The Baton: A John Williams Musical Journey
Episode 31 - Tom Sawyer

Episode 31 - Tom Sawyer

July 10, 2019

John Williams' final foray into movie musicals -- aside from the scrapped idea of making "Hook" into a musical -- was 1973's "Tom Sawyer," which paired him with the successful songwriting pair of Richard and Robert Sherman. The result was a decent effort, as Williams put some strong flourishes into the songs as well as his underscore. Naturally, you'll hear touches of "The Reivers" here, but you'll also note the strong work as an orchestrator that made this musical worth watching and a joy to hear. Host Jeff Commings analyzes some strong underscore moments and how Williams was able to beef up some of the top songs in the film. This would be the first of five films with John Williams music in 1973, starting what would be an unforgettable 12 months for the Maestro.

Episode 30 - Pete ‘N’ Tillie

Episode 30 - Pete ‘N’ Tillie

July 3, 2019

John Williams wrapped up the year 1972 with the drama "Pete 'N' Tillie," a major departure from the other three scores he wrote for films that year. It was much quieter, focusing on a simple piano theme to serve as a quasi-love theme for the not-so-perfect-together couple of the film's title. It was also much shorter, coming in at less than 15 minutes of music in the finished film. As such, this isn't a long episode filled with a treasure trove of musical moments, but host Jeff Commings is ready to guide you through the creation of this score, and why he's not as enamored with the theme as most John Williams fans.

Episode 29 - Images

Episode 29 - Images

June 26, 2019

We've arrived at the score in John Williams' career that sounds pretty much like nothing he had ever written -- and almost like nothing he will write as his career evolves. The collaboration with Robert Altman for "Images" began in the 1960s, when the two were toiling away in television work and Altman had the idea for the story of a schizophrenic woman. Altman allowed Williams unlimited options for his score: "The more absurd, the better," Altman said. Williams brought on celebrated percussionist Stomu Yamash'ta to play the unique instruments that would create some exciting sounds to go along with Williams' performance on the piano and a virtuoso string section. Host Jeff Commings is joined by Jens Dietrich as the two analyze this score and discuss how much improvisation was allowed in the performance.

Episode 28 - The Poseidon Adventure

Episode 28 - The Poseidon Adventure

June 19, 2019

John Williams reteamed with Irwin Allen for the 1972 action film "The Poseidon Adventure," a risk-taker of a movie that worked out well for everyone involved and officially created the disaster-film genre. Williams does well in creating a strong opening but keeps his orchestra subdued throughout the film to keep the atmosphere of doom and gloom always present, with little sense of hope. Host Jeff Commings is on hand to detail the highlights from the score and how the film set a few precedents. Take a journey through hell -- though we promise you'll enjoy every minute of it!

Episode 27 - The Cowboys

Episode 27 - The Cowboys

June 12, 2019

John Williams returned to the Old West -- and returned to working with director Mark Rydell -- for the 1972 film "The Cowboys." Once again leaning on Aaron Copland's template for Americana-tinged music, Williams employed a fun theme for the 11 boys hired to help John Wayne herd cattle across the plains. He also used a bass harmonica for the film's villain, played viciously by Bruce Dern. The score is counted as a favorite for many John Williams fans, and after learning more about the music with host Jeff Commings, you might be adding it to your top 10 list of best John Williams scores.

Episode 26 - Fiddler on the Roof

Episode 26 - Fiddler on the Roof

June 5, 2019

The 1971 film version of "Fiddler on the Roof" was a massive undertaking for John Williams as music supervisor, taking on a beloved Broadway musical that needed to be expanded for the big screen. In addition to putting some fresh touches on the songs, he also was able to compose some original music that further illustrated his talents to the world. The film marked the first time Williams worked on a big moneymaker, and he also reaped a few rewards of his own. Host Jeff Commings details some of the best musical moments in the film and analyzes how Williams kept the tone of the original music but was able to give it a bolder sound.

Episode 25 - Jane Eyre

Episode 25 - Jane Eyre

May 29, 2019

John Williams' final television project in the 1970s teamed him with director Delbert Mann again, this time for "Jane Eyre." Williams composed this score while on a break from working on "Fiddler on the Roof," and the love Williams had (and continues to have) for all things English is on full display in the score. Peter Lloyd, the principal flute player for the London Symphony Orchestra, gets to shine as the score features plenty of flute melodies. Host Jeff Commings is joined by guest co-host Yavar Moradi, who counts "Jane Eyre" as his favorite John Williams score. Relax for a lengthy (one full hour!) conversation about the creation of the score and highlights of the music.

Episode 24 - Story of a Woman

Episode 24 - Story of a Woman

May 22, 2019

The US-Italy co-production "Story of a Woman" is perceived as the Holy Grail of John Williams movies. Very few people have seen it, and many will do almost anything for a glimpse at this romantic drama made in 1968 but put into American theaters in 1970. Host Jeff Commings welcomes his first guest co-host, Gianmaria Caschetto, and the two talk about the poor quality of the filmmaking while praising John Williams for writing a score that provides some interesting musical moments. Join us for an analysis of this hard-to-find score, which was composed in Williams' downtime during Goodbye Mr. Chips.

Episode 23 - The Reivers

Episode 23 - The Reivers

May 15, 2019

If not for some divine intervention, John Williams might not have written one note of music for "The Reivers," and he might not have become the celebrated composer he is today. Host Jeff Commings talks about the rejected score that caused director Mark Rydell to hire Williams, and how Williams was able to quickly turn out a score that perfectly encapsulates the feel of 1900s Mississippi.

Episode 22 - Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Episode 22 - Goodbye, Mr. Chips

May 8, 2019

Before John Williams came onboard to work on the music for "Goodbye, Mr. Chips," the film had gone through so many years of turbulence. But Williams' involvement was one of the reasons why the film turned out as well as it did, as the Maestro worked diligently to turn the serviceable Leslie Bricusse songs into lush melodies. The finished film featured very little original music written by Williams, but his work shines mostly in the orchestrations, which are superb and show the evolving genius music writer that will break through in just a few more years. Join host Jeff Commings as he details the film's backstory and the music that highlights why Williams deserved his second Academy Award nomination.