Jerry Grant began his musical career as a rock/jazz musician, starting performing for what we now know as Motown records in Detroit. He has written for the concert hall and contributed scores for motion pictures and television series. I would like to thank the composer for taking the time to answer my questions and also for his many contributions to the world of music in general.
You were born in Detroit, and early in your career worked on a number of recordings for Motown, how did you become involved with the recording label and what recordings do you have fond memories of?
This was my first experience of putting on a headphone and playing for recording. The company was not yet called Motown and we sweetened some rhythm tracks that did not yet have a tune. And I heard that these tracks were given to several riders to create tunes for so we never knew what we were playing for.
When you were studying music you focused upon saxophone and also flute I understand, when you are writing a piece how do you work out your ideas, piano, saxophone, flute or PC?
I use a keyboard and a computer sequencer which I have used since 1986. Sometimes I will play my horn and come up with lines but mostly keyboard.
How did you become involved in writing music for films and television and was this something that you set out to do?
I saw a movie called friendly persuasion when I was 14 years old. The films score Mesmerized me, and I thought, this is what I’d like to do. The road was long between that day and becoming a film composer, but the process gave me wonderful and invaluable experience to hone my craft. I got my college degrees in music with an MA in composition. I worked in the studios as performer & arranger for pop tunes, started my own 12-piece jazz fusion orchestra 1971 and use it as my laboratory. I used that group and a couple of other techniques to get my way into TV writing.
Would you say that there is a vast difference between scoring say an episodic tv series and a feature film?
Composition is no different, creativity is creativity, but the orchestration differs vastly since a TV speaker was 2 inches and the cinema screen is large with a better sound system. A TV show needs to be done in a few days and you draw on the theme and the predetermined style of the show whereas in the film you create a much larger conception of interlaced and hopefully cohesive kinds of cues with a new style for the film.
Do you orchestrate your music for film or do you at times have to utilise n orchestrator because of schedules etc?
I always orchestrated my own work. I was considered a very good orchestrator facile and quick. Plus, the budgets of the films that I worked on did not allow that luxury. I aimed for another level of film, but circumstances did not go in that direction.
Your score for HIRED TO KILL has just been released by Movie Score Media, did you have any involvement in compiling the tracks for the release and will we see any more of your film scores released in the near future?
I had nothing to do with the compilation of the tracks. Several shorter cues were combined to make a longer piece. My approval was asked and I thought whoever did the job did a great job.
You worked on 65 episodes of THE SECRET WORD OF ALEX MACK, with a series such as this are the deadlines tight and do you ever recycle certain cues from previous episodes and use them in others?
I may have used ideas but never actually cues since each individual Cue requires timings and certain hits so you’re better off starting from the beginning instead of trying to use a shoehorn to make a cue fit. I was lucky with Alex Mac even though the series didn’t pay a good fee I did negotiate the minimum time that I had to do an episode which was five days.
QUANTUM LEAP was quite popular in the UK when it was aired, what size orchestra did you have for this series or did this vary depending on what each episode required musically?
The orchestra varied depending on the needs of a particular episode it ranged from about 26 pieces to 40 pieces.
When you started out you worked as a jazz/rock musician and you have fused these styles of music with the dramatic more symphonic kind within your film scores, do you perform on your soundtracks or TV scores?
I learned a lesson early in my career where I produced a dance album, did all the arranging and played on the dates. During the mix I thought, why did I let that go by and not re-record. So, after that I never played on any session that I was producing or arranging.
You have worked in many mediums, documentaries, movies, TV shows and also written for concert hall performance, I know none of these can be called easy tasks, but is it easier writing for the concert hall as opposed to writing a film score because there are no timings or sound effects etc?
No, composing is not any easier however, I get a little fussier with concert music only because I can. Sometimes that is a mistake because with TV writing, sometimes you have to say to yourself, that will work or that’s good enough. The reality is, I should do the same in concert music Because if I fall into the trap of saying, I’m going to write a great piece, I am doomed and can’t come up with anything because nothing is good enough.
VIEW FROM THE MOUNTAIN is an album that you are involved with can you tell us about this and how it came about?
In Los Angeles I had a 13-piece jazz orchestra called the Nujazz Alternative. After a 25-year hiatus from my first fusion band, I organized it at the prodding of my recording musician friends. After I moved from Los Angeles to Grass Valley, the availability of L.A. level Musicians just didn’t exist. So, with my computer and synthesizer chops I decided to make the Nujazz Alternative a virtual orchestra. Since I was performing again, I played on the album and broke my rule number one that I made a long time ago, which was,” never play on something you arrange or produce”.
What is your opinion of the increased use of electronics and samples in contemporary film music?
Use whatever is at your disposal. Stravinsky could take two spoons and make a good piece. However, in some cases it has allowed musicians with very little training to write for various mediums only because their uncle was the producer. Sometimes pushing a single note on the synthesizer with a great patch becomes a Cue. And I’ve seen that many times.
What composers classical or otherwise would you say have had an influence upon you and in the way, you maybe write or perform?
Certainly, Stravinsky, Bartok, Barber, Berg in the classical genre and Gill Evans, and a slew of other jazz writers including Gerry Mulligan and Progressive rock musicians like Emerson, Lake and Palmer add to the mix.
Going back to HIRED TO KILL, what size orchestra did you have for the score and how much time did you have to write and record the score?
The budget was small because it was a small budget movie. However, I was able to create a 35-piece orchestra to do the job and also pre-recorded about 12 tracks of synthesizer to augment the orchestra to sound like about 70. Some of the cues only required a few musicians so I had a couple of sessions with small groups like maybe 6 to 10. Like so many other movies this was a package deal, so you need to make the decision about how much money you want to put in your pocket versus how you want the music to sound versus the requirements of the film.
When you are asked to score a movie, how many times do you like to see the film before beginning to work out what style of music you will write and where the music is best placed to serve the picture?
I only watched most of the movies once and then went back and spot viewed them. Usually the film is spotted with either of the director or the producer so that everybody’s on the same page. However, Niko never sat down with me so the decision for spotting was strictly mine. I would pick his brain when I could, but he never actually sat down and decided where the music should go. As you can imagine, this is dangerous since the Director never hears the music until it goes to the dub stage.
What are you working on now?
I recently finished a prelude for a piano solo and a commission for a brass festival in Portugal. That piece is for trombone, tuba and piano, Titled Sonic Games. I’m currently writing a couple of jazz pieces for trombone solo and strings since my trombone friend loves strings. This is kind of a flavour, but it gets me to stretch a bit too.