OSCAR PETERSON on THE SILENT PARTNER (1978) - Page 2
MRH : Would you have preferred a couple of weeks more to do the scoring and had an opportunity to actually sit down with the director?
OS : Yes, I'd like to sit down and be there when they do the cutting and so forth. Then you have much more control over it. When it comes to the editing, that's when it gets chopped up. You have to be there to protect you're own rights. You have to retain some kind of control over the score, because if you don't, you're going to get run over.
MRH : Perhaps part of the problem was also budgetary: judging from the soundtrack that was used in the film, it wasn't a large group that was used.
OS : No. [Ken Wannberg] didn't use a large orchestra, and the themes were written for a large orchestra. First of all, you really have to understand the film - to really get into the film - and if you don't, then you're open for these kinds of results where you're just writing for empty spaces, and that's not the way to do it. I had a discussion with Joel. I said, 'You know, if we had the optimum choice of what to do, I would write a main theme for the score of a movie, but I would have it playing on the set so the actors and actresses could hear it, and get a better feel for what's going on musically. I think a better cohesion would be attained that way. Luckily I got on the soundstage a couple of times to see some of the scenes being photographed. You need this kind of communication; otherwise, it tends to be a piecemeal effort.
MRH : The Silent Partner is an unusual film, partly because it was one of the more successful Canadian films made during the tax shelter years of the seventies, and there is also wide appreciation for it. It was on TV a couple of weeks ago.
OS : Yes, I noticed it was on again, and it keeps showing at various theatres. [Joel Michaels] said it became a kind of cult movie for some reason. I don't know why.
MRH : Were you instrumental at all in getting the music released on album by Pablo records about the same time?
OS : Benny Carter and Norman Granz heard some of the themes that I'd written, and they wanted to do an album on it, along with the fact that the movie was coming out. So we pulled some of the themes and did an album.
MRH : A number of people wanted me to ask you if there's a chance it's going to appear on CD, because it's one of those scores that got quietly released, and then disappeared, with fans belatedly scrambling to find a copy.
OS : Well, it may just come out on CD. I'm not sure. The company that was Pablo is now Fantasy as you may know. Fantasy bought Pablo Records a few years ago, and they're just now going over the library, deciding what to re-issue.
[Note: Fantasy also owns the Contemporary, Debut, Milestone, Prestige, and Riverside imprints].
MRH : Were there any rights problems in releasing the album?
OS : No. We had full co-operation there also. But it's really a shame in way. I'm really sorry that I didn't have the time to be there to score the film. I'm not degrading what Kenny Wannberg did, but you would like to do your own thing if you're brought in to do it.
MRH : I wonder if I could just throw some names at you, and get some brief comments on them, or any scores that stand out.
OS : Well I'm not a movie buff. I used to be but I don't remember some of the titles to be very honest with you. But I know the people that I admire in the movies. John Williams; I think he dominated a certain period of the film scoring era. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Alex North; what a writer. I saw Witness quite some time ago, which I'm sure you must have seen. I think [Maurice Jarre] did a marvelous job.
MRH : It's actually one of his better electronic scores.
OS : Oh, I really did think it was one of his best scores. I really loved what he did in that movie. But they don't often come off like that, unfortunately. Quincy told me that the original fight with The Color Purple was that they wanted music like Mozart behind it. And he had a huge fight over it, saying 'You're out of your mind - You can't have Mozart behind a black history piece like this.' And that's what you run into: somebody gets an idea, and once you commit to a film, you're in.
MRH : How about Lennie Niehaus?
OS : Lennie is a good writer. I haven't heard anything recent, but I like his writing. I remember I used to buy his records! Another one is Lalo Schifrin, who's done a lot of excellent scores... I've also seen a lot of stuff by Gil Mellé , some of which I like, and some of which I find monotonous, to be very truthful with you.
MRH : Of late, he specializes mostly in electronics.
OS : Well he does now, but there was always that tenor sax thing in there, and it became a little wearisome. But he is a good writer. Of course, then there's [Johnny] Mandel.
MRH : He's a classic example of someone who's composed some marvelous music that you're never going to see again, because they were on various labels like Mercury, and in the case of Mercury they haven't gone back to the vaults. I mean, if there's an obvious profit, then that should be their biggest motivating factor. After the release of the Bird soundtrack, another label released a collection with the original, unadulterated pieces. The album also featured a very close variation of the Bird artwork. In addition, anyone owning a Charlie Parker recording in the public domain flooded the marketplace with releases. It's just unfortunately that it takes a film to unearth long neglected works of musical artistry, while the contributions of others remain buried in studio vaults.
[Note: As of 2005, a handful of Mandel's scores have appeared on CD, including Ryko's I Want to Live! which couples the jazz combos with Mandel's underscore; The Sandpiper on Mercury, Point Blank on FSM, and M*A*S*H, perpetually in print, because apparently 'suicide has been painless' since 1970.]
Have you ever seen a film called Virus ? It's a big-budget Japanese film that was actually composed by Teo Macero [Miles Davis' main record producer, during his long association with Gil Evans, during the sixties], which I thought was an unusual choice.
OS : Oh-oh. There's one!
MRH : But again, as with the aforementioned problems in acquiring soundtracks, there was a Japanese album with an orchestral suite from the film which is difficult to find now. The easiest remains a second album that features dated synth-jazz fusion cues, and one orchestral theme.
OS : I tell you right now, one of the things that's turned me off - and I have to be truthful with you - has been this type of television writing with the screaming guitar lead-in. This has turned me off so badly to a lot of movies and made for television-type movies. It's so monotonous - everyone resorts to it - with that wild guitar leading up on top of everything else.
MRH : It goes through a couple of phases. A few years ago it was the Japanese shakuhachi flute; then it was all-synth scores with early, sonically primitive equipment.
OS : Well, you know there was a lot of conflict in the studios themselves, because they were busy fighting that battle of "we don't want synthesizers, I'm not going to play synthesizers," and this sort of thing. In fact, in London I was told they had a couple of fist fights because of it in the studio. That has passed though, since the instruments have improved much. They've now gained a sort of respectful niche in the musical world which they should have had anyway. It's not really the instrument; it's the man or woman playing it. There seems to be a much happier amalgamation of the two mediums, and there's so much that can be done. I would like to try a score one day if it was the right thing, because it can be done now, since they've reached that kind of elevation. You still need the warmth and the presence of the other instruments, but it can be worked happily.
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