The Baton: A John Williams Musical Journey
Episode 67 - Always

Episode 67 - Always

February 26, 2020

Steven Spielberg dipped into the romance genre with "Always," a remake of the 1943 Spencer Tracy film "A Man Named Joe." It seems like Spielberg rushed this film through post-production to get it into theaters before the Patrick Swayze film "Ghost," which featured many similar plot points. The seemingly rushed post-production likely affected John Williams, who wrote a score that is hard to grasp and features very few trademark Williams touches. Host Jeff Commings analyzes the love theme for the two main characters and how it is developed throughout the film from its use on keyboards to a more lush orchestration in the finale.

Episode 66 - Born on the Fourth of July

Episode 66 - Born on the Fourth of July

February 19, 2020

John Williams' fifth foray into the war film genre was "Born on the Fourth of July," featuring a somewhat restrained score shortly after his work on "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." His score features two haunting themes, one for strings and another for the trumpet. Tim Morrison, the principal trumpet player for the Boston Pops at the time, made his film score debut with a gorgeous performance. Williams' score is one of many excellent aspects of this film, including Oliver Stone's direction and the career-defining performance by Tom Cruise.

Episode 65 - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Episode 65 - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

February 12, 2020

In what was believed to be the last film in the Indiana Jones saga, John Williams put together a quieter action score than what he wrote for the previous two films. "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" featured a new stately theme for the Holy Grail and a new action melody for Indy's heroics. But host Jeff Commings points to the 12-minute prologue featuring a younger Indiana Jones as the best scene in any Indy film, thanks to the multiple sync points that Williams successfully navigated with the orchestra. Learn more about this score, and the film that Williams had to turn down in order to work on the Indy music.

Episode 64 - The Accidental Tourist

Episode 64 - The Accidental Tourist

February 8, 2020

After director Lawrence Kasdan was unable to agree on a musical style with composer Bruce Broughton, John Williams stepped in to write a delicate score that many John Williams fans often forget is part of his filmography. Using a theme for the main character, a travel guide writer dealing with major grief, that starts out quietly on piano and builds to an incredible finale, co-hosts Jeff Commings and Maurizio Caschetto note that it is one of his best cues for a finale in his storied career. Join the two as they examine the score in detail, including the two versions of the opening credits music used in the film.

Episode 63 - Empire of the Sun

Episode 63 - Empire of the Sun

February 8, 2020

The 1987 war film "Empire of the Sun" was Spielberg's attempt to make another "grown-up" film after his success with "The Color Purple." In a sense, Spielberg retained his youthful vision with a teenage Christian Bale taking the lead in the story, but worked to keep the heavy drama intact. His unsteadiness with the direction spilled over into the final product of John Williams' score, as the music is heavily edited and doesn't show up for large portions of the film. Host Jeff Commings details the possible reasons why, and examines the two choral works that frame the film.

Episode 62 - The Witches of Eastwick

Episode 62 - The Witches of Eastwick

February 5, 2020

After missing out on the opportunity to have John Williams score "The Color Purple," Jon Peters and Peter Guber made sure to get the Maestro for "The Witches of Eastwick," which the two produced. Host Jeff Commings notes this as his fourth-favorite John Williams score because the fun can be heard in every note. Commings is joined by Gianmaria Caschetto, who returns as co-host to talk about the structure of the theme for the three titular witches. The two also talk about the brilliant music for the tennis game and the decision to leave out Williams' original music for the ballroom scene. Grab a bowl of cherries and settle in for this fun discussion of Williams' Oscar-nominated score!

Episode 61 - SpaceCamp

Episode 61 - SpaceCamp

January 29, 2020

The 1986 film "SpaceCamp" was a product of bad timing. Two months before its scheduled release, the real-life Challenger shuttle exploded, putting the future of the film in jeopardy. The producers decided to dump the film into theaters that summer, and didn't turn a profit. Host Jeff Commings and co-host Brian Thompson differ on their thoughts about the performance of the film had the Challenger explosion not happened, but agree that John Williams' score has bright points to heighten the film's exploits. Williams doesn't write a theme for any of the characters, but does compose a lovely main theme that helps elevate the feeling of the mystery of outer space, as well as a lovely melody that Thompson labels the weightlessness theme. There isn't much music in the film, and Williams doesn't unleash his signature power in the brass section during the big action scenes. The score comes after Williams' first-ever yearlong break from writing music for movies, but doesn't show any signs of stumbling. Strap in for a fun discussion of one of John Williams' hidden gems!

Episode 60 - The River

Episode 60 - The River

January 22, 2020

Probably the least stressful thing for John Williams in 1984 was composing the score to "The River," which reunited him with director Mark Rydell for the fourth and final time. Williams employed the talents of longtime collaborator Tommy Tedesco for the score's wonderful guitar solos, and created an Oscar-nominated score light years from the work he had done on his previous two films. The work kept his mind off the drama that unfolded earlier in the summer when he abruptly resigned as conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra over reactions from musicians. And after working on "The River," Williams found himself quite busy in 1985 though he had zero film commitments that year. Host Jeff Commings talks about the story behind Quincy Jones taking over as composer on "The Color Purple," Williams' return to television and the concerto he composed for the Boston Pops after the relationship was rekindled.

Episode 59 - Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Episode 59 - Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

January 15, 2020

Steven Spielberg has essentially disowned his work on "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," but host Jeff Commings and guest co-host Erik Woods are here to convince you of the marvels within the film and the score. From the wonderful renditions of the Raiders March to the heroic melodies for the slave children and Short Round, there's plenty to appreciate about the score. We'll also talk about that cute throwback (or, since this is a prequel, a "throw-forward") to the sword trick fight from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and how the film influenced a completely new ratings system. Brush up on your Sanskrit and watch out for crocodiles as we take a journey into the Temple of Doom!

Episode 58 - Return of the Jedi

Episode 58 - Return of the Jedi

January 8, 2020

The schedule to compose and record the score for "Return of the Jedi" was pushed up about a month, leaving John Williams with much less time to draft music to close out the original trilogy. The delays on finishing visual effects meant Williams couldn't get the full finished film at once, only about 30 minutes at a time. The rushed process near the end is evident in the music for the final 30 minutes or so, with jarring edits all over the place. Despite that, Williams did some great work on this film, including the creation of the Ewok theme that host Jeff Commings believes is a cousin of an existing theme in the Star Wars universe. He also discusses the music for the Emperor and its use of that "horror chord" to suggest pure evil. Plus, he makes an interesting discovery about the music for the final lightsaber battle. And John Williams got to work with son Joseph for the first time, as father and son created two songs for the original version. Hop onto your speeder and join us for this fun ride through this score!