The Baton: A John Williams Musical Journey
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.

Episode 31 - Tom Sawyer

Episode 31 - Tom Sawyer

July 10, 2019

John Williams' final foray into movie musicals -- aside from the scrapped idea of making "Hook" into a musical -- was 1973's "Tom Sawyer," which paired him with the successful songwriting pair of Richard and Robert Sherman. The result was a decent effort, as Williams put some strong flourishes into the songs as well as his underscore. Naturally, you'll hear touches of "The Reivers" here, but you'll also note the strong work as an orchestrator that made this musical worth watching and a joy to hear. Host Jeff Commings analyzes some strong underscore moments and how Williams was able to beef up some of the top songs in the film. This would be the first of five films with John Williams music in 1973, starting what would be an unforgettable 12 months for the Maestro.

Episode 30 - Pete ‘N’ Tillie

Episode 30 - Pete ‘N’ Tillie

July 3, 2019

John Williams wrapped up the year 1972 with the drama "Pete 'N' Tillie," a major departure from the other three scores he wrote for films that year. It was much quieter, focusing on a simple piano theme to serve as a quasi-love theme for the not-so-perfect-together couple of the film's title. It was also much shorter, coming in at less than 15 minutes of music in the finished film. As such, this isn't a long episode filled with a treasure trove of musical moments, but host Jeff Commings is ready to guide you through the creation of this score, and why he's not as enamored with the theme as most John Williams fans.

Episode 29 - Images

Episode 29 - Images

June 26, 2019

We've arrived at the score in John Williams' career that sounds pretty much like nothing he had ever written -- and almost like nothing he will write as his career evolves. The collaboration with Robert Altman for "Images" began in the 1960s, when the two were toiling away in television work and Altman had the idea for the story of a schizophrenic woman. Altman allowed Williams unlimited options for his score: "The more absurd, the better," Altman said. Williams brought on celebrated percussionist Stomu Yamash'ta to play the unique instruments that would create some exciting sounds to go along with Williams' performance on the piano and a virtuoso string section. Host Jeff Commings is joined by Jens Dietrich as the two analyze this score and discuss how much improvisation was allowed in the performance.

Episode 28 - The Poseidon Adventure

Episode 28 - The Poseidon Adventure

June 19, 2019

John Williams reteamed with Irwin Allen for the 1972 action film "The Poseidon Adventure," a risk-taker of a movie that worked out well for everyone involved and officially created the disaster-film genre. Williams does well in creating a strong opening but keeps his orchestra subdued throughout the film to keep the atmosphere of doom and gloom always present, with little sense of hope. Host Jeff Commings is on hand to detail the highlights from the score and how the film set a few precedents. Take a journey through hell -- though we promise you'll enjoy every minute of it!

Episode 27 - The Cowboys

Episode 27 - The Cowboys

June 12, 2019

John Williams returned to the Old West -- and returned to working with director Mark Rydell -- for the 1972 film "The Cowboys." Once again leaning on Aaron Copland's template for Americana-tinged music, Williams employed a fun theme for the 11 boys hired to help John Wayne herd cattle across the plains. He also used a bass harmonica for the film's villain, played viciously by Bruce Dern. The score is counted as a favorite for many John Williams fans, and after learning more about the music with host Jeff Commings, you might be adding it to your top 10 list of best John Williams scores.