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JEFF GRACE (2006) - Page 1

a conversation with

J E F F _G R A C E


The following conversation occurred during the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival, when Jeff Grace was in town to attend and support the premiere of Larry Fessenden latest horror film, The Last Winter, which Grace co-composed with Anton Sanko



Much like the old studio system, which practiced a kind of internship in which future composers could learn the craft of film composition through orchestrating and arranging for a studio's leading composer, Jeff Grace's career has somewhat taken that path, albeit with a handful of established and resourceful composers working in very distinctive disciplines.

Having worked with Howard Shore on several major soundtracks, Grace has recently taken steps to establish himself as a new voice in the film scoring community. The results are two outstanding horror scores – The Roost and Joshua – available from MovieScore Media and iTunes as a downloadable soundtrack album. (Note: The Roost is also available, with Trigger Man, on a MP3 and limited CD album, released in March of 2008.)

Both are imaginative, avant garde scores that transcend the budgetary and sometimes creative limitations of the films, and as with the best soundtracks, each score stands on its own as a terrifying work of experimental writing. Brief as it is, The Roost is one of the best horror scores of 2006.

Grace, who grew up in Boston, studied at Berkley during his high school years, and also played in rock bands, although his interest in more complex improvisation and composition later moved towards jazz and classical music. After studying composition and piano performance at Rutgers University, Grace was faced with the one question that plagues every graduate: Now what?

The old a friend-of-a-friend scenario popped up, and Grace's first exposure to film began with Robert Ruggieri, at Ruggieri Music.

Jeff Grace : I ended up working for him for a few years. He had this music house where they did a lot of ad music. He was very, very big in the eighties and the nineties, doing television ads like Jiff and whole bunch of huge campaigns. He also had a relationship with HBO, so we would do stuff with them and PBS, and some other people.

He also worked with Alvin Ailey of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, and he had a very good relationship with a choreographer named Ulysses Dove that was really interesting for me too, because at the school of the arts at Rutgers, they have a dance and a theatre program as well

Through Robbie, I met jazz pianist Gil Goldstein, who I had listened to as a kid. Goldstein needed somebody who could help him with technical stuff, and I went to this high school where somebody had given them all this money for the music program, but that person stipulated that the money had to be used for music technology. This was around 1990. I had the first version of Finale, the first version of Performer and stuff like that, and I started working with him… He playing with the Gil Evans Orchestra for years, and he arranged for Evans as well. He also produced Pat Metheny's stuff, and through showing him music editing, I got to help on some Pat Metheny records.

Later on I had a roommate who went to school with a guy who ended up working for Howard Shore. I didn't even know that he worked for Howard, and one day while I was working on an independent film, he came over to our apartment and saw that I was using ProTools... He said, “Hey, I work for Howard Shore, and we need somebody who can do this kind of stuff," and that started a three year stint up there – a crash course of film scoring at the top.

Mark R. Hasan : He's an interesting composer with which to begin a career. Shore's music really reminds me of Jerry Fielding, whose use of harmonics sounds very similar to what Stand Kenton was doing with brass.

JG : My understanding is that Stan Kenton was a very well versed musician (obviously in jazz stuff). I was a student of Bill Fielder as well – he taught Wynton Marsalis and Terence Blanchard – and he would just always go on, ‘Stan Kenton… Stan Kenton.” It's really interesting that you bring that up.

A really big musical influence for me - and this might not seem immediately apparent in film scoring - was Kenny Barron. I was a student of his for five years, and I find improvisation skills extremely helpful in writing, especially under time constraints.  While Kenny is obviously great with more straight ahead jazz stuff, he is also a person who really encourages musical self-exploration and stretching out.

Ears are a very big part of his teaching, and I have found that to have a very strong effect on me as a composer. I end up writing in front of the computer, at a desk with pencil and paper, and at the piano; they all sort of balance each other for me in this day and age with all of the schedules, crazy technologies, and pitfalls that come with all,  but it all starts for me with trying to hear something and trying to create a mood - a concept that was impressed on me very strongly by Charles Fussell; both compositionally and in orchestration, he stresses this very much, and to great effect.

MRH : The reason I brought up Fielding was that he had this unusual knack to write music that really focused on what was going on in a character's mind, particularly the subtext, and it was stuff that must have been jarring for studio music departments used to more conventional scoring techniques. I find Shore uses that style of writing, and it must be tough to pull that off in fantasy epics, let alone psychological thrillers.

JG : Howard makes choices that a lot of other people might not make. I worked on The Score (that was the first film I did with him), and then we did Fellowship of the Ring, Panic Room, and Cronenberg's Spider. Then we had to do all the extended DVDs of Lord of the Rings [LOTR] as well, and then Gangs of New York, and Return of the King, and then I left after that.

Those scores for the non-LOTR films were quite different, especially Spider. Have you heard that at all?

MRH : No, that's one of the few scores by Shore that I haven't heard. I'm familiar with his Cronenberg material because it's sometimes so strange. Additionally, the music he wrote for Se7en is unbelievably unsettling; it really crawls under your skin. It clearly sets the tone of what's going on in the film, both emotionally and the implied horrors, and the portents of what's going to happen. But in Se7en, he doesn't overtly variate a theme throughout the film, or counter-balanced it by a happy theme. It's just a dark, unrelenting oppressive score.

JG : Yeah, I think to me, in what he did in those scores, there's a thing that he uses that's part of his style. Someone once pointed out to John Corigliano that ‘style is basically the choices that you make,' and I totally agree with that, especially when you look at somebody like Corigliano or Howard or anybody who's established.

With Howard, you can see the advancing parts that he chooses to pull back on, thematically or whatever. In Se7en, what's uncomfortable about that score is that he sits on the chords; he sits on the harmonies for long periods of time, and builds tension by not letting things move forward. There are times when even in LOTR he uses those devices.

Sample Tracks at MovieScore Media.com



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