The Baton: A John Williams Musical Journey
Episode 79 - Sleepers

Episode 79 - Sleepers

May 20, 2020

John Williams collaborated just once with Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson, writing a different score for "Sleepers" than he had composed in just about any of his 77 previous films. The music for the tale of four boys whose prank goes horribly wrong has a very modern and slick feel, relying more on synthesizers than he had recently. Host Jeff Commings talks about his surprise at learning Williams was involved with the film and how the famous Dies Irae melody might have found its way into the score.

Episode 78 - Nixon

Episode 78 - Nixon

May 13, 2020

The 1995 film "Nixon" was the third and final collaboration between director Oliver Stone and composer John Williams. The film presents a fractured story of Nixon's rise from humble beginnings in California to the presidency. That uneven presentation likely hampered Williams' ability to paint -- musically speaking -- on the canvas Stone presented him. The film features strong themes, from the main theme on Tim Morrison's trumpet to the mournful family theme on strings. Host Jeff Commings doesn't shy away from talking about the obvious connection one of the themes has with "The Imperial March" and how it symbolizes Nixon's strength at his highest points politically. Some of the best musical moments were not used in the film, including music for Nixon's misdeeds and for his older brother's death, and those are presented to let you figure if they deserved to be featured in the film.

Episode 77 - Sabrina

Episode 77 - Sabrina

May 6, 2020

We've approached a new chapter in John Williams' career: the post-Golden Age era when the films he chose were not always of superior quality but still gave him the chance to write mostly memorable music. Host Jeff Commings is joined for the third time by Gianmaria Caschetto to discuss the breezy score to "Sabrina" that gave Williams the opportunity to reach back into his jazz roots, as well as his romantic comedy score past from the 1960s. He collaborated with lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman for two original songs for the film, one of which was nominated for an Academy Award and bears a resemblance to a previous song the three wrote together. Caschetto provides some insight into Williams' composition of Sabrina's theme and the foreboding undertones playing underneath the piano. And it's none other than the Maestro himself tickling the ivories for part of the score, offering us the opportunity to marvel at Williams' mastery at the piano.

Episode 76 - Schindler’s List

Episode 76 - Schindler’s List

April 29, 2020

Host Jeff Commings presents his longest solo episode to date, discussing the Oscar-winning score to the 1993 drama "Schindler's List." It's 13 minutes longer than the amount of original music Williams composed for the 192-minute film. In addition to discussing the often-told backstory of Williams' reluctance to accept the job, you'll learn about the three locations in which the score was recorded and why the Boston Symphony Orchestra was picked to play a portion of the score. You'll hear musical excerpts from many of the score's highlights, including the 12-minute cue that sets up the bulk of the film and the heartbreaking music for violinist Itzhak Perlman during the Auschwitz scenes. But the episode goes beyond discussion of "Schindler's List," stepping into 1994 during Williams' time off from film scoring as he created two concertos for celebrated musicians.

Episode 75 - Jurassic Park

Episode 75 - Jurassic Park

April 22, 2020

Host Jeff Commings counts the score to "Jurassic Park" as the gateway to becoming a John Williams fan, and he's joined by David Kay to talk about the aspects of the score that introduced a generation of people to Williams' music. They talk at length about the rousing fanfare that plays at the introduction to the island where the bulk of the action takes place, as well as the uncharacteristically gentle music that shows the dinosaurs for the first time. There is plenty of terror music for the dangerous raptors that consume half the humans on the island, and the two also ponder why Spielberg and/or Williams decided to change the music for a part of the finale.

Episode 74 - Home Alone 2

Episode 74 - Home Alone 2

April 15, 2020

It was a natural and easy decision for John Williams to agree to write the score to "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York" since the original film was so successful and garnered much praise for the Maestro's score. But, was his enthusiasm still there when he saw that the sequel was pretty much a rehash of the original in new locations? The answer seems to be a resounding yes. Though there are many musical moments directly lifted from the first film. Williams does his best to put in some new touches, though he doesn't create much a of a new sound as he did in previous sequel scores. Host Jeff Commings highlights some of the new material, including the new songs Williams and Leslie Bricusse wrote, and theorizes why the Pigeon Lady (played by Oscar winner Brenda Fricker) didn't get a theme.

Episode 73 - Far and Away

Episode 73 - Far and Away

April 8, 2020

John Williams had really hoped to take a break from film scoring in 1992. But when Ron Howard approached him about writing music for the tale of two Irish settlers in America, the Maestro could not say no. He realized his chance to write Irish music for a film about the Irish had finally arrived. That film is "Far and Away," starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Host Jeff Commings is joined by Colin Stokes as the two talk about the strengths of the score that elevate the clunky film and often mask Cruise's obvious overacting in terms of obtaining his accent. The music includes appearances by the popular Irish band The Chieftains, who provide a lush Irish flavor in several moments before Williams transitions to a more American flavor for the climactic land race sequence that closes out the film.

Episode 72 - JFK

Episode 72 - JFK

April 1, 2020

The story behind the creation of John Williams' score for Oliver Stone's "JFK" is just as compelling as the score itself, an eclectic mix of styles that included a percussion-heavy theme for those believed to be involved in the plot to assassinate John F. Kennedy. That theme was so influential that it was copied by many composers in the years that followed, including Williams. Join host Jeff Commings and co-host Brian Martell as they analyze the six themes written before filming began, and how well music editor Ken Wannberg was able to weave in the music to make it seem like the music was composed during postproduction.

Episode 71 - Hook

Episode 71 - Hook

March 25, 2020

The journey to bring "Hook" to the big screen was a long one -- 16 years, to be exact. It started out as a Steven Spielberg project in 1985, and was to be a retelling of the classic story … with Michael Jackson in the lead role! There was also a plan to make the story into a musical, an idea that stayed with Spielberg when he officially started work on it in 1990. John Williams brought on lyricist Leslie Bricusse to create eight songs for the film, and only two survived after the musical idea was scrapped. Williams kept some of the melodies from the discarded songs, including an airy theme for Peter's childhood and a fun march for the pirates. Host Jeff Commings and co-host Derek Scholl disagree on many of the merits of the film and score, but agree on some of the finer points, including the soaring orchestrations for Peter's first flight. Grab a seat for a Never-Feast of music!

Episode 70 - Home Alone

Episode 70 - Home Alone

March 18, 2020

John Williams planned to take a break from film scoring in the second half of 1990 to work on a concerto, but fate brought a screening of the comedy "Home Alone," and Williams could not resist the film about a boy who protects his house from burglars after his family accidentally takes off for Paris without him. The Maestro came to the project after Bruce Broughton had to step away due to scheduling conflicts, marking the second time in two years that Williams replaced Broughton on a film project. Williams writes two themes for the film that became Christmas-themed songs, one of the melodies being used for the film's action sequences before converting to a song about the star that guided visitors to the manger where Jesus was born. Host Jeff Commings counts the score as his fifth-favorite, noting that there isn't a false note in the music and it doesn't resort to overdoing it on the comedy aspect of the film.