycle Diaries was phenomenal. I think film music still has a tremendous potential to be a very innovative and exciting genre. It is certainly an area that one can learn a great deal about the beauty and power of music.
Again, thank very much for your time and for this interview. It was an honour and a privilege for us. We desire you the most prolifical future, and to enjoy your new works.
Special thanks to: Tanya Vega and Mark Isham.
English Edition: Demetris Christodoulides