The Baton: A John Williams Musical Journey
Episode 21 - Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting

Episode 21 - Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting

May 1, 2019

The 1969 film "Daddy's Gone A-Hunting" should have been released as a B-movie, but with "Valley of the Dolls" director Mark Robson helming the film, it was viewed as a surefire hit. It turned out to be anything but that, though Robson tried to boost the quality of film by asking John Williams to write the score while on break from working on "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" in the summer of 1968. Williams experiments with some new instrumentation here, and host Jeff Commings walks you through these moments in a very sparse score.

Episode 20 - Heidi

Episode 20 - Heidi

April 24, 2019

A few years after he decided to leave a lucrative career writing music for television, John Williams returned to the small screen in 1968 with "Heidi." Though the film is infamous now for its interruption of a major professional football game, it has many great moments for Williams in terms of writing lush melodies to depict the young girl's maturation during her time in the Swiss Alps. From a smart comedic theme to a main theme so lyrical there was a song created from it, Williams' work deservedly did not go unnoticed at the time. Host Jeff Commings brings you some of the best moments from the score, including a love theme that got only one moment to shine.

Episode 19 - Valley of the Dolls

Episode 19 - Valley of the Dolls

April 17, 2019

The 1967 film "Valley of the Dolls" was, on the surface, like any other assignment John Williams had in his early film scoring career. His task was to adapt music from five original songs by Andre and Dory Previn, and put in some original music of his own. The gig turned out to be a major step forward for the Maestro, marking his first screen credit as "John Williams" since his debut as a film composer. Plenty more significance come from his work on  this film, and host Jeff Commings discusses them and takes a listen to highlights from the score in this episode.

Episode 18 - Fitzwilly

Episode 18 - Fitzwilly

April 10, 2019

During a break in recording the score for Valley of the Dolls (the subject of the next episode), John Williams decided to take on a comedy film starring Dick Van Dyke fresh off his eponymous TV show. "Fitzwilly" featured a stately comic main theme for the main character, a butler who moonlights as a thief to fund his employer's bank account. Williams also composed a decent love theme, made into a song by the soon-to-be-famous team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman. This film also marked the final time Williams would be credited as "Johnny Williams" onscreen, and his final comedy for 12 years. Host Jeff Commings analyzes the top moments in the score as we say goodbye to Williams' very impressive comedy film era.

Episode 17 - A Guide for the Married Man

Episode 17 - A Guide for the Married Man

April 3, 2019

After composing scores to five films in 1966 -- and writing music for a failed TV sitcom -- John Williams had only three films on his plate in 1967. On the surface, they would turn out to be no different from what Williams had done previously, but they turned out to make a big impact in moving his career forward. His first film of the year, a bedroom farce starring newly-minted Oscar winner Walter Matthau, offers John Williams fans a chance to hear him compose music of numerous styles in one film. John Williams' work is the star of "Not With My Wife You Don't," especially because his music helps out in many dialogue-free scenes such as a travelogue around the globe and a silent film homage. Because the film did not do well at the box office, the score got very little notice -- until now! Enjoy this listen to an overlooked gem in the John Williams oeuvre.

Episode 16 - Not With My Wife You Don’t

Episode 16 - Not With My Wife You Don’t

March 27, 2019

John Williams' final film score of 1966 wasn't his best work of the year, but it does contain some decent moments, including music for a bar fight and a decent love theme. His collaboration with the Oscar-winning lyricist Johnny Mercer yielded three uninspiring songs that aren't very memorable outside the film. Though this isn't the best score Williams wrote in 1966, host Jeff Commings finds some hidden gems inside the music. We'll also take a look back at the five scores from 1966 and which one deserved the most recognition.

Episode 15 - Penelope

Episode 15 - Penelope

March 20, 2019

Natalie Wood is the star of "Penelope," but the film puts so much more focus on Edith Head's costumes that it takes away from the flimsy and uneven plot. John Williams manages to compose a very good theme for the film by way of a 60s-era song that begins his longtime collaboration with the English songwriter Leslie Bricusse. Host Jeff Commings talks about the numerous permutations of the Penelope theme in this episode, as well as the history behind the making of the film and how it affected Natalie Wood's film career.

Episode 14 - The Plainsman

Episode 14 - The Plainsman

March 13, 2019

Universal Pictures had two Westerns released in 1966. After the box office flop "The Rare Breed" came another underperformer, "The Plainsman." John Williams, nearing the end of his contract with Revue Studios, the TV arm of Universal, tackled this uneven film and produced very little score that is memorable after watching the film. Does the fault lie with Williams being overworked in 1966, or does it lie with the filmmakers not creating a film rich with inspiration for its composer? Host Jeff Commings examines some of the musical moments in the film, including some precursors to what Williams will do in the "Star Wars" films.

Episode 13 - How to Steal a Million

Episode 13 - How to Steal a Million

March 6, 2019

The Audrey Hepburn art caper comedy "How to Steal a Million" was a turning point in John Williams' career, at least in the eyes of the composer himself. Host Jeff Commings explains why Williams felt this was a new chapter in his professional career, and how it shaped his life going forward. The film itself was one of the biggest successes in which John Williams was able to take part, and it's in no small thanks to the main theme that's used for many different purposes.

Episode 12 - The Rare Breed

Episode 12 - The Rare Breed

February 27, 2019

Did you know that John Williams wrote music for Westerns? The first one was the James Stewart vehicle "The Rare Breed," which features a bull named Vindicator and a sort-of British accent from Maureen O'Hara. As far as the score, it features a fine theme from Williams, and some decent moments in the relatively predictable film. This was the first of five films released in 1966 that would feature a John Williams score, and despite his busy schedule, he had the time to write his first - and only - symphony. Host Jeff Commings discusses the strange history of Symphony No. 1 and the presumed reasons why Williams only had it performed twice.