The Baton: A John Williams Musical Journey
Episode 57 - Monsignor

Episode 57 - Monsignor

January 1, 2020

The 1982 film "Monsignor" is the first straight drama containing a John Williams score in eight years. Besides what host Jeff Commings calls "the most depressing love theme John Williams has ever written," the Maestro wrote a bold piece for organ and choir to accompany the film's major climactic scene. The film features just 30 minutes of music, probably due to the limited time Williams had to compose the score outside of his work on "ET," his summer conducting the Boston Pops and the beginning of his work on "Return of the Jedi." The score is notable for being nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award that picks the worst in film. And, we also discuss the song Williams wrote for Luciano Pavarotti for the film "Yes, Giorgio" that earned him another Original Song Oscar nomination the same year he won for scoring "ET."

Episode 56 - E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

Episode 56 - E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

January 1, 2020

Year Two of "The Baton" is here! And there is no better way to kick off the second half of this journey through John Williams' film career than with a discussion of "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial." Host Jeff Commings counts this score as his second-favorite, and believes the final 15 minutes of music is the most perfect composition ever created. David Kay joins this episode to break down the multiple themes composed for the film, and the melodic interval they all have in common. And, did you know that John Williams was sued for copyright infringement over the flying theme? We'll tell you all about it on this episode.

Episode 55 - Heartbeeps

Episode 55 - Heartbeeps

December 25, 2019

We're closing out the first year of "The Baton" with another of John Williams' lesser-known works. "Heartbeeps" was a massive flop at the box office, but has some charms that were greatly helped by John Williams' music. The Maestro experimented with heavy use of synthesizers and keyboards, and also used a much smaller orchestra compared to his previous two films. The result is a love theme that has some tenderness when played on strings, or on keyboards. There's also a theme for the "villain," a robot named Crimebuster which is the big downfall of the film. Williams does write an interesting theme for Crimebuster, and host Jeff Commings wonders if this is what Williams might have written for Darth Vader if the Star Wars series was a comedy.

Episode 54 - Raiders of the Lost Ark

Episode 54 - Raiders of the Lost Ark

December 18, 2019

Of all the big decisions Steven Spielberg and George Lucas had to make on their first film collaboration, "Raiders of the Lost Ark," picking John Williams as composer was probably the easiest one. Williams was likely the only crew member who had worked with both Spielberg and Lucas, and gave us another timeless score that perfectly encapuslates the personalist of archaeologist Indiana Jones. Host Jeff Commings analyzes Williams' composition of the main theme, and why it doesn't exactly follow the same pattern as his previous marches. Also part of the discussion are the fantastic scenes involving a kidnapping and an extended chase sequence in the desert. Get over your fear of snakes and join us for this epic ride!

Episode 53 - The Empire Strikes Back

Episode 53 - The Empire Strikes Back

December 11, 2019

Host Jeff Commings counts John Williams' score to "The Empire Strikes Back" as his all-time favorite, as does guest co-host Jim Nova. The two analyze the amazing Imperial March and its chord progression that gives it a sinister tone. They also talk about the amazing love theme and the music written for Jedi Master Yoda. Among their favorite scenes in the film is the chase through the asteroid field, comprising some of Williams' best music. That four minutes alone should have won Williams the Academy Award for Original Score, a sore point that Commings and Nova touch on in this episode. And do you think "The Empire Strikes Back" would make a great musical? We explore that possibility on this episode as well.

Episode 52 - 1941

Episode 52 - 1941

December 4, 2019

Was Steven Spielberg's "1941" an elaborate prank to see how far he could go with making movies, or did he really set out to make a genuine comedy? It appears to be the latter, though there are not many laughs to be had in this disjointed film set one week after the Pearl Harbor bombing. Spielberg was not the only culprit for this misaligned film. Host Jeff Commings gives a little history on the collaboration between screenwriters Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, and gives a possible reason why Spielberg made this his follow-up to "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." John Williams came along for the ride as well, and came out largely unscathed thanks to a march-style theme for John Belushi's character that has become more popular than the film. But the numerous re-edits meant a major butchering of Williams' score to the point that parts are disjointed.

Episode 51 - Dracula

Episode 51 - Dracula

November 27, 2019

John Williams' final foray into the horror genre was the 1979 version of "Dracula," with Frank Langella reprising his Broadway role to great effect. The movie goes for romantic overtones instead of outright horror and gore, though there is some of that there. And John Williams was willing to go along for the ride with lush strings and woodwinds from the London Symphony Orchestra taking center stage. Host Jeff Commings talks about this final collaboration between Williams and film producer Walter Mirisch, including the lush main theme that served mainly as a love theme.

Episode 50 - Superman

Episode 50 - Superman

November 20, 2019

The 50th episode of "The Baton" is here! And what better way to mark the occasion than a discussion of one of the most popular film scores in history.

Possibly the only part of making "Superman" that went without a major hitch was the composition and recording of the iconic score. This was just 18 months after John Williams' score for "Star Wars" showed his mastery of creating music for characters that found its way into the mainstream. Host Jeff Commings is joined by Doug Grieve, a trombone player who talks about the composition of the music for the opening titles and the introduction to the planet Krypton. In this opening six minutes of the film, Williams creates music that excites, mystifies and exalts, all with the use of carefully selected musical intervals. Learn more about this super score on this episode of "The Baton."

Episode 49 - Jaws 2

Episode 49 - Jaws 2

November 13, 2019

John Williams made his first foray into sequel territory with "Jaws 2," writing a score that gave us brief reprises of his iconic shark theme but relied mostly on a different tone throughout. Mostly, his music offers a new emotional connection to the terrible incident happening on Amity Island and helps a film that had as many troubles as its predecessor. Host Jeff Commings talks about the long road to get the film made, including Steven Spielberg's thoughts on returning to direct. Learn more about the major differences between the sequel and the original film, not the least of which is the higher death toll in "Jaws 2."

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.