Category Archives: Biographical Essays


A composer who I have always liked and thought was just so quick witted and talented is Alan Menken, but somehow I never got round to writing about him, there was a time I had an interview arranged at around the time when Pocahontas was released, but an editor of the publication that I was going to write the article for voiced his opinion saying that Menken was not a film music composer and the composers people pulled the interview. Well, the editor was right? Menken is not just a film score composer he is so much more and has given us and so many children and their children now they themselves are grown up and married so many wonderful melodies, and familiar songs both in film and for stage productions. The composer is such a talent, such a remarkable music-smith and creator of haunting and catchy themes and tunes.

And when you look beyond his most familiar and popular works for Disney, such as Aladdin, Pocahontas, Beauty and the Beast, Hercules, The Hunchback of Notre Dame etc, well there is so much more in the way of actual film scores, symphonic works that are filled with drama and romance, overflowing with melancholy and brimming with inventive and innovative themes, nuances and interludes that support, enhance and ingratiate each and every frame of film. 

He is a purveyor of emotions via his varied and affecting compositions, a composer who laces and weaves his musical magic into the fabric of every movie he has scored so the music becomes an integral and important component of the filmmaking process. If you watch the sections of for example Pocahontas which are underscored by Menken, and I am talking about just score no vocals, he is a master of etching his own distinctive musical fingerprint into each scene or sequence, adding poignancy, conveying comedy, and bringing emotion and romance to the proceedings without overpowering or drowning out what is occurring on screen. His subtle approach at times just adding that touch of magic or underlining a moment of dramatic content and elevating them so that they are more impacting and effective.

So, when someone says to me Alan Menken is not a film music composer, I do remind them of the various scenes in movies that would not have been as affecting without his music. Yes, he writes wonderfully catchy tunes and underlines and punctuates the lyrics of the various lyricists he has collaborated with, but his is not just a composer of show tunes, he is a talented, chameleon like Maestro, who can turn his hand and his style of composition to any scenario, so let’s not Pidgeon hole him or categorize him because some seem to ignore his music.

There has always been a certain snobbery amongst film music collectors, as in they buy film music and refuse to even entertain TV scores or musicals and these include those popular Disney animated features that I have mentioned and many others too. All I am going to say to them is “You are Missing Out on so much”.  I still live in hope that one day Mr. Menken may agree to an interview, but until then let’s take a look at his great body of work shall we.

My first encounter with his music was when my daughter watched The Little Mermaid, which was way back in 1989 now.

But let’s not forget Little Shop of Horrors which hit the screens in 1986 and was a Broadway show four years before this in 1982, but I think it was the work he did on the Disney animated movies that brought Menken to the attention of the mainstream.

Yes, the songs in Little Mermaid were great but I as a film music collector paid attention to the score, yes there is a score and quite a lot of it too.  The film was based on the writings of Hans Christian Anderson, with Disney adding its own little touches along the way. A rebellious 16-year-old mermaid Ariel is fascinated with life on land. On one of her visits to the surface, which are forbidden by her controlling father, King Triton, she falls for a human prince. Determined to be with her new love, Ariel makes a dangerous deal with the sea witch Ursula to become human for three days. But when things don’t go as planned for the star-crossed lovers, the King must make the ultimate sacrifice for his daughter.

Its an enjoyable romp and now dubbed as a Disney classic, which I must agree with. Menken’s score is brilliantly utilized within the movie and the lyrics of Howard Ashman are perfectly laced and supported by Menken’s poetic melodies.

So many hits from what a relatively short film is seems an impossible thing but, in this case, it’s true. But were they hits, not really when you think about it, they were familiar to many but big hits as in charting no, but they have gone down in and become a part of the Disney legacy, and I think will remain evergreen with all generations past and present. Menken’s musical score drives and underlines the storyline, adding weight to the more dramatic scenes, and subtly enhancing the romantic content of the film, with some nice but not too obvious what were often referred to as mickey mousing passages in the past for the comedic interludes.

The Little Mermaid is one of the Disney animated tales to receive a live action treatment and should be in cinemas soon, so Menken’s music will once again be on the minds of children of all ages.

Two years later in 1991 Menken and Ashman teamed up once again for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Having lived a life in selfishness, young Prince Adam is cursed by a mysterious enchantress to having the appearance of a monstrous beast. His only hope is to learn to love a young woman and earn her love in return to redeem himself. Ten years later, his chance to do this seems possible when a young maiden named Belle (Paige O’Hara) offers to take her ill father Maurice’s (Rex Everhart’s) place as his prisoner.

With help from the castle’s enchanted staff, who have been turned into crockery, candlesticks and furniture Belle learns to appreciate her captor and immediately falls in love with him. Back in the village however, unscrupulous hunter Gaston (Richard White) has his own plans for Belle. And sets about discrediting her father in the hope that she will agree to be his bride. Again, the songs are the jewels within the film, but the score gives depth and adds moods and atmospherics to the storyline. The composer providing a suitably dramatic score with elements of the songs interwoven within his dramatic content.

The score is a mesmerizing one that surges and drives with strings, percussion and brass combining to create emotive and heart-breaking melodies and cheeky little flourishes that evoke Disney scores of the past such as Cinderella, Bambi, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Filled with expressive and thematic material the score seems as it is caught up and becomes a part of all the goings on in the story as it unfolds. With the composer adding a touch of triumph and joy as the film reaches its climax, which is a mix of emotions both sad and joyous.

After a battle in the castle, where Gaston and his followers are beaten back by the castle staff who are still in their non-human forms the beast fights with Gaston on the battlements, but after sparing Gaston the beast is stabbed and lies dying but at last the love Belle has for him shines through and as the Beast draws his last breath the curse is broken and he transforms back into Adam the man and the prince, and as with every great fairy tale they live happily ever after.

Accompanied by a glorious orchestral flourish which ends in a magnificent and glitteringly grandiose crescendo complete with choir, in keeping with the traditions of Hollywood and Disney. A tale as old as time that ends in a time-honoured way.

In 1992 Disney produced a live action movie Newsies which is a musical that has its storyline loosely based on and around the events of the New York City Newsboys’ Strike of 1899. The musical featured twelve original songs by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman, and starred a young Christian Bale, with David Moscow, Bill Pullman, Robert Duvall, and Ann-Margret. The film later inspired a Broadway show, which is unusual for that to happen, but Menken did begin his career in stage musicals, so I guess this was the way to go.

Sadly, the film was not one of Disney’s greatest successes and maybe was something that the studio had decided to do because of Menken’s previous work for them.

But in the same year they released Aladdin, which was a runaway success, and re-united Menken with lyricist Howard Ashman who sadly passed away in 1991 aged just forty. This I think is one of Menken and Ashman’s best collaborations, everything just seemed to fit and slot into place. And with the contribution of the multi-talented Robin Williams, it became a classic in weeks rather than years.

Again, the songs were centre stage but Menken’s vibrant score too augmented and gave life to the story. I think that Menken and Ashman were so successful because they worked on these Disney films as if they were big Broadway musicals, pulling out all the stops and infusing a sense of glamour and over the top lushness into the proceedings, thus making them appealing not just to the children but also the parents and grandparents.  

But hey what do I know that’s just my opinion for what its worth, all I know is it worked and worked extremely well. Menken’s score is superb and not only supports and punctuates but seems to be an extension of the film’s storyline. And with so many outstanding songs, Friend Like Me, Prince Ali, and A Whole new World what more could you ask for.

After the death of Howard Ashman, Menken turned to the lyricist Stephen Schwartz for Pocahontas which was released in 1995. Schwartz had found success writing musicals in the 1970’s with shows such as Godspell (1971) and Pippin (1972). And went on to pen Wicked in 2003. Pocahontas, features two hit records, Colours of the Wind which was performed by Vanessa Williams and the love theme from the movie If I Never Knew You, which was performed by John Secada, and Shanice.

The movie won the Oscar for Best Original Score and Best Original song (Colours of the Wind). The soundtrack also featured Just Around the River Bend, which became a firm favourite with cinema goers. Menken’s score boasted many themes and one stood out more than others which was Grandmother Willow, which had a rich and kindly style that was combined with a sense of the mystical and included native American sounds and styles.

As did the vocal Listen with your Heart. The score is an impressive one and the lyrics and vocal performances are flawless. Menken also scored the Disney animated feature Hercules in 1997, and in 2007 the music for Enchanted, and in 2010 worked on the Disney production Tangled,

Two years later he was the composer on Mirror Mirror, which was a slightly different take on Snow White. Menken providing the film with a magnificent score. There is so much more to Alan Menken than you think, talent oozes from him, music flows from his fingertips and he has I think been responsible for putting the melodies back into Disney productions.

Alan Menken was born July 22nd, 1949 at French Hospital in New York City, to young aspiring actress/playwright, Judy Menken and boogie-woogie piano-playing dentist, Norman Menken, DDS. He grew up in a home, filled with music and theatre (and comedy and drama) in New Rochelle, New York, along with his sisters, Faye, and Leah. Alan has always said that from an early age it was always a composer that he wanted to be and make music a career. Well, he certainly has done this and has thus far had a glittering career that has given the world so many wonderful pieces of music and so many memorable songs, that delight and enthrall audiences of all ages.

The composer shows no signs of slowing (and why should he), he has recently scored Disenchanted for Disney, which contains a stunning symphonic soundtrack, that is overflowing with glorious themes and contains hauntingly sweet and typical Disney like lyrics from Stephen Schwartz. It is in many ways a homage to the vintage and animation movies as produced by Disney, such as Sleeping Beauty, etc. The style employed is instantly recognizable as being Disney through and through, maybe a little too syrupy for hardened film score fans, but it works so well within the movie and has the added bonus of being entertaining away from the images and the storyline that is unfolding on screen. It also has that unique and welcome Menken style stamped firmly upon it and through it. The soundtrack is available NOW on digital platforms. and the movie is streaming on Disney plus. Check them out.


Universal Pictures, Hammer Films, Tigon, Tyburn, Amicus, and American International pictures are all studios that are synonymous with the world of horror in cinema. Each studios had their own particular brand or style, and each also had a unique way in which they approached the horror genre and over the years built up a stock look which became instantly recognisable with connoisseurs and fans. Each studio also their own preference too when it came to the musical scores for the movies that they produced. Hammer often opted for a more symphonic and grandiose approach with composers that were normally classically trained being commissioned to write the scores for their movies such as James Bernard, Richard Rodney Bennett and Malcolm Williamson penning what are now regarded as classics, under the watchful eye of musical directors such as John Hollingsworth and Phil Martell. American International pictures too in the 1960’s had their favourite or go to composers, but one stood out more than any other, Les Baxter was it seemed the studios composer in residence, and worked on many of their major releases, including some of the productions that starred Vincent Price. Of course, in the early 1970’s the Hammer and AIP studios collaborated on various movies including Vampire Lovers, AIP had already utilised the talents of Scottish born composer Harry Robinson who later worked on Hammer films for their 1969 motion picture The Oblong Box. So maybe Robinson got the job for Vampire Lovers because of his involvement on that movie, going on to score Twins of Evil and Lust for A Vampire in the Karnstein series rather than him being asked to work for AIP because of his work for Hammer as many seem to think.

But it was Les Baxter that AIP invariably turned to for their horror flicks and would also engage Baxter to re-score various movies that they were distributing which were made in Italy. Baxter often re-scoring sword and sandal adventures and some horror films which were thought to have soundtracks that were not fitting for American audiences.

Goliath and The Barbarians (1959) for example, and movies such as Black Sabbath (1963). Baxter also re-scored The Cry of the Banshee (1970), which originally had music by Scottish born composer Wilfred Josephs, the Joseph’s score has sadly never been released, but Baxter’s take on scoring the Vincent Price rural horror was issued in the form of a suite that took up the A side of a Citadel Records long playing record and was subsequently re-issued on compact disc.

Composer, conductor, and arranger Les Baxter was born on March 14, 1922, in Mexia, Texas.He began his love affair with music at an early age when he began to play the piano at five years of age and then later studied at the Detroit Conservatory and at Pepperdine College in Los Angeles, California, and began his career in music as a concert pianist but later joined the “Meltones” in 1945 with singer Mel Torme. Baxter acted as conductor for a handful of radio shows which included The Bob Hope Show. His recording of The Poor People of Paris was a number one hit and sold more single copies than any other recording during the 1950’s reaching the top of the US charts in the March of 1956. Another major hit for Baxter was April in Portugal, which was based on a song by Raúl Ferrão.

It was originally entitled Coimbra taking its name from a City in Portugal. and later introduced in the US as the whispering serenade. But Jimmy Kennedy wrote a new set of lyrics in 1952 for it and it became a huge hit for the composer.  Baxter wrote the scores for over 120 motion pictures. He died of heart and kidney failure on January 15, 1996.  

Baxter became a hugely popular exotica or lounge/easy listening artist and released numerous albums of this type of music that remain popular today and are readily available on digital platforms.

Albums such as Sacred Idol, which became very hard to get in its original LP edition and compilations such as Rituals of the Savage, and Que Mango! to name but three, one only has to click onto digital platforms such as Spotify to see what a wealth of music that Baxter was involved with. It was probably the reputation he gained from these many releases that showcased his work as composer, conductor, and arranger and brought him to the attention of film studios which in turn led to a successful career as a film music composer.

In many ways Baxter’s career was very much like Henry Mancini, as in he was a composer and arranger of note, writing for film and including his own compositions in the various compilations that he released, he could turn his hand to arranging and adapting evergreen favourites and placing upon them his own unique musical fingerprint. Listening to Baxter’s easy listening albums one does detect a certain richness and haunting style, that oozed a sophistication and a classy air that maybe more contemporary music lacks.

This style and charisma too  comes across in the composers work for cinema as in his score for the AIP movie Master of The World (1961) which starred Vincent Price, this is a score that is brimming with a thematic excellence and teeming with vibrant and memorable compositions that are romantic, dramatic, and affecting. And although not in the true sense a Horror movie it did contain scenes of war and destruction, and a rather unhinged central character. I always look upon Baxter’s score for Master of the World in a very similar way to that of Victor Young’s Around the World in Eighty Days, it has that kind of aura and musical persona to it, being lavish, lush, and opulent.

The soundtrack for Master of the World was released on LP record back in 1961 on the Vee Jay label, and the cover art boasted some colourful images.

Baxter’s scores for the horrors at AIP have become slightly dated and cliched in recent years, at times seeming over dramatic and tense, even being overzealous and overshadowing of the action on screen, but we have to remember that the composer worked on the majority of these back in the 1960’s and into the early part of the 1970’s so at that time was taking his cue from those early Universal horror scores and putting his own unique twist upon them. Baxter was in effect re-inventing and at the same time setting the scene or creating the blueprint for the sound of the horror film as envisaged by AIP and also his musical notions would inspire many up-and-coming composers who adopted a similar approach during the sixties and seventies.

The opening theme for the majority of Baxter’s horror scores are highly dramatic and effectively struck a chord or even a discord of terror and jagged jolts into the watching audiences. The racing strings and the urgent brass flourishes of the opening to The Fall of the House of Usher for example initially and instantly create a sense of foreboding, a mood of chaos and a aura of darkness, but this soon melts away as we are treated to a glorious sounding core theme, performed by the string section, Baxter had a knack of writing music for film that was very supportive of the storyline and the images on screen but even though it was at times shadowy and malevolent and filled with suspense and apprehension it still remained melodic.

His score for The Raven is masterful as it not only remains sinister and suitably chilling but also has to it a real sense of comedy and irony, which perfectly compliments and underlines the scenarios on screen as they unfold and develop.

Black Sabbath is among my top five favourite Baxter soundtracks, it is a jagged and somewhat raw sounding work, but also does have interludes that act as a more tuneful and melodious respite, the film which was directed by Mario Bava starred Boris Karloff and was originally scored in Rome by Italian Maestro Roberto Nicolosi.

The score by Nicolosi was not a awful one in fact it is probably as good if not better than Baxter’s re-score, but AIP just did not think that the Italian score would be welcomed by American audiences.  The movie is an anthology of three tales of horror, that focus upon A woman terrorized in her own apartment by phone calls from an escaped prisoner from her past. A Russian count in the early 1800s who stumbles upon a family in the countryside trying to destroy a particularly vicious line of vampires; and an early twentieth century nurse who makes a fateful decision concerning a ring while preparing the corpse of one of her patients an elderly medium who died during a seance.

The same happened with the 1960 movie Black Sunday, (Mask of the Demon) again directed by Bava with an Italian release scored by Nicolosi, the film which is often confused with Black Sabbath starred the Queen of horror Barbara Steele.

Set in the seventeenth century, in Maldavia, Princess Asa Vajda (Steele) and her lover Javutich portrayed by Arturo Dominici are killed by the local population, accused of witchcraft. A mask of Satan is attached to their faces, well hammered into their faces to be more precise. Princess Asa curses her brother, promising revenge to his descendants. The body of Javutich is buried outside the cemetery, and the coffin of Princess Asa is placed in the family’s tomb with a cross over it for protection. Two hundred years later, Professor Thomas Kruvajan and his assistant, Dr. Andre Gorobec, are going to a conference in Russia and they accidentally find the tomb. Dr. Thomas breaks the cross, releasing the evil witch. When they are leaving the place, Dr. Andre meets Princess Katia Vajda, descendant of Princess Asa, and falls in love with her. Meanwhile, Katia is threatened by the witch, who has designs of entering her body so that she may live again and take her revenge.

The re-scoring schedule of Baxter was not just for Horrors, and I have already mentioned Sword and Sorcery and Sword and Sandal (Peplums), Goliath and the Barbarians originally being scored by Carlo Innocenzi, and the Italian made epic Marco Polo which had been scored in Rome by Italian Maestro Angelo Francesco Lavagnino in 1962. Baxter also re-scored a quirky spy spoof in 1966, which was also helmed by Bava and starred Vincent Price, the original title was Le Spie Vengono dal Semifreddo, which had a good soundtrack written by Italian composer, arranger Lallo Gori.

When the movie was released in the USA it was re-titled Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs and given a new score that leaned towards a more pop sounding approach penned by Baxter who also included a number of songs on the soundtrack. The movie was actually a sequel to the USA production Dr.Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965) which also starred Price but was directed by Norman Taurog and scored by Baxter.  The composer was also credited as conductor on the 1965 TV movie The Wild Weird World of Dr. Goldfoot, directed by Mel Ferber. Baxter also worked on a 1972 movie Blood Sabbath, under the alias of Bax, the movie was directed by Brianne Murphy and focused upon a coven of witches who capture a young man traveling through the woods.

Who then becomes involved in a deadly power struggle between a young witch and the evil Queen who is the head of the coven. Baxter is also known for his pulsating and inventive score for The Dunwich Horror. Released in 1970 and based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft.

I thought this was a good movie, even if it did have the look of a TV film rather than a feature. It starred Dean Stockwell, Sandra Dee, and Ed Begley. Stockwell’s character is a descendant of a powerful wizard. So, I suppose this puts him in a good position to be a weirdo that frequents altars and shrines and other such eerie places keeping company with some rather strange beings and characters.

The score is certainly a highlight of the production, Baxter incorporating upbeat near pop slanted compositions with dramatic and quirky sounding pieces, the composer also employing electronic sounds within the score. I would go as far as to say that at times the music outshines the action that is being acted out on screen. So that is a basic look at Les Baxter, but please investigate further his varied and alluring musical world, I think that you will be pleasantly surprised.  

Herdís Stefánsdóttir .

Herdís Stefánsdóttir

Born in Reykjavík, Iceland, Herdís Stefánsdóttir currently lives between Los Angeles and Reykjavík, where she works as a composer. Her scoring work includes Ry Russo – Young’s MGM/Warner Bros. feature film, The Sun Is Also a Star and the HBO series We’re Here. Stefánsdóttir was nominated for The Icelandic Music Awards for her score to The Sun Is Also a Star. She interned for the Oscar nominated composer Jóhann Jóhannsson in Berlin while he was working on the film Arrival (2016) and she has scored numerous short films that have premiered at top-tier festivals around the world like Berlinale, TIFF, Sundance and Palm Springs International Film Festival. Her music has to it a style and sound that is unique, innovative, and highly inventive. She creates thematic material and then presents it in such a way that one becomes even more drawn to it by the beguiling and hypnotic aura of the compositions, which she enhances and elevates via use of electronic support.

Herdís Stefánsdóttir

She, experiments with voices, synthetics, and acoustic performances, drawing all these components together and utilising them in an original and affecting fashion. Most of her scores for TV and film are filled with haunting and infectious compositions, the composer combining atonal textures with a rich and colourful sense of melody.

Her score for Y:The Last Man is  a perfect example of the outstanding and wonderfully effective sound that she achieves, at times reminding one of the creative genius that was Morricone, and at other moments evoking the music and sounds of Jóhannsson. But there is also another style and another sound that is present throughout, and that is the sound of Stefánsdóttir, which can be jagged, but also effectual, sombre but filled with melancholy, apprehensive but at the same time bringing to fruition memorable themes, in short, a wonderfully complete musical package that is faultless for film and TV.

One of the composers most recent assignments is for the eight episode TV series Verbudin, (aka-Blackport) which is a score that she collaborates on with Kjartan Dargur Holm. This is one of my favourite listens now, the score encompasses so many styles, and oozes a sophisticated and appealing atmosphere. The melodies become engulfing and although subdued can at times be overwhelming but in a good way. Strings that are melodious but at the same time edgy are combined with a slow and jazz inspired solo trumpet performance, in the cue Luanapraelar, the trumpet is itself punctuated and supported by piano which gives a subtle but important performance, all this is underlined by an even more sparse scattering of percussion which is utilised as a background but only fleetingly marking a slightly ominous beat.

All of these are masterfully fused together to yield a theme that is effective in the context of the series but also moving when listened to away from the images it was written to enhance and support. The score also includes heartfelt violin solos which first manifest in the Main Titles, the performance personally reminded me of the score for Let the Right One In, being emotive but at the same moment apprehensive, the string section joining the proceedings after a short introduction, but then fading and returning the mesmerizing melody to lone violin performance, which is underlined by wordless female voice giving the piece an otherworldly sound.

The composers also utilise to maximum effect the more jagged and aggressive sound that is realised through electronic avenues, but although these are at times raw and foreboding, they work well with the melodious and thematic elements of the score. This is one to sit and listen to again and again, each time discovering sounds, nuances, and phrases that maybe on your previous listen you did not notice. It is an inventive soundtrack, a pleasing one and one that will I know be returned to many times.

Please check out the composers other scores which are available on digital platforms, such as We’re Here, and The Sun is also a Star. And watch out for her score for the new Apple TV series The Essex Serpent which she co-wrote with Dustin O’Halloran, the series begins on May 13th.   


NEAL HEFTI circa 1946.

I wonder have you ever stopped and thought about how brilliant composer Neal Hefti was. As a young child, he remembered his family relying on charity during the holidays. He started playing the trumpet in school at the age of eleven, and by high school was spending his summer vacations playing in local territory bands to help his family make ends meet. Born in Hastings Nebraska on October 29th 1922, He grew up close to Omaha, where he was lucky enough to hear bands and trumpet players of the Southwest Territory bands. He was also able to experience the virtuoso playing of several New York jazz musicians that passed through that way on tour.

The composer in later years.

Hefti often said that he was influenced at an early age by the North Omaha scene. He remarked about how impressed he was with the playing of both Harry Edison and Buck Clayton and Dizzy Gillespie when he was with Cab Calloway. All three trumpet players were a great inspiration to Hefti, as was the band leader Count Basie.  Seeing both Gillespie and Basie perform in Omaha, was a pre cursor to him experiencing them again in New York and seeing Gillespie develop his own style of bebop on fifty second street.  In 1939, Hefti, was still at junior North High school in Omaha, and he managed to get a start in music by writing arrangements of vocal ballads for local bands such as Nat Towels band.

Hefti’s first big arrangements for them being Swinging on Lennox Avenue and More Than you Know and a very popular re-working of Anchors Aweigh. A handful of his arrangements were also used by Earl Hines band. In 1941 Hefti was due to graduate from high school but just before he did he was offered the chance to go on tour with the Dick Barry Band, which was something he felt he could not turn down. He travelled with the band to New Jersey, but after just two engagements he was fired because he was unable sight read the music well enough. After being stranded in New Jersey because he had no money Hefti managed to join the Bob Astor band, where he met drummer Shelley Manne, who has on occasion recalled that even at a very young age Hefti was an impressive composer and arranger. But he focused more upon playing trumpet in Astor’s band for a couple of years before turning more to arranging and writing music. An injury forced him to leave the Bob Astor band and for a while he remained in New York, he played with Bobby Byrne in the latter part of 1942 and then with Charlie Barnet for whom he did an arrangement of Skyliner which proved to be a great success. It was during his time in New York that Hefti began to frequent the clubs on 52nd street, when I say frequent, but he never had any money to go into them but often would sneak into the kitchens and talk to the performers whilst at the same time trying to soak up all the new music that he was hearing. It is here that he got know many of the great beboppers.


He left New York and went to Cuba to play with The Les Leiber Rhumba Band, when he returned from Cuba in 1943, he got a place in the Charley Spivak band, and this led him to play in California and whilst there made a band movie. Hefti adored California and decided to try and settle in Los Angeles.  

It was not until the 1960’s that Hefti began to become involved in the writing of film scores, during this time Hefti wrote several memorable scores for films such as Duel at Diablo, Sex and the Single Girl, How to Murder your Wife, The Odd Couple, Synanon, Boeing Boeing, Barefoot in the Park, Lord Love a Duck, and Harlow.

It was also in the 1960’s that the composer/arranger collaborated with Frank Sinatra, on the singers “Sinatra and Swinging Brass” album. Hefti being credited as conductor, arranger on all the recordings twelve tracks. It was also during this period that he wrote the still popular Batman theme for the TV series and contributing to the TV series of The Odd Couple. In which he reprised his already familiar theme.

He received three Grammy Award Nominations for his TV work, and an award for his score to the Batman TV series. After the death of his wife in 1978, Hefti was never the same again, and retired from an active role in music. He passed away on October 11th 2008.



Alfred Newman was born in Connecticut USA in 1901, he was one of the eldest children in a family of ten. He began to take a keen interest in music from an early age and aged just 5 years he began to have piano lessons and two years later was performing in public. He studied at the Von Ende school of music in New York, where he concentrated on piano under the tutelage of Sigismond Stojowski and counterpoint and composition under the watchful gaze of George Wedge and Rubin Goldmart. The young Newman made an impression on his teachers and won medals for his high standard of piano performance. After his time at the school of music Newman continued to take further musical education from Arnold Shoenberg. During his teen Newman began to perform piano to support himself and also his family, after leaving the school and finishing his studies he was introduced to Broadway by the vaudeville producer Grace La Rue, he began to conduct a handful of shows and these became very successful and as they did Newman’s reputation as a fine conductor arranger spread. He finally got his big break in 1920 when George Gershwin appointed him as musical director for The George White Scandals which ran till the latter part of 1921. Newman continued to work on Broadway for just over a decade, he was involved in numerous productions that involved Gershwin, Jerome Kern and even Al Jolson.  In 1930, Newman received a commission from Irving Berlin and the young composer travelled to Hollywood, Berlin had written the theme for a film entitled Reaching the Moon and had asked Newman to be musical director on the movie.  Newman decided that he liked Hollywood and settled in California, and it was at this time that the composer met Samuel Goldwyn who introduced him to the studio system.


Newman’s career is phenomenal and he is probably one of the most prolific composers of film scores ever, he wrote the music to well over 200 motion pictures and acted as musical director and supervisor on hundreds of others, he adapted lots of musicals which had been successful on Broadway when they were brought to the big screen and also worked with Charlie Chaplin, conducting the actors compositions for Modern Times and City Lights, it is also Newman’s music that we hear at the beginning of every 20th Century fox movie and TV show, this has to be one of the most familiar pieces of music that is connected with the cinema, with its imposing percussion and broad and shining brass fanfare. In 1940, Newman began to work for Fox, he was MD for the studio and not only wrote numerous film scores during this time, but also hired various composers and assigned them to films. 

It was Newman who championed fellow composer Hugo Friedhofer allowing him to progress from an orchestrator to a composer in his own right. Newman also gave Jerry Goldsmith his first big break in the film music arena. Newman’s music was to become a fixture within Hollywood and his daughter Maria and sons David and Thomas carried on the family tradition by themselves becoming highly respected and sought-after composers, his nephew Randy is also an Oscar winning composer and lyricist. In 1960, Newman decided to leave Fox and go freelance, and he was certainly not short of assignments, it was during this period that the composer wrote the powerful score for the western How the West Was Won and provided The Flower Drum Song with its musical accompaniment.

Alfred Newman garnered forty-five Academy Award nominations during his long and illustrious career and won the Oscar on nine occasions. His musical career spanned four decades, and his techniques and stylish orchestrations have had far reaching influences at times manifesting themselves within other composers works for the cinema.

Alfred Newman passed away in February 1970, his last film score Airport received an Oscar nomination just one month later. Newman’s rich, vibrant, and sweeping soundtracks brought a new dimension to every movie he worked on and much like Max Steiner, Alfred Newman was an innovator and an inspiration to numerous other composers. He was also responsible for creating the Newman style for scoring motion pictures. This System is a means of synchronising the performance and recording of a movie score with the film itself. A rough cut of the film is shown for the conductor to look at whilst in the recording session, the film is marked with punches and streamers.

Punches are tiny marks in the film, for two of every ten frames, creating a standard beat to help the conductor keep time. To synchronise music and action, the conductor then uses streamers, that are horizontal lines which move across the screen at a regular pace. This system devised by Newman revolutionized the way in which films were scored, and if were not for Alfred Newman film music and the scoring of films would probably not have evolved or developed in the way it did. We would also probably not have got to experience fully the musical genius of Bernard Herrmann, a composer who Alfred Newman thought had great talent and gave him a chance to work on a number of movies at Fox during the 1940’s and 1950’s such as The Snows of Kilimanjaro. The Newman dynasty as it has become known in film and film music circles has made a lasting impact upon movie scoring and the way that film music sounds and is utilised within films and later in television. But let’s not forget the other members of the Newman family who also were instrumental in influencing and inspiring future generations including their own sons, daughters, and nephew’s etc.


There was Lionel Newman who was a talented conductor and directed the scores of many Hollywood composers including the Oscar winning Omen  for composer Jerry Goldsmith. Alfred’s Brother, Emile Newman too was a Maestro and wrote for stage and screen.

But let’s come forward in time to the days when both David and Thomas Newman stepped into the film music arena and when their sister Maria began to write classical music for concert hall performance as well as performing viola and piano. And to the wealth of rich and vibrant music that continues to be realized by the Newman family.

David is the eldest being born in 1954, he began his film scoring career aged thirty back in 1984 when he worked on a short movie for a then unknown director Tim Burton, the film was a Walt Disney production entitled Frankenweenie. Two years later Newman scored a few low budget movies these included Critters, The Kindred and My Demon Lover. It was during the 1980’s that Newman began to establish himself as a composer of film music and it soon became evident that he had inherited his father’s innovative and inventive talent for creating music that was effective within the films he worked on and also remained attractive and affecting away from the screen images. In 1987 Newman worked on several movies and scored the first of many animated features which was Brave Little Toaster directed by Jerry Rees. It was also in 1987 that the composer wrote the music for Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. In the same year David scored Throw Momma from the Train which was his first collaboration with Danny De Vito as director and produced an electronic score for the movie Heathers.

As the eighties ended Newman worked with De Vito again in 1989 when he wrote the music for The War of the Roses. The 1990’s were to prove even more productive for the composer creating memorable scores for movies such as Mr Destiny, Bill and Teds Bogus Adventure, Duck Tales the Movie, The Mighty Ducks, Hoffa, I love Trouble, Boys on the Side, Matilda, Jingle all the Way, Galaxy Quest, Bowfinger, The Nutty Professor, The Phantom, and Brokedown Palace to identify but a few.

In recent years David Newman in my opinion has become a brilliant ambassador for film music and has conducted many concerts of music from the movies in the United States and in Europe, promoting the art of movie music to all. He most recently acted as an arranger adapting the music of Leonard Bernstein for the Steven Spielberg version of West Side Story, which was Newman’s first collaboration with the filmmaker.


From David to his younger brother Thomas, who is arguably the busiest composer of the second generation of Newman’s. He has worked on many motion pictures in Hollywood and has also scored two Bond movies as well as working with some of the worlds most recognised filmmakers. It was his music for the Sam Mendes movie American Beauty that probably first attracted me to his music.

At times the composer going for a more subdued and slightly more intimate sound within his scores for motion pictures. However, he has produced some vibrant and robust works for movies such as Bridge of Spies in 2015, plus Road to Perdition and The Shawshank Redemption.

I must admit to not being a great fan of his music for the James Bond franchise, I found it to be too subtle at times, and it seemed as if it was just a musical wallpaper that kind of covered the cracks in some of the two films plots.

The bombastic style of Barry and Arnold for me at least suited the characteristics of Bond better. There is (in my opinion) a sameness within Thomas Newman’s work at times the composer not really altering sound or style to accommodate characters and scenarios. Thomas was born in 1955 and began his film scoring career in the same year as his elder brother David 1984.

His first scoring assignment being Reckless for director James Foley, swiftly followed by Revenge of the Nerds and Desperately Seeking Susan. He scored a total of fifteen movies during the eighties, working on films such as The Lost Boys, The Man with One Red Shoe and Less than Zero. In the 1990’s Thomas was like his sibling very busy, and in that decade established himself as a composer of worth amongst his peers and fans, applying his Midas touch to movies such as The Player, Scent of a Woman, Little Women, Up Close and Personal, The War, Phenomenon, Meet Joe Black, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and Red Corner. It was in the 2000’s that the composer further established himself creating affecting scores for Road to Perdition, Erin Brokovich, Finding Nemo, The Salton Sea, Wall-E, and Revolutionary Road. In 2012 he scored Skyfall which was his first Bond movie for director Sam Mendes and returned to 007 in 2015 providing the score for Spectre. After which he went on to write the music for Finding Dory, Tolkien, and 1917 amongst others. His most recent assignments include Operation Mincemeat for director Joe Madden, which is a Netflix film and, in the pipeline, he has a score coming for the Channing Tatum directed movie Dog which will be released in 2022. Both Thomas and David continue their father’s musical vision for marrying music to images in film and increasing the impact and depth of cinematic storylines with emotive, and dramatic compositions. Both employ very different styles in bringing these notions to fruition.


The Newman brother’s sister Maria is also a composer and an accomplished performer and conductor. Born Maria Louise Newman on January 18, 1962, She, is the youngest of Alfred Newman’s children, Maria holds the Louis and Annette Kaufman Composition Chair; and the Joachim Chassman Violin Chair at the Montgomery Arts House for Music and Architecture in Malibu, California, and is a founder of the Malibu Friends of Music. Her library of original works represents a range of genres, from large-scale orchestral works, works for the ballet, chamber works, choral and vocal works, to new collaborative scores for vintage silent film. She has been presented with several awards and commissions, including musical commendations from the United States Congress (2009), the California State Senate (2009), the California State Assembly (2009), the City of Malibu (2010), and the Annenberg Foundation (2011). She also writes scores for silent movies.


Randy Newman is a cousin and is a composer that we all know and love, he is more than a composer, he is a producer, singer, and song writer. Sadly, some film score fans do dismiss him, thinking he is a composer who is restricted to penning sweet little songs such as You Got Friend in Me from the Toy Story series. But there is much more to this talented and versatile music-smith.

He has written glorious sounding scores for movie such as Seabiscuit, The Natural, The Paper, Avalon, Maverick, Pleasantville, and created emotional sounding scores for movies such as Awakenings, and Ragtime. But it is probably true to say that he is better known for his musical contributions to the world of animated cinema in the form of his music for A Bugs Life, Monsters Inc and of course Toy Story.

For me personally the score for The Natural is one of his best works. But saying that how do select the best from so many scores and albums all of which are varied and different. His best-known songs as a recording artist are Short People (1977), I Love L.A. (1983), and You’ve Got a Friend in Me (1995), while other artists have enjoyed more success with cover versions of his Mama Told Me Not to Come (1966), I Think It’s Going to Rain Today (1968) and You Can Leave Your Hat On (1972).

Born in Los Angeles in 1943 to an extended family of Hollywood film composers, Randy Newman began his song writing career at the age of just 17, with hits for acts such as the Fleetwood’sCilla BlackGene Pitney, and the Alan Price Set. In 1968, he made his formal debut as a solo artist with the self-titled album Randy Newman. Four of his non-soundtrack albums have charted in the US top 40: Sail Away (1972), Good Old Boys (1974), Little Criminals (1977), and Harps and Angels (2008).


The Newman dynasty continues in movie music with Joey Newman, who is already an Emmy Nominated composer. Joey’s grandfather was Oscar-winning composer and conductor Lionel Newman, who passed away in 1989 his great uncle was Alfred Newman. Joey’s father, Joe Frank Carollo, played bass and sang in the famed 1970s rock group “Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds.” Joey is a drummer conductor and an orchestrator and has worked with his cousin Randy Newman on occasion. He has written the music for several movies as well as scoring video games and composing music for TV projects and provided arrangements for recording artists such as Rufus Wainwright and Broadway composers Marcy & Zina and Cinco Paul.

As a conductor and orchestrator, Joey has worked across the media spectrum including orchestrating for Bill Ross and conducting alongside Michael Tilson Thomas and John Williams. His scoring credits for films and TV include, Any Day Now, The Space Between, Raised by Wolves, My Uncle Rafael, and Diary of a future President. He also scored the video game Lineage, which is worth more than a fleeting listen. The influence of the Newman family upon movie music is far reaching and continues to be a dominant feature of contemporary film music.