Aaron Zigman.

Aaron Zigman, composer

Lets head back in time just a little way, and to the February of 2007, when a movie entitled Bridge to Terabithia was released and with it the music for the movie which was the work of composer Aaron Zigman came onto the radar of soundtrack collectors.

The composer in my opinion remains a shining light within the film music community and as a relatively new composer in 2007 wrote scores that were mature and exciting in their persona and sound. Zigman began his career as a film music composer back in 2002 when he wrote the score for John Q, which he followed with the music for the video short Fighting for Care and the documentary Behind the scenes of John Q.  But before this in 2000, Zigman arranged a classical 35-minute symphonic tone poem entitled “Rabin,” which was composed in memory of Yitzhak Rabin, the late prime minister of the State of Israel and was performed by the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony.

In 2004 he worked on The Notebook which was I think a landmark score for the composer, with many assignments then following. His score for The Notebook is a delight and showed off the talent and flexibility of this composer. The score containing beautiful and affecting melodies that will haunt any listener long after they have finished experiencing the music. There is a deep emotion embedded within the thematic and effective melodies of this soundtrack, melodies that stay with you forever, whether they be swelling strings or intimate piano solo performances, the music is not just melodious but is also enticing. Zigman, soon became a name that many collectors were familiar with, his music for the movies ATL and Akeelah and the Bee for example impressing and attracting the attention of critics, producers, and fans.

He is a composer that could and still can adapt his style to suit every scenario, fashioning and creating upbeat themes and expansive melodic works. His sound if there is a such a thing as the “Zigman” sound has to it a style that at times has certain similarities and affiliations with that of seasoned composers such as Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, James Horner and to a certain degree Dave Grusin. I don’t mean that as in he was copying them thematically or in any way mimicking the composers works directly, but more in its stature and overall sound, and in the way that the music is placed within the movies he has scored. His work for cinema being varied, inventive, and above all entertaining.

In 2006 he wrote the score for the family movie Flicka a story that had been filmed before in Hollywood and previously scored by composer Alfred Newman, Zigman composed a soundtrack that was filled with emotion and overflowing with a richness and poignancy that we associate with the vintage movies of tinsel town from the 1930’s and 1940’s of the Golden Age with a romantic and melancholy core from which the composer radiated the remainder of his score. His music was lush and lavish at times but purveyed emotive and poignant qualities without becoming syrupy or over the top.

Like James Horner, Zigman often wrote quite large symphonic scores, utilizing the full potential and resources of a symphony orchestra and creating a vibrant and inspiring soundtrack even if the movie was deemed to be a lower budget affair. This is I think why Zigman got noticed as had Horner and the likes of Chris Young in their early days, because they fashioned grand sounding works for movies that were small features rather than blockbusters. But that is just my opinion. His score for Bridge to Terabithia is one of the many highlights of the composers ongoing career, the film itself being a combination of fantasy, Escapism, adventure and includes a coming-of-age storyline, that deals with death and the way young people come to terms with it.

The story from the book by Katherine Paterson was originally made into a movie for TV in 1985 under the direction of filmmaker Eric Till. But the production was a lot smaller than the motion picture version and lacked the special effects, the movie from 2007 had more imaginative direction by Gabor Csupo, who had previously worked on several projects for Nickelodeon. With the actors, cinematographer Michael Chapman and director Csupo creating a fantasy that was in effect believable. The Fantasy/adventure tale is about two children who invent a secret world. Bullied at school, and with worries at home, young Jesse Aaron (Josh Hutcherson) sets his heart on being the fastest runner in the 5th grade. When the day of the race finally arrives however, his dream is shattered when new girl in school, Leslie Burke (Anna Sophia Robb), beats him to the tape. Despite this initial setback, the pair soon realise they have a lot in common, and a friendship develops. Discovering that they both share creative talents, (Jesse loves to draw, while Leslie is a keen storyteller), they invent the magical kingdom of Terabithia, a fantasy world reached by swinging on a rope over a stream near their homes. Once inside Terabithia, they become the rulers of all they see, embarking on magical adventures, fighting evil, and learning how to triumph over bullies. Aaron Zigman’s score became an integral component of the movie, it underlined and gave greater impact to many of the scenes and added that sprinkle of magic to the proceedings as the story unfolded. His music literally ingrates the storyline bringing to it many levels that encompass the mystical and the adventurous.

The cue Entering the Forest on the soundtrack recording for example emphasizes the otherworldly mood that surrounds the magical forest as it becomes a place where anything is possible for the main characters. The cue literally oozes apprehension and contains a sense of the mystical, but also has elements of choir within it that contain a sound that can be defined as almost celestial.

The score is a smorgasbord of thematic material to the extent that it is sometimes difficult to comprehend that all this music hails from the same movie.  The score was issued on a promotional album on the Hollywood records label, which contained twenty-one cues and had a running time of forty-three minutes. The use of choir comes into its own in the cue Crossing the River which has an ethereal sounding choral performance opening the track this is then embellished and given more depth by subtle strings and woods, the strings then take on a more robust role and the composer adds to these sensitive and subdued brass support which give the cue an emotive and affecting aura. Seeing Terabithia too is an effective composition, with brass, percussion, strings, and choir combining in a short lived but memorable piece filled with wonderment.

The score is one that contains many senses, many styles, colours, and textures and showcases a plethora of atmospheres, action, romance, sadness, joy and even horror are all purveyed within this incredible soundtrack. I defy anyone to listen to the track Jess Grieves and not be moved, the composers truly sensitive musical touch conveying the young boy’s devastation and bewilderment over the loss of his friend.

Aaron Zigman was born on January 6th, 1963, in San Diego California, and studied music with his cousin MGM composer George Bassman. After a brief apprenticeship, Zigman broke out as a studio musician, working with producers Don Was, Gary Katz, Steely Dan, and Stewart Levine. From this experience, he began making a name for himself as a producer/writer, and soon after wrote his first big hit, with the song “Crush on You,” which was recorded by The Jets and topped the pop charts in the USA.  He also worked with legendary record producer Clive Davis and has produced and arranged music himself for artists such as Aretha Franklin and Natalie Cole. He has also written, arranged, and produced songs for many of the top vocalists, producers, and artists in the music industry, including John Legend, Quincy Jones, Trevor Horn, Seal, Ray Charles, Alison Sudol, Bryan Adams, Phil Collins, Dionne Warwick, Boz Scaggs, Tina Turner, Seal, Carly Simon, The Pointer Sisters, Huey Lewis, Jennifer Holliday, Patti LaBelle, Chicago, and Christina Aguilera.

His transition to film music composition came in the latter part of the 1990s with his work being featured on soundtracks such as Mulan, What’s Love Got to Do with It, The Birdcage, License to Kill, Caddyshack, and Pocohantas.To say that Aaron Zigman is talented is certainly an understatement. He has worked on numerous Hollywood movies that include, For Coloured Girls, Flash of Genius, Sex and the City, Sex and the City 2, and the animated film Escape from Planet Earth. He has also scored such films as The Company Men, Alpha Dog, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (co-scored with French composer and Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat), My Sister’s Keeper and The Shack.

The recent film Wakefield, starring Bryan Cranston and Jennifer Garner, marks his second collaboration with Oscar-nominated writer and director Robin Swicord, having previously worked together on The Jane Austen Book Club.

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