The Baton: A John Williams Musical Journey
Episode 48 - The Fury

Episode 48 - The Fury

November 6, 2019

John Williams had an unusual assignment for his first score of 1978: Write a score for "The Fury" exactly as the late Bernard Herrmann would have composed it. Williams agreed to do so out of honor to his friend, who died about 18 months earlier, and to director Brian De Palma, who had a great relationship with Herrmann on "Obsession." Host Jeff Commings brings on co-host Maurizio Caschetto to break down the Herrmann similarities in the score, as well as the moments that allowed Williams to bring in his personal touch. The two examine the standout scene in which Amy Irving's Gillian escapes the institute supposedly trying to help her control her psychic powers, as well as the touch of horror music written for the literally explosive finale.

Episode 47 - Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Episode 47 - Close Encounters of the Third Kind

October 30, 2019

John Williams closed out 1977 on top of the pyramid in Hollywood. He was involved in two of the three highest-grossing films in the United States, and wrote scores for them that brought more attention to symphonic film scores. His final film of 1977, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," required him to participate in pre-production to find a five-note signal that would serve as communication between Earthlings and the aliens. His underscore is full of great themes, including a nod to the "Dies Irae" melody and sweet angelic voices to signify the alien mystery. Host Jeff Commings details the long journey Williams took to complete this project, which began in early 1976 and continued to summer 1980 for a three-minute piece for the controversial mothership interior scene in the Special Edition.

Episode 46 - Star Wars

Episode 46 - Star Wars

October 23, 2019

This episode of "The Baton" is all about "Star Wars" and its monumental score by John Williams. Settle in as host Jeff Commings talks with Sir Clive Gillinson, who played cello on the original 1977 soundtrack. He relives some memories of playing the music and why Williams made such an impression on the London Symphony Orchestra that he returned to conduct multiple scores with the group. Also on the show is a discussion of the effectiveness of the main theme by Chris Hatt, who talks about the musical notes that make the score sound familiar and yet a bit unpredictable. Commings and Hatt also discuss their favorite scenes in the movie and resurrect the once-popular "Star Wars Disco" hit from 1977.

Episode 45 - Black Sunday

Episode 45 - Black Sunday

October 16, 2019

John Williams closed out a very busy 1976 with his compositions for the score to the thriller "Black Sunday," which would get a delayed release until spring 1977. Host Jeff Commings is joined by Siddique Hussain, who counts the score as one of his favorites from the Maestro in the time between "Jaws" and "Star Wars." He cites some thematic material and musical styles used in the score that will make stronger appearances in future films, including "Star Wars." Since the film did not fare well at the box office, and critics were divided on the movie, Williams' score got lost in the mix of his two other 1977 compositions. Thanks to a CD released by Film Score Monthly -- and this podcast episode -- you can enjoy the finer points of this score!

Episode 44 - Midway

Episode 44 - Midway

October 9, 2019

John Williams got back into the war genre with the film "Midway," writing just 32 minutes of score for a 132-minute film. In this case, most of the movie features battle scenes that producer Walter Mirisch wanted to feel very realistic, which meant the appearance of music was not appropriate -- at least for Mirisch. "Midway" was the first score Williams wrote after his landmark work on "Jaws," and a couple of months after a disastrous production of the "Thomas and the King" musical on the London stage. This score features a march that is a staple at concerts … and sounds very, very familiar to host Jeff Commings. Join him as he discusses the creation of the score and the brief musical cues that standout in a film that did well at the box office but didn't get much recognition beyond that.

Episode 43 - The Missouri Breaks

Episode 43 - The Missouri Breaks

October 2, 2019

"The Missouri Breaks" is arguably the worst film to feature a John Williams score ... at least up to that point in his 17 years as a film composer. Though it starred Oscar-winning actors Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson, it was a misfire from the start, with Brando going off the rails in terms of acting choices, and Nicholson looking unfit for a Western. John Williams took on the challenge of using music to keep the film on track, but Williams himself takes some eccentric choices. The primary derivation Williams took was using a very small ensemble for his score instead of an orchestra filled with dozens of musicians. The score is dominated by harmonica and guitar, with a love theme that desperately needed strings. The film has gained a cult following. Does the score deserve the same? Host Jeff Commings believes it's on par with the other 1967 scores by Williams: decent but forgettable. Take a listen to the music and judge for yourself.

Episode 42 - Family Plot

Episode 42 - Family Plot

September 25, 2019

What do you do after you've composed the most famous movie score of all time? In the months after working on "Jaws," John Williams had three film scores to tackle for films to be released in 1976. One of them was "Family Plot," Alfred Hitchcock's lighter take on kidnapping, murder and con games. "Murder can be fun," Hitchcock told Williams, which helped the Maestro compose a score heavy on harpsichord to fulfill Hitchcock's mandate. Join host Jeff Commings as he takes you through the backstory involving a meeting with Bernard Herrmann, and the two themes Williams wrote for one person. Perhaps this will give John Williams fans a better appreciation of the work he did between Jaws and Star Wars!

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.