TALKING TO COMPOSER PHILIPPE JAKKO.

Composer, session musician, conductor, Philippe Jakko is a French award-winning composer. He has created music for ballet, theatre, film and has had two number 1 singles in the French and European pop charts.


I first encountered your music while ago when I heard the score for Que D’Amour. I straight away fell in love with the music, I thought this was a superb score, classically slanted and I also thought it evoked a sound that I had encountered when listening to Georges Delerue.

 I didn’t know you knew that score! It was my very first one in 2013, and yes your right the reference to George Delerue was a choice and an idea which I submitted to the director, Valerie Donzelli, and she liked it. I knew she loved some tracks of Delerue as she used “radioscopie” in her Cesar awarded ‘The war is declared’ for example, and as it was my very first score, I wanted to show her my taste could fit her taste!

So why did you think of George Delerue for the movie?

Because the film was a TV adaptation of the 18th century play of A French Author, Marivaux , transposed in the streets of Paris nowadays. I wanted to link the film through the music to the 18th century, the dialogue was the original as in from that period, so with 18th century inspired music, it would give coherence to the whole thing if that makes any sense?  But let’s come back to Delerue. I did my musicology master’s degree on Delerue’s music and the narration in film music, he by this time had already died unfortunately, but I was fortunate enough to meet with Colette his wife on several occasions and to do my research. I analyzed ‘The last Metro’ sequence by sequence, minute by minute studying the images and music. Colette showed me his handwritten scores. I was hugely privileged to be able to read some master pieces, including scores like Camille, Le Mepris, Stellaire 1, and the Grand choral of Truffaut’s Day for Night etc, and in his own piano room, in his home where he worked in Soissy Sous Montmorency near Paris. I will never forget it. So, I have a special connection with Delerue! And it happens that he was inspired often by 18th century music, like many composers in the 1970s, it was a trend , the world re-discovered baroque music , William Christie , The Albinoni Adagio etc were “new” for the people in those years , baroque music became sort of trendy in the 70s. Delerue’s Grand choral of ‘Day for night’ is literally baroque music, Camille theme is not far from Bach either, and he won an Oscar for A Little Romance’ directed by George Roy Hill in 1979 in which he references the music of Vivaldi and employs baroque music.

I composed my score in a sort of “Neo Baroque” way and I paid my respects to George Delerue in adapting and copying his style and sound on purpose, my main theme being a homage to the style in which Delerue created the main theme from a Little Romance. You can listen to my soundtrack and compare my composition “Final Alla Delerue” to the main theme from A little Romance. Well, everyone loved it, first the director and then the film music community, I was surprised!
I even won the Jerry Goldsmith Award in 2014 for best international TV score. Thank you so much everyone!

It is indeed a wonderful tribute and a most gracious and entertaining score. What size orchestra did you have for the movie?

That was a small music budget, I spent most of the money on recording the score, 16 players, strings, flute, and oboe (actually, that was to create a better baroque sound) I did almost everything myself, orchestrations, conducting, I even mixed it to save money. The only music soloist I got because the director wanted an expert on Mozart and Schubert was my mother! She is a very good piano player and very cheap (free for me obviously) we saved money on the whole budget, there was no need to buy the tracks. Being a composer on small budget projects, you must find solutions to deliver quality music, no matter what it takes!



In 2020 you scored Enemy Lines, another wonderful score, it is a score that I felt evoked some of the vintage war movie soundtracks of the 1960’s, and although there was a lot of action cues the themes that you created for the score shone through.

Thank you very much, I have the feeling that score hasn’t been really noticed! It was in the middle of the pandemic, which didn’t help. The premiere and theatre releases in the UK were cancelled as well as other things. I think it is a good score though. Anyway, About the style, yes I wanted something quite classic but I also wanted to avoid war films cliches: “trumpet and snare themes” etc. I wanted to avoid also having too much percussion as in the “let’s go to war” stereotypes – my question was “how to do a war film score set in the 1940s, without using these elements? So I re-watched war films for my pleasure and to get in the mood, from 1962 The Longest day up to Saving private Ryan, and it was whilst watching Platoon I formulated an idea:  I’ll write a main theme based on strings, almost like an adagio. (Oliver Stone uses Barber’s adagio in his movie as the main theme) – it will be perfect for Enemy lines, matching the drama, the struggle of the young guys doing a lethal commando job, they won’t be seen as heroes with snare and trumpets bravado but reluctant heroes, it won’t end good.  I thought it was a pretty good angle, I was lucky that the director and producer also liked it.

Do you think it is important to have themes within scores for movies and TV so that the audience can identify certain characters with a specific theme or musical phrase?

Themes are important yes, especially if you are looking for something classic, this current trend of atmospheric music is just music that is easy to do in my opinion, because of the use of computers and electronics now. As for the audience, unconsciously when you watch a film you can often get the point better when you can sort of recognize a few notes which help also to set the mood. It is not new, it is an operatic way of composing, but it still works. Film music must help you to understand the script, the mood, and the characters better and take them onto another level. Otherwise, there is no point in putting music in a film. If it is only non-melodic/atmospheric music without themes or leit motivs you get what Stravinsky called ” wallpaper music”, which is a style of music which can set the mood, but that s all, but is without a strong narrative path. For a composer, it is easy to put nonthematic tracks, one after another in a film. What is more interesting to do is to build throughout one hour and a half, a narrative process, playing with the themes, sounds and their meaning.


 

What musical education did you receive, and do you come from a family background that is musical?

I have to thank my mum who was a teacher but wanted to be a concert player, she was good enough for it but didn’t have a wealthy family to support her.  The result was that she worked as a professor and played piano every evening when I was a child for hours! which was my first memory going to sleep and listening next door to Shubert, Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven etc being played. At the age of five, I began learning the piano and learning classic music. at age twelve, I became bored with Mozart, and I got a guitar to play pop and rock music, what a blast for the teenager I was!



I started to compose instrumental music on the piano and then songs on the guitar aged at around eleven or twelve I think.
After that I went to different Conservatoire, French music Academies, in my hometown Besancon, and in the Conservatoire Superieur de Lyon. I studied music composition, counterpoint, harmony, analysis, and conducting. I also at the same time in university undertake studies in French literature for three years, and then musicology : I did a masters and masters two at the research center IRCAM in Paris, sort of starting a PhD on narration in film music ( Film music as a modern symphonic poem), that PhD I never finished because  I began to work in the pop music industry and I did not want to be a teacher!

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I have been fortunate to get master classes and courses with amazing composers like Pierre Boulez, Pascal Dusapin, and Philippe Manoury, which I am so grateful for. Modern music is not all however as I   liked to compose songs in my teenage years, so I did pop and rock music as well. Students at the IRCAM thought I was weird to do so but for me it was natural, I have always been quite eclectic. I remember one morning being in a analysis master class with Pierre Boulez at the IRCAM, and in the evening I was in a studio making pop music for the French channel TF1 : not really the same universe !   But I guess all those experiences helped me to do film music because you need to be able to work in very different genres and styles and have a very open mind. That’s what is exciting with film music on my opinion.

As you have said you work in other genres of music not just film scores, when you began your career was it always your intention to score movies, or did you just want to be involved in any kind of music?

After being a student and trying not to be a teacher, I had to work. A few songs I composed were signed by a publisher/label and one of them became a huge Hit. ‘Yakalelo’ 1998 TF1/Sony-music. Following this first success, I worked as a song composer, producer, and an arranger during the early years because it was better than being a teacher -lol.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have several songs in the charts during those years, and another one of them became another big hit Parce qu’on sait jamais, Christophe Mae /Warner France 2007.

I Scored also music for Ballet, contemporary and modern dance companies, and also instrumental music for myself, and I did regular rock and pop gigs in small clubs and bars with my friends. That was great because I would have been frustrated to compose only songs for the industry. I wanted to score movies, but I had no contact whatsoever in the cinema industry and despite success as a song writer, nobody was that interested in giving me an opportunity to score a film even a short. So, eventually I did score a few short films and by chance I composed at some point for a famous Actor/theatre director Charles Berling, who happened to sing as well and he introduced me to people. And one day, it was a lucky day, there was no composer for a tv film, and I knew the first director assistant she was aware I wanted to score films for a long time, she had some instrumental demos I had composed in her i-phone, so she introduced me to the director and that was Valerie Donzelli and the film was Que d’Amour!  a very lucky day!

A very lucky day for us all I would say. Do you think that orchestration and conducting are just as important as the actual writing of the music? I ask this because sometimes the list of orchestrators on a Hollywood score is lengthy and some composers use associate composers, additional music composers etc?

Composing finding musical ideas when you have imagination is not very difficult actually. Everybody can sing a melody and with computers nowadays, if you’re smart enough you can do something which is not too bad. And it can be quick to do it. What is trickier is to be able to do the full job from finding ideas, to mockups, to building the themes, and orchestration and conducting. You need to learn to do this and especially demos and orchestration, but this takes a long time to master.



That’s the reason why A list composers work with several orchestrators and assistants, they don’t have enough time (or they get lazy). They can also move on to another film to compose whilst four orchestrators are finishing and cleaning the job.  Without them, they would not be able to score ten films a year, only very few now do not use orchestrators. Colette Delerue said to me that Georges did not want to work with orchestrators, he wanted to control his music, and he was scoring therefore an average of four films a year only. But there are two types of composers who work with orchestrators, the one who knows how to orchestrate, and they don’t have time, but would be able to do it, and the composers that don’t know. And I have to say I respect the former, especially because there is a new generation of film composers who know nothing about it, these are within the electronic scene often, or composers that happen to be well connected and they get jobs without being very skilled and cannot score a film alone and that’s a shame, I think.

Film music should be something you respect and put high standards on it. If you introduce yourself as a film composer you have to be able to do music properly, today everyone is a composer! You can have assistants, orchestrators like Rembrandt or Michel Angelo or artists of the renaissance, no problem but only if you’re skilled enough. Those painters knew their craft 100%. That is the problem nowadays with computers they help to create Charlatans! As for conducting, for me it is a pleasure to share music with the musicians after composing music alone for weeks. But it is not a necessity.


 

Have you a set routine when you start work on a score for a movie, ie do you like to see the movie more than a handful of times or is once enough to begin to formulate ideas about the placing and style of the score you will write, and do you start at the opening and work through to the end of the movie?

Actually I prefer to read the script, talk to the director, and let my imagination do the rest.  Then when a few themes and demos are ok, I start to work with the images. No rule though, and especially not starting at the beginning and finishing at the end. sometimes you start in the middle because you have a good idea!  Composing is building the music and finding a balance throughout the film , no matter where you start.

A few composers I have spoken to seem to think that the current trend for that non melodic film score you spoke of earlier will soon come to an end, what do you think ?

 I’m not sure it is going to disappear fast because the number of young electronic composers working only with computers, they are more and more… unfortunately…and it is an economic thing as well, it is cheaper to score with computer and synths. As I said, the point to being a composer is to build and play with themes, motives, chords throughout one hour and a half. And on my opinion, When, it is only drones and pads and repetitive music, it shows that the composer is not on the highest level with music skills.

 There are a few of your film scores available on digital platforms, when you are told a soundtrack by you will be released do you have an active role in the compilation of the music for that release, or do you have no control?

Most of the time it is the label who choose the order of the tracks, but I can give my opinion. I trust them, they are experienced. I guess they know better what is best for the soundtrack than me.

Do you perform on any of your scores, and how do you work out your musical ideas, on piano or by other means?

In general, I play the piano, keys and guitars, sometimes a few notes of oud, (I play a little) – I conduct the orchestra when I can. Ideas can come on the piano but very often for me I record my voice singing melodies on my I phone. I have ideas in the most unusual places to do music, tube, street, during the night, then I play around on the piano and build.

I have always maintained that film music is an art, and the composers who work in film must be so disciplined to be able to write music that fits scenes and scenarios, what composers have inspired you and what film music composers do you find interesting and innovative?


I like the way Georges Delerue never gave up working alone. That’s quite heroic knowing he was in California half the time and he had that special French touch coming from Maurice Jaubert, emotion, great tunes, delicate music. In another style, I have a great admiration for Henry Mancini, a very skilled man as well. Beautiful orchestral writing, and great tunes.
More recently, I like the French way of Alexandre Desplat of course, in the UK Daniel Pemberton or Ben Wallfish are creative. For instance, Ben Wallfish mixed electronic and orchestra, and with him it is ok because it is not easy listening to electronic drones during an hour!  and he is a very skilled musician as well.


You have scored feature films, shorts and TV Projects plus written and arranged music for popular songs that have entered the French music charts, there must be a great difference between these mediums, can you identify any for us?

The Pop music industry and film industry are different worlds. Composing Pop songs it is very “skimpy ” comparing to composing film music. There are more styles and genres to embrace. In TV  there are different projects, sometimes you need to do it quickly on a budget, sometimes it is better and you have more time ( like the series “Nona et ses filles “- that will release in December). And the pop industry for me all I had to do was find a good hook and a nice arrangement. A few years I was so bored. I much prefer working with a director, talking about artistic things, looking for the best way to bring the film further, imagining a music setup, a sound for the film which matches the images, the story …it is so exciting every time!


The pandemic hit the film/music industry hard, was it still possible for you to work during this time using zoom etc for any film projects you were engaged on?

Yes definitely. I ve been lucky to be involved in a project  just before the start of the pandemic . A French series ( Nona and her daughter by Valerie Donzelli -gaumont/Arte) and we had loads of time to do phone calls, demos, zoom, etc during lockdowns! I have never been out of work actually. I also had to choose musicians that can record from home because of lockdown and uncertainty. The series will be broadcast from 25th November to January in France and Germany and the soundtrack will be released in December. That’s a soundtrack 100% lockdown recorded remotely.


 
Do you have any preferences when it comes to where you record your film scores?

No, not at all but it is nice to sort of know the orchestra and the musicians, their abilities etc…

What is next for you?

Another series made last summer for Gaumont / France 2 will be aired in 2022, as well as a TV film for Arte “Cleves” Director Rodolphe Tissot.
And I am currently starting demos for a feature film produced by Amazon France.

Many thanks to the Maestro for his time and patience. JM .

One thought on “TALKING TO COMPOSER PHILIPPE JAKKO.”

  1. Jon, I adored Jakko’s music cues on Spotify and wondered if you ever considered including Amazon links where one could buy CDs of his scores.

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