The Baton: A John Williams Musical Journey
Episode 41 - Jaws

Episode 41 - Jaws

September 18, 2019

How can two notes make people so fearful of going into the ocean? That's what John Williams did with his iconic score for the 1975 blockbuster "Jaws." Host Jeff Commings is joined by Jeff Owens to break down the elements in the main title music that make this two-note theme a masterclass of composition. They also get chills when discussing other excellent musical moments in the film, such as the first attack on the shark and the shark's attack on the cage. Rent a yellow raft and dive into this score that encompassed everything that made John Williams a good composer in his 40 previous films and will make him a superstar in the 45 years that follow.

Episode 40 - The Eiger Sanction

Episode 40 - The Eiger Sanction

September 11, 2019

John Williams and Clint Eastwood worked together only once, for the mountain climbing film "The Eiger Sanction." Host Jeff Commings is joined by Brian Martell, who counts this film score as his favorite pre-"Star Wars" score by Williams. The two chuckle at the outdated clichés and the obvious Bond parodies and ripoffs before lauding George Kennedy's scene-stealing performance. There's also some great music in the film, too, including an inspiring fanfare for the famous Totem Pole rock formation and some perfectly orchestrated chilling music during the icy climb of the title mountain. And if you think you had to go to great lengths to obtain a copy of that must-have John Williams album, you haven't heard Brian's journey to find this score on album in the 1980s!

Episode 39 - The Towering Inferno

Episode 39 - The Towering Inferno

September 4, 2019

John Williams closed out his stint in the disaster movie genre with a bold and effective score to "The Towering Inferno." Williams starts us off with urgent opening music, then settles down as the fire begins to spread through the 138-story title building. What also stands out is the lack of music in a 30-minute sequence where music would not have been out of place, but its omission is welcome as a setup to a powerful climax to the film. Host Jeff Commings talks about the accusations of cut-and-paste work by Williams just one month after writing the score to "Earthquake," as well as an interesting side project that has largely gone unnoticed by Williams fans.

Episode 38 - Earthquake

Episode 38 - Earthquake

August 28, 2019

Very few John Williams fans put "Earthquake" in equal regard as "The Towering Inferno," the other disaster movie that Williams scored in 1974. The "Earthquake" score feels very much like "The Towering Inferno" in sound and feel, with little bombast and an opening title that suggest doom and an epic scale. There isn't much thematic material in the film, but host Jeff Commings found a quasi-motif with the villainous Jody, and looks at the poignant music composed for the end credits. There's no Sensurround in this episode, but strap in for an exciting listen to a fine entry into John Williams' disaster genre period.

Episode 37 - The Sugarland Express

Episode 37 - The Sugarland Express

August 21, 2019

We've reached a monumental point in John Williams' film scoring career. It's the film "The Sugarland Express," the first collaboration between the Maestro and Steven Spielberg. Yes, the film should be remembered for the beginning of this partnership, but is it a good movie if you try to view it outside of the historical viewpoint? Host Jeff Commings takes us through the score to this film, which has never been officially available to listen to away from the movie. Learn about the bootleg CDs that have been released, and how a family tragedy kept Williams from enjoying the release of this film.

Episode 36 - Conrack

Episode 36 - Conrack

August 14, 2019

The first of four films in 1974 for John Williams was the little-seen drama "Conrack," which brought John Williams back to the classroom for the fourth time and reunited him with "Pete 'N' Tillie" director Martin Ritt. The film about a white teacher inspiring a group of poor black children gets a theme for Jon Voight's character, and for the children under his tutelage. Both themes get wonderful renditions in the film, and unfortunately are not able to be heard outside of the film … until now! Enjoy this opportunity to hear this score from Williams, who used some key instruments to give us the feel of rural South Carolina.

Episode 35 - Cinderella Liberty

Episode 35 - Cinderella Liberty

August 7, 2019

Join host Jeff Commings and guest co-host Chris Hatt as they examine the 1973 drama "Cinderella Liberty." Hatt counts this as one of his favorite John Williams scores, simply because the music exquisitely follows ordinary people in the real world. Using the piano as his guide, Hatt offers some insight into the artistry of creating music for a crucial bar scene, as well as the creation of the love theme for the prostitute played by Marsha Mason and the sailor played by James Caan. The film also marked an exciting collaboration between John Williams and lyricist Paul Williams, who wrote two original songs for the film based on themes composed for the film. Settle in for this "Wednesday Special" episode!

Episode 34 - The Paper Chase

Episode 34 - The Paper Chase

July 31, 2019

Though "The Paper Chase" was famous mostly for the Academy Award-winning performance of John Houseman, the score by John Williams deserved some recognition at the time. Though not his best effort of 1973, Williams wrote a score that host Jeff Commings is surprised was not nominated for an Original Score Oscar. Williams composed a couple of baroque pieces to serve the "action" scenes in the film, and wrote a tender love theme to underscore the shaky on-again, off-again relationship at the heart of the story. Most John Williams fans regard this as just an average effort by Williams, but will you have the same opinion after listening to some of the musical cues from the film?

Episode 33 - The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing

Episode 33 - The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing

July 24, 2019

"The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing featured Burt Reynolds, the number one movie star in the world, in a romantic Western action film that had troubles during shooting and in postproduction. Michel Legrand was fired three days into recording his score for the film, and John Williams was brought in as a replacement. Host Jeff Commings walks listeners through the score that returns the Maestro to Aaron Copland territory, and offers the opportunity to compare Williams' main theme music with that of Legrand's. And what does the title mean? You'll have to listen to the episode to find out!

Episode 32 - The Long Goodbye

Episode 32 - The Long Goodbye

July 17, 2019

John Williams and Robert Altman collaborated one more time, for the crime drama "The Long Goodbye." Unlike their work on "Images," Altman did not give Williams as much creative license. Williams was to use only one theme and put it through several different styles in the film. This includes using a sitar during a dance scene, guitars for visits to Mexico and even John Williams sitting at the piano for a lively rendition. He and Johnny Mercer wrote a song for the lyrics, sung mostly by Jack Sheldon, known for The Merv Griffin Show and songs from Schoolhouse Rock. Join host Jeff Commings as he examines the final collaboration between these movie icons.