Scoring The Manchurian Candidate in 1962 was the kind of
experience that composers dream of being a part of.|
The director John Frankenheimer, the screenwriter George Axelrod and the star Frank Sinatra all took pride in their work, felt a responsibility to do justice to the book and were excited about making a film that addressed the subjects of brainwashing and political repression in a totally original way.
I was staying in a tiny hotel in downtown LA called the Montecito, where all New Yorkers who worked in the theater stayed whenever they came out to Hollywood for a few weeks to make enough money doing a TV show or a film, so that they could go back to New York and work in the theater until they were broke again.
John Frankenheimer sent me copies of the film every day as it was being edited and re-edited, and I ran the tiny reels on a small crank machine called a movieola, watching over and over to see and feel how each scene corresponded with the script, which I had studied before I came out West.
When I arrived in LA to start work, Frankenheimer said to me: "Just remember David, this is not a Chinese war movie. Mr Sinatra and I chose you because we didn't want a hack with a staff of ghostwriters to grind out the same old, same old."
Photo: John Frankenheimer, Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey
"DAVID AMRAM'S HAUNTING SCORE DRIVES THE MOVIE FORWARD AND EMPHASIZES PERFECTLY ALL THE DRAMATIC ELEMENTS"
Photo: Harold Land
"We need you to be creative", Frankenheimer added. I'm not sure what I am doing from day to day and I'm not a musician, but this is an incredible story and you can help it out musically. You'll see as you see it being put together. The film will tell you what to do.
The film did tell me what to do, and I was able to do it because no one interfered and I was allowed to do the best that I possibly could do.
I was able to hire great jazz artists like tenor saxophone master Harold Land, alto saxophonist and flutist Paul Horn, baritone and bass baritone saxophonist Jack Nimitz, who also played contrabass clarinet and bass saxophone, legendary trumpeters Joe Gordon and Carmell Jones, bass player Jimmy Bond and trombonists Lou Blackburn and Dick Leith.
And, I was able to get some of the great Latin percussionists and stellar classical chamber music and orchestral string players chosen by our concert master Stanley Plummer, a renowned violin soloist, and some exquisite trumpet solos played by Manny Klein.
I also had the rare opportunity to write solo passages in the symphonic sections of the score for the Heckelphone, bass flute, contrabass clarinet, harpsichord and bass saxophone, which are seldom used, or even available, when writing a symphony or a concerto.
We recorded the entire score in two days and in addition to conducting and playing the piano, I shocked some of the studio staff when I would jump off the podium or the piano bench, whenever the great French hornist Vince de Rosa, had a few measures rest and let me borrow his horn, to run to the nearest microphone, improvise a solo on the spot (in Cantina Latina and in Home Again 1952) and then return the horn to Vince in time for him to play his written part again.
With all my experience playing with Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Charles Mingus, Mary Lou Williams and Kenny Dorham, I had no problem trying to create new jazz compositions which reflected the depth and sophistication of the music that was being created in the early '50s, which was the era portrayed in the film.
I had been drafted into the US Army in August of 1952, when the conflict in Korea was winding down, but because the Army was finally officially integrated, many of the jam sessions that occurred in the barracks, band rooms, dances and places which we would seek out wherever we were stationed in order to play music, always had musicians of all genres, races and styles playing together.
Latin and jazz players, beboppers and swing musicians joined with Western swing and rhythm and blues players and singers.
Photo: Laurence Harvey, Frank Sinatra
From the Moochin' About labels 5 CD set CLASSIC AMERICAN FILM SCORES