Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Russia House: Jerry Goldsmith

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Jerry Goldsmith’s The Russia House  could very well be the best score ever to feature an unwanted theme and an unwanted album. Not only did Jerry Goldsmith disapprove of the MCA Records album for The Russia House, but the title theme of the film itself was a reject from a previous Jerry Goldsmith score. The saga of the score for The Russia House begins two years before the film's release, when Goldsmith conjured up a bold and yet longing love theme for the film Alien Nation.

 In a seemingly nonsensical move by that film's producers, Goldsmith's score was rejected and expunged. Knowing that he had a perfectly viable, not to mention powerful, theme on his hands, he waited a few years before working it into the film treatment of John LeCarre's novel The Russia House.

“[Goldsmith’s score contains ] saxophone performances by Branford Marsalis (both scripted and improvised) that are nothing short of spectacular. Never once does he quiver unintentionally or even slightly miss a note. Perfection is bliss.”
- Filmtracks.com review

“The function of a [film] score is to enlarge the scope of the film. I try for emotional penetration – not for complementing the action. For me, the important thing about music is statement. I can’t describe how I arrive at the decision to make a statement, I simply feel it and react to it.”
- Jerry Goldsmith

Spoken like a true Jazz musician - and this from one of the premier composers of music for the movies in the history of film!

As has been intended since we posted an audio track from the film The Russia House on the columnar or left-side of the blog some months ago:

“We plan to do more with the music from Jerry Goldsmith’s wonderful film score to The Russia House in a future feature highlighting the beauty of the city of St. Petersburg; another of the JazzProfiles editorial staff’s attempts to meld Jazz and photographic images. In the meantime, please enjoy this audio track and marvel at Jerry’s gorgeous scoring for strings [especially beginning at 4:15] and Branford Marsalis’ mastery of the soprano saxophone. With Mike Lang on piano and John Patitucci on bass, this is one of the most beautiful movie themes ever written.”

A few years ago I came across a DVD of The Russia House.  The movie is an adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel by producer- director  Fred Schepisi, who also altered the ending of the novel into a happy one. The movie stars Sean Connery and Michel Pfeiffer who are well- served in their leading roles by an excellent cast that includes Roy Scheider, James Fox, John Mahoney and Klaus Maria Brandauer.

A number of things struck me about the movie including the engaging love affair between Sean Connery and Michel Pfeiffer [the romantic in me?] and the stunning scenes of Moscow and St. Petersburg, both of which came together to create a “feel good” movie.

But what impressed me the most about the film was how the wonderfully crafted music took this movie to a total visual and aural experience for me.

Not surprisingly, the music for this film score in all its unique splendor, was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, one of the great practitioners of this genre.

The film score does all the things it should do to support a suspenseful Cold War thriller, but it does so in many unique ways including the use of beautifully written string segments [few composers know how to score for strings anymore],  the interspersing a Jazz trio made up of soprano sax, piano and bass,  the use of electronic instruments and effects [including recording-in of a metronome] and the careful inclusion of the duduk and balalaika, traditional Slavic and Russian instruments. 

I am not often a fan of the soprano sax; it’s been disparagingly dubbed the “fish horn” for a reason.

But I came to especially enjoy the sound of the instrument as played by Branford Marsalis after listening to him soar over the film score throughout the movie, but most particularly, during the seven minute [7.39] closing scene when the film credits are launched over exquisite camera shots from around Russia’s traditional and modern capitals: St. Petersburg and Moscow, respectively.

Marsalis solos over beautifully orchestrated strings which are interjected with piano and bass rhythmic phrases, the latter played by Michael Lang and John Patitucci, respectively.

The film was released on December 11, 1990 and a CD of the sound track music was subsequently  issued on MCA Records [MCAD-10136].

While doing further research on the evolution of Jerry Goldsmith skillfully  crafted score, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles found two detailed accounts to share with you.

To give you a sense of the architectural beauty of St. Petersburg or in Russian  - Санкт-Петербург – we have interspersed photographs of some of its most famous venues throughout the profile.  These are also included in the video tribute should you wish to view them collectively while listening to Jerry, Branford, Michael and John at work.

Jerry Goldsmith’s The Russia House from FilmTracks.com 

“The Russia House: (Jerry Goldsmith) If a single film and score could define the word "bittersweet" better than any other, The Russia House would be the champion example. The potentially explosive adaptation of John LeCarre's novel needs no introduction to the concepts of depression and oppression, and despite the story's famously distraught conclusion, audiences were seemingly unprepared for either the gloom of the film or the distorted and confusing ending of the adaptation.

The film fell short of all expectations at the time, though the lead performances by Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer were well enough praised. The espionage story was the first major American production ever to be shot on location in the former Soviet Union, with a sharp, somewhat technological edge driving its fear factor.

Perhaps the most critical element of The Russia House is its extremely memorable score by Jerry Goldsmith, a score with about as much frustration and depression built into the circumstances of its creation as the story of The Russia House itself. Goldsmith first conjured the beautiful theme for this film in 1987 for Wall Street, but when he left that film due to creative differences with the filmmakers, he adapted the theme into his electronic score for Alien Nation the following year.

Being that the 1988 alien/cop drama was so wretchedly awful, however, Goldsmith wasn't particularly disappointed when his score was completely rejected from the finished product. His bold and longing love theme for Alien Nation was realized in that film's cue "The Wedding," but never did it truly take flight until it was altered slightly (improving its romantic flow in three places) and handed to an accomplished jazz trio for The Russia House in 1990.

Goldsmith's approach to the genuine locale was countered by an interestingly American approach to scoring the visuals, infusing a slight edge of old-style noir into the picture. He took a chance by composing an almost exclusively jazzy score, building off of the Barley (Connery) character's performance of the saxophone in the film.

To address the concept of espionage, and not to mention Connery himself, Goldsmith inserts a slight touch James Bond's mechanical instrumentation, making restrained, but smart use of his library of synthetic rhythm-setters. To address the danger of the romance, he offers us a glimpse of the ominously nervous strings that we would eventually hear in full for
Basic Instinct.

The most surprising aspect of the score for The Russia House is its simplicity in instrumentation and repetition. It's hard to imagine how a score of this minuscule size and scope could be so overwhelming in its appeal. That might say something about Goldsmith's raw talent, and perhaps it speaks to three years of development on the concepts.

His base elements are simple; a jazz trio handles the majority of the themes and underscore, with saxophone performances by Branford Marsalis (both scripted and improvised) that are nothing short of spectacular. Never once does he quiver unintentionally or even slightly miss a note. Perfection is bliss.

Michael Lang is equally renown for his fabulous piano performances, and he delicately establishes an elevated level of classy bar room atmosphere for Marsalis' sax. The bass, performed by John Patitucci, has a larger role in the score, not only providing a rhythm for the other two jazz performers, but also handling a large portion of the underscore.

It is during these sequences with the bass that Goldsmith utilizes his electronics to his fullest. With his knowledge of synthesized integration having matured since the experimental days of Legend and Hoosiers, Goldsmith's electronics are almost identically appealing in both the concurrent 1990 releases of Total Recall and The Russia House.

The James Bond aspect of the spy tale called for the presence of mechanized subterfuge, and thus, the use of Goldsmith's wide array of synthesized sounds keeps a consistent rhythm set throughout the score. Most of these sounds are common, light, upper-range, chime-like keyboarding from Goldsmith's library, though the incorporation of a "release of air" effect is unique to this score.

Not always are the solo bass and electronics geared towards suspense, though. The third element of Goldsmith's score is the reasonably sized string section, which is added to provide a whimsical effect for the grand, romantic performances of the title theme (this could also just be a smaller string ensemble simply mixed over itself... it doesn't matter either way). During these moments, the electronics cease their systematic beats and blossom into chimes and twinkles.

No better of an example exists than the finale of the film, when the dream-like "The Family Arrives" sequence provides a false sense of hope at an otherwise doomed finish to the story. During these elegant performances of Goldsmith's cherished theme, the sax, strings, and piano rotate in their pronouncement of the theme, with all three together occasionally blowing the listener away with stunning aural beauty (such as "Bon Voyage"). Over half of the score, though, consists of the suspenseful underscore previously mentioned, with the bass and electronics leading the way. Goldsmith throws in two more elements during these sequences.

First, some very light percussion, crisply recorded, keeps the film moving at a pre-set tempo. To do this, Goldsmith integrates the clicking of a metronome (the device by which instrument performers set their tempo in practice) right into the scheme of the recording. Only a snippet of traditional jazz band percussion is used, such as the light cymbal tapping during the faster rhythmic opening to "Training."

Assessing the need for a slight Soviet influence on the score, Goldsmith also composes for the duduk and balalaika, the former being an Armenian instrument that will sound, to the common American ear, like a low, fluttering woodwind instrument. These elements are combined well with Goldsmith's American jazz, leading to a very smooth and listenable hour of music.

The duduk is employed in a creative way so that it almost sounds as though it's a naturally lower progression of the sax, increasing both instruments' emotional range at moments like the end of "The Meeting." Cues that merge these woodwind sounds, as well as the metronome and synthetics, with some slight improvisation from the lead trio (such as in "Crossing Over") are a delight.

In sum, Goldsmith's music for The Russia House is the type that you wish you could hear every time you go into an upscale bar. It is friendly, yet mysterious. It is smoky, yet crystal clear. It is vibrant, yet lulls you to a different place. Its recording quality is so crisp that Marsalis' sax bounces off the walls with remarkable clarity.

The monotony of its underwhelming construct is compensated for by the sheer talent of its performers and the constant sense of movement that Goldsmith's rhythms use to maintain your interest. In these regards, The Russia House is the ultimate "homework score," a description used by career students who have spent countless hours researching and writing to this music. The vocal version of Goldsmith's theme, performed in the song "Alone in the World" by Patti Austin, melts wonderfully into the center of the album. The song's arrangement and instrumentation by Goldsmith is consistent with the surrounding underscore.

Aside from the recognizable Goldsmithian electronics and some minor key bass string movements teasing later development in Basic Instinct, this score is like nothing composed by any other major film composer in the last twenty years. Other composers have tried to score films with the same emphasis on jazz, but none has succeeded with the same class and sense of style as Goldsmith accomplished. To that end, traditional Goldsmith fans might not warm up to The Russia House at first.

But it has become a legend within the film score industry, a favorite score for several leading composers still working today, with similar praise extended from fans all over the world. Goldsmith's love affair with the final track of The Russia House (the ultimate highlight of the album, for which he allowed the trio of jazz musicians to improvise over seven minutes of material, leading to an enjoyably snazzy conclusion for the album) that he would reprise the sound almost identically in his underrated 1993 score for The Vanishing (though curiously out of place and not as crisp in sound). He would also touch upon the basics of the style at the end of 1997's The Edge.

Even on its addictively attractive album, however,
The Russia House still caused frustration for Goldsmith himself. Not only was his theme unwanted for no less than two films, but the MCA album, as presented, was unwanted by the composer as well.

It's a classic example of how many composers wish to maintain control over the presentation of their works outside of their intended film use. Perhaps the ultimate irony of Goldsmith's quest to narrow down the length of the album for The Russia House is that neither of the other two scores featuring versions of its themes (Alien Nation and The Vanishing) would receive commercial albums, both relying instead on bootlegs and eventual Varèse Sarabande club treatment.

Goldsmith disapproved of the MCA Records album because it presented the mass of the music from the film intact. Many people will argue alongside Goldsmith that The Russia House would make a fantastic 30-minute album. But MCA, in this case, got it right. There are nuances in this score that make every moment one of intrigue.

If you cut out all of the duduk ethnicity and bass string suspense, you'd be left with the dozen renditions of the love theme, and one of the great aspects of the score in its entirety is its ability to bring one of those lush thematic statements at just the right moment of lonely despair.

Many reviewers will be deterred by the length of the album, overlooking the profound impact that an understated score like this can have on its film, and many fans will comment that the score is simply too depressing to enjoy on a bright sunny afternoon.

But elegance comes in many forms, and the music from The Russia House, while perfect for the shadows of midnight despair, is a score that anyone (and especially a Goldsmith enthusiast) should be able to appreciate at any hour. The score came during a fantastic year for film music, but while John Barry's Dances With Wolves, Danny Elfman's Edward Scissorhands, and Basil Poledouris' The Hunt for Red October, among others, drew more public attention, the quality of The Russia House exceeds all of them. The difference is style. *****

The Russia House from
Film Released: December 11, 1990
Film Score by Jerry Goldsmith
CD: Released by
Serial number

Principal Soloists:

Branford Marsalis, soprano saxophone
Michael Lang, piano
John Patitucci, bass

Orchestrated by Arthur Morton

Vocal tracks : Patti Austin

"Leviathan scored a year earlier proved to be the turning point in Goldsmith's career and the reason why composer and agent went after a more rewarding assignment in 1990. Leviathan remains a popular score, but as a movie, Jerry Goldsmith deserved something a lot more worthy of his talents.

By saying "no" to a lot of assignments they held out for Fred Schepisi's adaptation of John Le Carre's book
The Russia House. The movie had quality written all over it and although it failed to make massive box office, the movie garnered enough respect to make it critic friendly and musically Goldsmith wrote one of his most respected works. At the time he placed this ahead of Islands in The Stream as his own personal favorite.

Fred Schepisi's polished adaptation was tailor made for scoring, with emphasis placed on the Russian locations, and at times looking like a travel log, it had to play over some of the best photography lensed for film. Goldsmith's classy jazz score is introduced over the cold grey skies of
Moscow and introduces Michelle Pfieffer's character (Katya). Goldsmith's transparent string writing shows his intentions for this theme and introduces Branford Marsalis' haunting Saxophone as the lead instrument.

Regardless of the love story this is still a cold war spy drama set against a post glasnost
Russia and we are introduced to the intrigue through some restrained but nonetheless suspenseful string work as British Intelligence search the flat of Barley Blair (Introductions). Here Goldsmith creating light but ominous overtones for strings and Piano for the espionage. These aspects come to the fore later in a sequence where Blair is taught how to spot anyone following him (Training). Here synth work and strings create momentum by way of some unusual sounds, especially noteworthy is a 'swishing' effect as Blair shows his lack of seriousness to British Intelligence.
The developing relationship between Blair and Katya is Goldsmith's main focus though as his main theme transforms during their early scenes together and the awakening of their love for each other (Katya and Barley - Bon Voyage). Here Goldsmith introduces Dante by way of atmospheric chimes and ethnic instrumentation (First Name, Yakov). For this character Goldsmith uses the traditional Russian woodwind instruments the Duduk and also the Balalaika. Their tone perfectly conjuring up the mystery of this character and the potential threat of being caught by the Russian authorities.

As Blair and Katya become wiser to the coercion of the
CIA and MI6, and realizing they are in danger of being caught, they plan an escape. Barley's Love and My Only Country signal their undying love for each other as Goldsmith breaks from spy games to focus his elegant theme once more on their relationship. Crossing Over sees the US and British intelligence waiting anxiously to see if Blair has got what they want from Dante. As the clocks tick away so does Goldsmith's metronome, now tense bass creates a sense of uncertainty as plucked strings and piano provide the signal that Blair has done his own deal to save Katya and her family.

Goldsmith clearly adored this project, closing his score with a lengthy romantic end credit (The Family Arrives) in celebration of the family being reunited, with warm strings, minor electronics and improvised Jazz.
The Russia House is evidence of Goldsmith at the top of his game and is also interesting at revealing the original theme he developed for his unused score to the movie Alien Nation. Thankfully though The Russia House became its well deserved home.

MCA issued a lengthy CD, with a crisp recording and proved a wonderful show case for the talents of both Marsalis and Mike Lang (it was no coincidence that Marsalis turned up in James Horner's
Sneakers). One of the longest CDs approved by Goldsmith, he was ironically criticized by some for its length. But his agent, Richard Kraft, took the blame for that."

Released by
Serial number

Cues & Timings
1. Katya (3:57)
2. Introductions (3:12)
3. The Conversation (4:13)
4. Training (2:01)
5. Katya and Barley (2:32)
6. First Name, Yakov (2:53)
7. Bon Voyage (2:11)
8. The Meeting (3:59)
9. I'm With You/
What Is This Thing Called Love (Cole Porter) (2:39)
10. Alone in the World (4:09) (Patti Austin - song)
11. The Gift (2:34)
12. Full Marks (2:27)
13. Barley's Love (3:24)
14. My Only Country (4:34)
15. Crossing Over (4:13)
16. The Deal (4:09)
17. The Family Arrives (7:38)

With the help of the ace graphics team at CerraJazz LTD we have now reset the closing music to Jerry Goldsmith’s film score for The Russia House to the following visual tribute to St. Petersburg, a magnificently beautiful city that the German poet Goethe once referred to as – “The Venice of the North.” 

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Sal Nistico Quartet Live at Carmelo's 1981

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Coming of age as a working Jazz drummer in the late 1950s, I was very fortunate to live in the eastern San Fernando Valley, an area north of the city of Los Angeles with the largest population in Los Angeles county.

My home was a short drive away from Warner Brothers and Universal Studios via surface streets and a short drive away via freeway from the recording studios and Jazz clubs in Hollywood including Jazz City, Shelly’s Manne Hole and the It club.

Because of these proximities, the San Fernando Valley became a haven for working studio musicians who played Jazz at night and the area soon developed its own Jazz clubs such as The Baked Potato on Cahuenga Blvd, Donte’s on Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood, La Vie Lee, The Times and a host of other small clubs on Ventura Blvd [the portion of Route 66 that comes into Los Angeles] and King Arthur’s in Canoga Park [aka the West Valley].

One of my favorites was Carmelo’s which was located “in the heart of the Valley” on Van Nuys Blvd. and few blocks north of Ventura Blvd. I was particularly fond of it because the Bob Florence Big Band played there quite often.

This trip down memory lane was sparked by the recent release by Jordi Pujol and his fine team at Fresh Sounds Records of a double CD entitled Sal Nistico Quartet Live at Carmelo’s 1981 [FSR -CD -941] on which the tenor saxophonist is joined by pianist Frank Strazzeri, bassist Frank De La Rosa and drummer John Dentz.

Jordi Pujol wrote his usual insightful and informative insert notes to accompany the thirteen [13] tracks of music on this two disc set and we thought we’d present them to you “as is” because we could hardly improve on them.

About Carmelo's

Carmelo Piscitello opened his restaurant Carmelo's around 1960. He was a former barber, and accordionist, who envisioned having the best Italian food in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles. It was a neighborhood restaurant, until in June 1979, Carmelo's brother Chuck — a professional musician described by disc jockey Chuck Niles as "a swinging little bebop drummer"— persuaded him to start offering jazz. The club was intimate, seating no more than a hundred patrons; it operated seven nights a week, and soon became popular. Chuck Piscitello booked the acts with name performers such as saxophonist Stan Getz, Harry Edison, Bob Brookmeyer, Don Menza, Terry Gibbs, blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon, singer Carmen McRae, the big bands of Louis Bellson, Bob Florence, Bill Berry, and jazz organist Jimmy Smith. In June 1982, the brothers acquired the space adjoining their restaurant, and by knocking out a wall they were able to double their audience. Don Menza — one of the regular name performers of the original Carmelo's — recalls: "The jazz club was enlarged (unfortunately) and lost the real intimacy of a true jazz club."

In September 1983, after Chuck Piscitello died of a heart condition, the club entered a phase of decline, and almost closed due to disagreements between the Piscitello family, and various technical difficulties that led to serious delays and financial problems. It was then, that Ruth and Del Hoover bought the club. Previously the Hoovers also operated a smaller nitery, Stevie G's, in nearby Studio City. For two years they tried to keep Carmelo's jazz policy, but business was slow. And Ruth said she found the financial odds were against her. "The trouble is, so many of the performers charge such high fees," she said. "We just can't afford to book them in a relatively small room." The opinion of Don Menza disregards what Ruth said: "I don't know what Ruth was talking about paying us too much. We got basic low pay and we all did it."

The scarcity of financial resources put Carmelo's, a popular jazz club for almost six years and a restaurant for more than 20, on the verge of extinction. In March 1985, "out of the blue" the Hoovers sold the club to the veteran singer and businessman Herb Jeffries. The local jazz community expected Jeffries would be able to return the Sherman Oaks club to its halcyon days as one of the most popular restaurants and clubs that featured jazz in the San Fernando Valley.

However, the expectations that jazz fans had were truncated when, a few months later, in 1986, Jeffries changed the name of the club to Flamingo Music Center. "We don't want to be known as a jazz club. Sure we have jazz," he said, "but we've had rock bands in here; pop; Steve Allen, who does comedy, and opera on Sunday nights." Carey Leverette, owner of North Hollywood's Donte's (for almost two decades perhaps the Valley's premier jazz club), conceded that Jeffries' switch to varied musical entertainment was a sign of the times.

"He's not the only one. Everybody else is doing it," Leverette said. "If it works for him, good for him. I'm sorry to see that jazz is not the premier commodity that it really is in the eyes of the public. When you can get a guy like Prince making $18 million a year and some of the greatest jazz players can't even get a gig — something's wrong there."

Don Menza pointed out how he felt after the club's expansion "I played a few times in the bigger club and it never felt the same. Chuck died shortly after the enlargement, and that was really the end of the jazz community helping out. We did not support the "show biz" part of Ruth or Jeffries' idea of jazz. There were a few who did, but in general the real players felt that Chuck had been betrayed. It was a bad time for all who loved Chuck. The end of an era — too bad."

About Sal Nistico

Tenor saxophonist Sal Nistico is mostly remembered for his years as one of the main soloists in Woody Herman's band. The fact is, more outstanding tenor saxophone soloists have roamed with the Herds of Woody Herman than with perhaps any other band in jazz. Among those great names who have worked or recorded with the band were Allen Eager, Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Ben Webster, Paul Gonsalves, Al Cohn, Flip Phillips, Jimmy Giuffre, Phil Urso, Richie Kamuca, Bill Perkins, Gene Ammons, Jerry Coker, Don Lanphere, and our man: Sal Nistico.

He was born on April 2, 1938, in Syracuse, N.Y. He had an early inclination for jazz. "There used to be a lot of records around the house", he said, "and I listened to a lot of them and always wanted to play something. So, in grade school, I asked them for a trumpet. They said they had enough trumpet players and handed me an old beat-up alto. So I tried to learn to play that. They didn't think I was going to be able to play anything, though. They didn't see any promise whatsoever."

Some years later, Sal began listening to Jazz at the Philharmonic records and developed a liking for Illinois Jacquet and Charlie Parker, His first time playing jazz was with a high school combo, and reflected his listening preferences. "We played things like Anthropology at school dances," he said.

"I was playing alto at the time. I picked up the tenor at 16 and dug it immediately.

So, I went out on the road—playing with anybody I could, from rhythm and blues to strictly entertainment-type groups." At 19, his prior acquaintance with trumpeter Chuck and pianist Gap Mangione in Rochester, N.Y. led to his joining the Jazz Brothers, then a sextet, on tenor. "Up until then," Sal pointed out, "I couldn't play much more than blues, but Chuck and Gap were into all kinds of things— like  Serpent's   Tooth—and  I'd  listen. Later, I sat in with them and was hired."

He was a member of the Mangione Brothers for a couple of years. "The Brothers kept growing," Nistico recalled. "We had a chance to play every night and were really into it. Looking back on it, it really was a high point. Then, in 1962, I got the call to go out with Woody Herman. The band caught fire at the Metropole in New York and things started to happen from there." He joined that 1962 edition of the Herd which was deservedly a much-heralded outfit. The Herman "renaissance" led to Grammy awards and Woody was named one of Down Beat's jazzmen ol the year in 1963.

Nistico had what would be probably the longest tenure of any Herman tenorman, playing until 1971, even though his association with the band was not continuous — he had two stints with Count Basie (in 1964 and 1967) and a European sojourn with a small group in 1965 and 1966. But for most of the 60's, Nistico experienced the rewards of being a featured soloist with one of the most important jazz bands. Also, he experienced the frustrations and limitations of an improviser in a big band context.

He left Herman in the fall of 1971 to become a freelance soloist. In 1972 he joined the Slide Hampton orchestra that travelled to Italy in January. For a few years he played and recorded both in America and Europe with a variety of groups and orchestras led by Lionel Hampton, Buddy Rich, Buck Clayton, Francy Boland, Barone-Burghardt, Benny Bailey, Curtis Fuller, among others; he also recorded as a leader for the German label Ego. And although his career never really got off the ground, Nistico was always a player to reckon with.

In the summer of 1978, after spending almost three years in Europe, he returned to the US scene in top form, recording an excellent sextet album for the Chicago label Bee Hive.

In January 1981 he arrived in Los Angeles, where he would become a regular of the local jazz circuit in a short few months. There he met some old friends from his Rochester days, like Don Menza and Frank Strazzeri. In those days, Carmelo's in Sherman Oaks was one of the most popular Italian restaurants and jazz clubs on the Los Angeles scene. It was owned by the brothers Carmelo and Chuck Piscitello, and Menza and Strazzeri used to play there regularly.

Chuck, the younger brother, was in charge of hiring the bands. Trumpeter Bobby Shew, who also used to play at Carmelo's, recalls that "Chuck was also a pretty decent drummer but didn't get many opportunities to play, sadly."

When Chuck learned that Nistico was in town, he hired him to play at the club in January 22, 1981. For the date, Sal put together an ideal supportive rhythm team made up of the energetic driving piano of Frank Strazzeri, with bassist Frank De La Rosa, and drummer John Dentz.

Nistico's main influences were mainly in the straight-ahead bebop tradition mainly, but he also developed a great admiration for the early Sonny Rollins. As he pointed out, "Sonny Rollins has given me more pleasure than any musician alive. He's got a swing and swing's a medicine. If you're sick, it'll make you feel better — I firmly believe that." He makes his roots clear in these live recordings, with a redoubtable spirit, no tricks and few concessions to more modern stylings, a demeanor that surely added to his reputation a musical heavyweight among his peers. And the quartet setting allowed him the space to play inspiring, emotionally-charged music — qualities to which the at-home ambiance of Carmelo's was very conducive.

He's playing was a pure joy — blisteringly hot and imaginative at up-tempos, and equally eloquent and compelling on mid-tempos and ballads. To start the first set, Nistico picked up a buoyant up-tempo new composition titled Backlog, which he wrote for this gig. After stating the theme in unison with the piano Sal was off and flying with stunning fluidity, injecting emotional intensity and depth into the music, racing over the straight-time walking bass figures of Frank De la Rosa, the stunning fluency of Strazzeri and the restrained power of John Dentz. His solo on Lester Leaps In is a superlative, flawless, swinging, Lester-guided tenor, harmonically rich and rhythmically loose, a string of inventive, winding choruses in logical succession.

On How Deep Is the Ocean he projects his powerful rhythmic attack, and the choruses that tumble out with exuberant, driving lyricism and a limitless supply of inventive energy. A sign that Nistico was a gifted musician was his ability to infuse an old Dixieland evergreen like Sweet Georgia Brown with new vitality, startling twists of perspective, and fresh emotional zing.

He also demonstrates an obvious affinity for a standard like You Stepped Out of a Dream, making it sound as fresh and vibrant as new tune. His invigorating solo is surging and full-bodied, played at a feverish pace, never letting up and moving continually into new areas of exploration. On Equinox. Sal did inject mild Coltrane-sounding tonal nuances into his playing, and they added an extra spice to a demanding performance. Strazzeri gave an excellent and moving solo. Bass and drums play with confidence, especially Dentz, who was outstanding in catching the melody and molding rhythms for it.

Frank Strazzeri, as had happened with Nistico, was a pianist who obtained the recognition of his professional colleagues, rather than the jazz fans. Strazzeri, was a devoted jazz musician who gathered his various influences, among them Bud Powell, Horace Silver, Carl Perkins, and Hank Jones, into an exciting, cliche-free, readily identifiable personal expression. His improvised lines were consistently exciting, inventive and uncluttered, and delivered with a crisp, bright sound in medium and fast tempos. It's worth paying attention to Frank Strazzeri's solo piano rendition of Johnny Mandel's ballad Close Enough for Love, staying respectfully close to the melody, infusing it with charm and feeling with a delicate, controlled touch.

Strazzeri was a fine and prolific composer as well, and Opals was one of his memorable compositions. A melodically meaningful tune, on which Nistico emerges as a more thoughtful and lyrical soloist. This melodic quality is accentuated by his warm roundish sound. That aspect of Nistico is also heard on the groovy bossa nova Pensativa, where his approach is a relaxed, whimsical exploration of the melody, but with a highly lyrical feeling.

Chuck Piscitello, "II Padrone" as Sal announces him at the end of the tune, sat on the drums for Dentz in Hank Mobley's Funk in a Deep Freeze, a mellow neo-bop tune, delivered by the tenor with tempered energy and mature musicality. There is also a palpable feeling of joy in the whole improvisatory process of Strazzeri's solo, proving him to be a consistent source of inspired playing.

On Cedar Walton's Bolivia, Nistico displays imaginative variations from the tune's prime melodic, harmonic and rhythmic elements with commanding authority

Although the vigorous tenor of Sal Nistico is the dominant, leading force throughout, Frank Strazzeri infuses the set with his amazing grasp of harmony, and the two principal aspects of his style: single note line passages alternating with contrasted sequences in chords. Nevertheless, his rather depressive personality, and lack of recognition sometimes made him underestimate his own talent, an opinion not shared by those who had the opportunity to be on stage with him, including Art Pepper, Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Frank Rosolino, Terry Gibbs, Don Menza, Bill Perkins, or Bobby Shew, among many others. The latter talked enthusiastically about Strazzeri: "a giant, a master, an incredibly underrated player, a complete genius."

This gig at Carmelo's was a totally enjoyable musical event. You can hear it in the warm response of the audience. All the jazz fans who have overlooked Sal Nistico (1938-1991) — perhaps because so many great tenor soloists came out of his generation — these previously unreleased recordings are sure to be an eye-opener, pleasing old fans, and reaching younger listeners who will appreciate his powerful sound and style.”

  • Jordi Pujol

Recorded on stage by Don Menza
Mastered by Pieter De Wagter
Produced for CD release by Jordi Pujol
C & ®2017 by Fresh Sound Records

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Hugo Friedhofer - A Compositional and Orchestral Genius

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

"But if you feel about music as I do, you are always working at the outer periphery of your abilities. And that makes you insecure.

"Look," he said as we were finishing our coffee, "I've got my personal estimate of what I know and what I don't know. But I am also acutely conscious of four or five hundred years of musical culture staring over my shoulder, and that makes for a genuine humility. As opposed of course to a false modesty."...
- Hugo Friedhofer

“... he shared with Allyn Ferguson and Jerry Goldsmith a curious distinction: he was one of the very few American film composers actually born in California. Insofar as the politics of Hollywood were concerned, he was a canny observer and trenchant commentator. And I think every composer in the industry not-so-secretly wanted his approval.”

“All the Friedhofer characteristics were already in place: the restraint, the perfect orchestral balance, the beauty of line, the sensitivity, and something that is indefinably but recognizably him….

There is another way in which he was revolutionary; he was the first to write distinctively American scores. The significance of his Best Years of Our Lives score is generally considered to be that it was the first with a recognizably American quality. Prior to that time, film scores in Hollywood had a European flavor, no doubt because so many of the composers were born and trained in Europe.”
- Gene Lees

"Hugo is the silent conscience of the film composer. An affirmative nod from the man is worth more than all of the trinkets bestowed by the film industry." 
- Hank Mancini

Some of the greatest orchestral music ever composed in this country has been lost forever or attenuated into a shadow of its former self for inclusion into the motion picture for which it was written.

I’m referring of course to the music composed for many of the classic [and not-so-classic] movies especially during the great age of movie-making from approximately 1940-1980.

Relatively few of the original scores have been preserved for posterity by the movie studios that commissioned them and the integrity of these composed themes has been compromised through the editing processes which predominates in most film making. Films are literally spliced together which wreaks havoc on film scores that are composed in a linear fashion to fit the excerpts that the orchestrator uses to construct the sound track.

If these film composers have not preserved their motion picture scores in their own estates or by way of a philanthropic donation to a university or museum library, chances are that much of this music is lost forever.

What a shame.

With the exception of the late Canadian-English composer, Robert Farnon, in all the years that I’ve been around the music scene in Hollywood, I’ve never heard anyone who composed “music for the silver screen” praised more highly and more consistently than Hugo Friedhofer.

The following remembrance of Hugo and what made his film orchestrations so special goes a long way toward explaining why Hugo was deserving of such esteem.

Thankfully, too, much of Hugo’s movie orchestration has been saved for future generations to study and to savor.

The Hug
July 15, 1982
Gene Lees

“David Raksin called that morning, May 17, 1981, and said simply, "Hugo is gone," and my eyes misted, even though we had known he was going to die. He was eighty, he was arthritic, and as his daughter Karyl said later, "he was tired."

Dave asked me to handle the press. I called the New York Times. The editor of the Arts and Leisure section had never heard of Hugo Friedhofer, and so the Times, which takes a Brahmin pride in being an American historical record, ignored the fall of one of the most important orchestral composers the United States ever produced, even though all his music was designed to enhance the emotional content of movies, some of which did not deserve the dignity of his genius. It is unfortunate that he did not write symphonies, but he didn't, and that's that, and it is some compensation to remember that he was so uncertain of his talent that had he not been given the workaday assignments of movie scoring, he might never have written any music at all.

I got off the phone after that conversation with the Times and cursed and said, "We have to have our own publication. We cannot be forever at the mercy of amateurs promoted from the city desk."

I tried to explain my feelings to myself. I loved him like... a father? Hardly, Hugo was too childlike for that analogy. Like a brother? No. He was far my superior and senior not only in his knowledge of music but of many things.

Suddenly I understood something I had long felt, in an unformulated way: sex and love have nothing to do with each other. When men love other men, they append "like a brother" or "like a father" to the verb out of their fear of the Big Tabu. And in that moment of grief I knew that I simply loved Hugo Friedhofer. Not as a brother or as a father but as my friend. Just about the last thing he ever said to me, in one of our interminable telephone conversations, was something about "our friendship, which, incidentally, as time goes on, grows increasingly dear to me," following which, embarrassed by his admission of emotion, he changed the subject very swiftly.

In any case, were my inclination towards men, I doubt that Hugo would have been to my taste. He was not tall and slim, and he had a small chin that a thin goatee poorly concealed, a stooped posture ("composer's hump," he called it), and enlarged fingertips stained with nicotine. Men are poorly equipped to judge the looks of other men: they admire the likes of Tyrone Power whom women dismiss as "pretty". But women found Hugo terribly attractive. They say it was his mind that excited them.

And so there he was, my dear friend Hugo, standing there now in sudden memory, gone. This man I loved so much, not just for his talent, although certainly I revelled in his musical genius. I used to phone him whenever I wanted to know something (or had discovered something) about music because, as composer Paul Glass put it, "Hugo always knew." The depth of Paul's loss can be measured in a remark he made to me in a phone conversation from Switzerland that might sound arrogant but which I found touching and lonely and devastated: "Now that Hugo's gone, I may know more about orchestration than any man alive." Paul lost his teacher. So did I.

A footnote to that: Hugo told me he had studied with Paul Glass. Paul told me he had studied with Hugo.

In September, 1981, four months after Hugo died, I went to the Monterey Jazz Festival. Hotel rooms were scarce and so at the suggestion of Hugo's daughter, Karyl Friedhofer Tonge, I stayed with her daughter, Jennifer, whose husband, Jeff Pittaway, was then an Army helicopter pilot, at their home in Fort Ord. Jennifer, who was twenty-eight, had hardly known her grandfather. After Hugo married his second wife, Virginia, known as Ginda, pronounced Jinda, Karyl saw him only rarely — "which," she says, "I bitterly resent. I was cut off from him during his most creative years. I didn't really know him until I was in my late thirties. Because of his guilts, he was unable to understand that one can sustain more than one emotional relationship."

And yet Jennifer Pittaway treasured a photo of Hugo in short pants and a wide-brimmed hat, taken when he was two or three. Her own little boy was running around the house, wearing a towel as a cape. "What's his name?" I asked. "Kenny," Jennifer said. "No it's not!" Kenny shouted. "My name's Superman!" I was looking at the photo and then at Kenny and then at the photo again. The boy looked exactly like Hugo at the same age. There is evidence that abilities in athletics and music (which are not dissimilar) may be genetically transmitted, and if I were Jennifer I would begin Kenneth Pittaway's musical training now.

Jennifer had joined the Army to go to its language school to learn German, which she now speaks fluently. She could not afford to go to college to learn it. None of Hugo's descendants gets his royalties. Ginda, from whom he was estranged but never divorced, gets them. And their marriage was childless. Jennifer said that Hugo had called her a war-monger for joining the Army. I hastened to assure her that this was a manifestation of his dark sense of humor or of his willful Taurus (to say nothing of German) consistency: he hated the military.

It was a strange situation. I was explaining him to his own granddaughter.

Jeff was just back from a tiring flight mission and wanted to spend the evening at home with Kenny. So I took Jennifer as my "date" to the festival. As we were progressing in a crowd across the grass of the Monterey fairgrounds, Jennifer said she had always loved the Modern Jazz Quartet. By exquisite coincidence, John Lewis was walking two or three paces ahead of us, unbeknownst to her. I reached out and grasped John's elbow to halt him and I said, with the people flowing around us, "John, I would like you to meet Jennifer Pittaway. Jennifer is Hugo Friedhofer's granddaughter." And John beamed that gentle and shy smile of his through his beard and said, "How do you do. I am honored to meet you," and made a great and elegant fuss of her. Later, backstage, I introduced her to musicians who told her stories about her grandfather, and as we were driving back to Fort Ord she said, "But how do people like John Lewis know my grandfather's music?"

"Jennifer," I said, "everybody in music knows your grandfather's music. And it doesn't matter whether it's classical music or jazz. The name Friedhofer will open just about any door in the musical world for you."

Toward the end of his life, Hugo lived in a two-room apartment on Bronson Avenue in Hollywood. Ginda, who still retained their home on Woodrow Wilson Drive in Los Angeles, lived most of the time in Cuernavaca. Hugo's apartment building surrounds a central courtyard in which there is the usual small Hollywood swimming pool, its bottom painted blue. It is a three-story structure, pleasant enough but slightly gone to seed, of the kind you encounter in Raymond Chandler novels. If you walk along that balcony, around the U shape of the building, you come to the apartment of Jeri Southern, fine pianist and one of the great singers and influences. Jeri was the last love of Hugo's life and, though he was twenty-five years or more her senior, she loved him more than any of us, and took care of him. Jeri remained incommunicado for a week after he died, sitting for long periods in her bedroom staring at the floor. Jeri is more musician than anybody knows. She orchestrated Hugo's last movie.

In those late years I was, aside from Jeri, with whom Hugo had breakfast every morning, one of the few persons who could pry him out of his apartment. "How come," he said to me once on the phone, "you can always lift me out of my depressions?" "Because," I said, in jest, "I am the only one you know who is a worse melancholiac than you are." I used to have lunch with him often but irregularly at Musso and Frank's on Hollywood Boulevard, that great old movie-business restaurant that is now an island of the past in a sea of porno movie houses, hookers, passing police cruisers, tee-shirt shops, and freaks. And when I wanted him to hear some piece of music, I would make a tape of it and drive very slowly and play it on my car stereo. Karyl thinks Hugo always felt guilty about being German because of World Wars I and II. His father, Paul Friedhofer, was a German-American cellist who studied in Germany, where he met Hugo's mother, a singer training at the Dresden Opera. Hugo Wilhelm Friedhofer was born in San Francisco May 3, 1901. He missed the earthquake because his mother, annoyed as she apparently was from time to time with his father, had gone home to Germany, taking her darling with her. Hugo's sister, Louise, is, as he was, a cellist.

Claus Ogerman was coming to Los Angles from Munich and he wanted to meet Hugo. Composer after composer wanted to meet him, and since it was known that I knew him, they frequently solicited me to arrange an introduction. "I'm getting tired of being your social secretary," I told him. It was untrue of course. They delighted in what was in his head, and I delighted in opening the door for them to breach his reclusion. His phone no longer rang with job offers. Scores were being written by musicians not even skilled enough to be his students, and in those last years Hugo yearned for an assignment that never came. Anyway, Claus was arriving and Hugo was unfamiliar with his music; therefore I made a tape of Claus's Three Symphonic Dances and played it on the way to Musso and Frank's, driving slowly enough to get arrested.

Hugo gave a running analysis of its harmonic structure. But after a while he ceased listening and began to hear the music. Finally he said, "That kraut friend of yours has a melancholy streak."

"That kraut friend of mine?" I said. "What about this kraut friend of mine?" He responded with one of his worst puns, "Two's company, three's a kraut."
Someone once called Hugo "a real giant among film composers," to which he retorted, "No, I'm a fake giant among real pygmies." All the composers in Hollywood should have hated him for that remark, but instead they quoted it with relish, and they still do.

Dave Raksin said that Hugo suffered from "delusions of inadequacy" and that he "persisted in judging his work according to arcane criteria that would, if indiscriminately applied, sink just about everybody in sight." Dave once told Hugo that he had managed to sustain a dark view of nearly everything despite personal successes that might have tempted lesser men toward optimism. And, after he was dead, Dave said, "Sometimes it seemed that the only time life lived up to his expectations was when it disappointed him." But he loved, and terribly deeply, which is what I suppose I was trying to convey to Jennifer Pittaway. You just had to avoid reminding him of it.

Along with critic Page Cook, I was always fighting for Hugo's recognition, even though he was, as Raksin told him, "complicit in your own ignoring." Once I took him to Musso and Frank's to interview him for an article for the Los Angeles Times or the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation or something — Page and I wrote a lot of pieces about him. I am always careful, in interviews, to save my hot questions for the end, so that I don't come away with empty hands if the interviewee gets furious. And so at last I said to him, "How is it that with all those superb film scores behind you and the respect of colleagues around the world, you have all the emotional security of a twenty-two-year-old?"

"Oh, you son of a bitch!" he said. And then, sinking into a pensiveness, he said, "Well, there are among the composers in this town some really fine craftsmen. If you want a certain thing done, you have only to tell them. They have done it before and they can do it again. And I have a very real respect for these men.

"But if you feel about music as I do, you are always working at the outer periphery of your abilities. And that makes you insecure.

"Look," he said as we were finishing our coffee, "I've got my personal estimate of what I know and what I don't know. But I am also acutely conscious of four or five hundred years of musical culture staring over my shoulder, and that makes for a genuine humility. As opposed of course to a false modesty."

He was the gentlest and shyest and, secretly, the most romantic of men, and he literally could not harm a fly. One morning Jeri Southern was killing ants with a sponge on the drainboard of her kitchen sink. Hugo watched in silence with a baleful expression and then said at last, "I hate the part where the Red Cross arrives." Jeri didn't get it for a moment, and then burst out laughing, and later, when he was gone, she suddenly remembered the incident and laughed for the first time in weeks.

Hugo had a steadfast integrity about music and everything else. I do not recall our ever talking about politics, but he recommended that I read the books of Carey McWilliams, which I did. This leads me to believe he was a California socialist, a unique breed with pioneer roots, of the Upton Sinclair stripe. He was German in the thorough discipline of his approach to his music, which was, however, in its airy clarity, rather closer to the French, I thought, than to the German. In personality he was more American than German and more Californian than anything. And he shared with Allyn Ferguson and Jerry Goldsmith a curious distinction: he was one of the very few American film composers actually born in California. Insofar as the politics of Hollywood were concerned, he was a canny observer and trenchant commentator. And I think every composer in the industry not-so-secretly wanted his approval.

Hugo loved words as much as he did music — maybe he thought they were the same thing — and could quote poetry and lyrics endlessly. He could as easily have been a writer as a composer and his letters are treasures. Indeed it is highly likely that you know some of his poems, for he wrote innumerable limericks, including the very famous one about nymphomaniacal Alice, and sent them on their way to become part of American folklore, authorship unknown. His formal education ended at sixteen when he dropped out of school to become an office boy and study painting at night. But then his interest in music began to predominate and he studied cello assiduously and in a year was working as a musician. Thus he was a man of rounded cultivation.

His humor had a delicious salacious urbanity, and he was incredibly quick. Once I was having lunch with him, Dave Raksin, and Leonard Marcus, then editor of High Fidelity. Someone said something about the early 1940s. Hugo said, "I was learning my craft at that time.'

"Studying with Robert?" I said — a very bad pun.

Instantly Hugo said, "Your craft is ebbing."

He used to refer to some contemporary composition as "cluster's last stand." Of a certain film composer, he said, "Very gifted, but chromium plated." Of another composer, famed in the profession for having parlayed a small talent into a large career and a larger ego: "He's a legend in his own mind."

Mocking the tendency of movie studios to have lyrics added to improbable film melodies, Hugo said, "I always thought they should have put lyrics to my love theme for Broken Arrow. Something like:

"You led me from the straight and narrow
"But you broke my heart when you broke my arrow."

When Hugo was working on Joan of Arc, Dave Raksin, at the time scoring another picture, encountered him walking through a studio street, head down, lost in thought. Dave asked him how the music was coming.

"I'm just starting the barbecue," he said.

Paul Glass and Hugo once attended an exhibit of modern art at a gallery in Pasadena. The lady in charge made the mistake of asking Hugo what he thought of it.

"Awful," or some such, he said.

Taken aback but oblivious of danger, the woman pressed on: "Oh, Mr. Friedhofer, you think that only because you don't understand the meaning of the French term avant garde."

"Yes I do," Hugo said. "The translation is 'bullshit'."

When I learned that Dave Raksin was teaching a course on other than music at the University of Southern California, I said, "How come Dave teaches urban affairs?"

"Why not?" Hugo said. "He's had enough of them."

The objects of his jibes rarely resented them; indeed they were often the first to quote them.

There were a number of nicknames for Hugo. Alfred Newman's wife called him The Red Baron and had a plaque made bearing that motto. It sat on his piano until he died. Paul Glass has a friend who, after a long search, found a recording of Hugo's score for The Young Lions. The notes of course were in Japanese, one of the few major languages Paul does not speak. "I don't know what it says," Paul told his friend, "but I know the composer: Toshiro Friedhofer."

Earle Hagen called him Hug to his face and The Hug behind his back, and always after I heard that name — in Musso and Frank's, inevitably — I too called him Hug.

Hugo arrived in Hollywood in July, 1929, accompanied by his first wife, a pianist who never ceased to love him and and died only months after he did. She was the mother of Karyl and Ericka, who died at thirty-two of leukemia and whose loss Hugo never quite got over.

Sound was added to movies a few months before Hugo was hired to orchestrate the music for Keep Your Sunny Side Up.

Thus he was the only composer whose career in film scoring embraced the entire history of the craft. And he had been writing music for movies even before that. Many silent films had full scores that travelled with them and were performed by pit orchestras which, Hugo said, sometimes numbered as many as sixty musicians.

Hugo went to work as a cellist in the orchestra of the Granada Theater in San Francisco when he was twenty-four. One of his friends was an organist named Breitenfeld — Paul Desmond's father. When scores would arrive at the Granada with parts or even entire segments missing, the conductor would assign Hugo to write substitute passages.

In Hollywood, Hugo went to work only as an orchestrator, not as a composer. "No one in those days," he said, "ever did a complete score by himself. I got a reputation for being good at anything in which machinery was involved — airplanes, motor boats, typewriters, ocean liners."

The studios recognized at least one other aspect of his protean intelligence: he spoke German. When Erich Wolfgang Korngold arrived in Hollywood, he spoke no English and so Hugo was assigned to work with him by Warner Bros. Hugo orchestrated for Korngold all those romantic Errol Flynn swashbucklers. The Korngold scores with Friedhofer orchestration include Captain Blood, The Prince and the Pauper, Another Dawn, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Juarez, The Sea Wolf, Kings Row, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Escape Me Never, Devotion, Of Human Bondage, The Constant Nymph, and Between Two Worlds.

When Max Steiner arrived from Austria, like Korngold unable at first to speak English, Hugo was assigned to him too. For Steiner he orchestrated Green Light, The Life of Emil Zola, God's Country and the Woman, Gold Is Where You Find It, Jezebel, Four Daughters, Dawn Patrol, Dark Victory, The Old Maid, The Story of Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet, All This and Heaven Too, The Letter, Sergeant York, One Foot in Heaven, In This Our Life, Casablanca, Watch on the Rhine, Arsenic and Old Lace, Mildred Pierce, The Beast with Five Fingers, and parts of Gone with the Wind. Indeed he ghost-wrote some of the GWTW score for Steiner. He always expressed great respect for Korngold and Steiner, but his attitudes toward the two were different. "In Korngold’s case," he said, "it goes beyond respect. Not only did I learn a great deal from him, I loved the man." But when he was notified by an Israeli music society that they had planted a tree in his name, he said, "If they've planted one for Max Steiner, I want mine cut down."

Steiner and Korngold were among the many composers — Franz Waxman was another — for whom Hugo orchestrated. It was not until 1937, and then only through the intercession of his friend Alfred Newman at Goldwyn studios, that he was allowed to write a score of his own. It was for the Gary Cooper film The Adventures of Marco Polo. "I wrote the score," he said, "not to the picture itself but to my memory of Donn Byrne's wonderful novella, Messer Marco Polo" It is not the only known example of his scoring something other that the picture itself. A persistent legend holds that when he was stuck for an idea for a scene in the The Best Years of Our Lives, he went to a museum and wrote music for a painting. Hugo denied this. He said the painting gave him an idea for the music — which is splitting the hair pretty fine.

He was thirty-six when he worked on Marco Polo. Recently it turned up on late-night television, and since its score was one with which I was not familiar, I stayed up to watch it. All the Friedhofer characteristics were already in place: the restraint, the perfect orchestral balance, the beauty of line, the sensitivity, and something that is indefinably but recognizably him. Marco Polo should have been his breakthrough, but it wasn't. Warner Bros, kept him firmly in place as an orchestrator, and, excepting one minor film, he was not allowed to write another score during his eleven years there.

But in time, and at other studios, he was recognized. Although he continued to orchestrate for others (and Korngold would let no other man touch one of his scores), he went on to write the music for The Lodger, Lifeboat, They Came to Blow Up America, Home in Indiana, A Wing and a Prayer, Brewster's Millions, The Bandit of Sherwood Forest, Getting Gertie's Garter, Gilda (a collaboration with Martin Skiles), So Dark the Night, Wild Harvest, Body and Soul, The Adventures of Casanova, Enchantment, Sealed Verdict, Bride of Vengeance, Captain Carey USA, Roseanna McCoy (a collaboration with David Butolph), Three Came Home, No Man of Her Own, Guilty of Treason, Broken Arrow, Edge of Doom, The Sound of Fury, Two Flats West, Ace in the Hole, Queen for a Day, Lydia Bailey, The Secret Sharer, The Outcasts of Poker Flat, Thunder in the East, The San Francisco Story, Rancho Notorious, The Marrying Kind, The Bride Came to Yellow Sky, Face to Face, Island in the Sky, Hondo, Vera Cruz, White Feather, Violent Saturday, Soldier of Fortune, Seven Cities of Gold, The Rains of Ranchipur, The Revolt of Mamie Stover, The Harder They Fall, The Sun Also Rises, The Barbarian and the Geisha, The Bravados (with Alfred Newman), In Love and War, This Earth is Mine, Woman Obsessed, The Blue Angel, Never So Few, Homicidal, Geronimo, The Secret Invasion, Von Richtofen and Brown, and Private Parts, in approximately that order. He also wrote a considerable quantity of music for television, including (with Earle Hagen) the I Spy series.

He was in his way a revolutionary film composer. Because the scores to silent films were almost continuous, the early producers of talking pictures, who had not yet grasped the differences between the two media, expected the new scores to be like them. Hugo was perhaps the first to argue for less music. "The trick in film scoring," as Henry Mancini says, "is knowing when to cool it." Hugo, in Marco Polo, already knew.

There is another way in which he was revolutionary; he was the first to write distinctively American scores. The significance of his Best Years of Our Lives score is generally considered to be that it was the first with a recognizably American quality. Prior to that time, film scores in Hollywood had a European flavor, no doubt because so many of the composers were born and trained in Europe. The early film moguls imported them wholesale, as they imported directors and actors and costume designers. But I beg to differ with that theory in that Hugo imparted his American quality to scores well before Best Years, including Marco Polo.

Is it proper for a film about an Italian in China to sound American? Verdi wrote Aida, which is set in Egypt, and Puccini wrote Madame Butterfly, which is about an American in Japan, in their own Italianate styles. Hugo had every right, as they did, to approach his subject matter in his own style. Nonetheless, there is a remarkable bit of writing during a segment in which, by montage, we watch Marco Polo progressing from Italy to China through all the countries in between. It lasts probably less than a minute, but during that minute Hugo goes through all the national styles of the countries traversed — and still sounds like Hugo.

He was amazing at this. In Boy on a Dolphin he writes in a Greek style and sounds like himself. In Vera Cruz, he writes in a Mexican style (of which he was enamored; he loved Mexico) and sounds like himself. In The Young Lions, since it concerns a German officer (Marlon Brando) and two American soldiers (Montgomery Clift and Dean Martin), he wrote in both American and German styles, and sounds like himself. In any of his films it is fascinating to observe how much the music adds to the power of the story, and how unobtrusively (unless you're watching for it) it achieves its effect. And how distinctive the style is! Someone -Sommerset Maugham, I think — said, "The greatest style is no style at all." Hugo never strove for style; he simply had it.

One of the factors, Dave Raksin said once, "is his conception of melody and harmony, which maintains the traditional idea of what is lyrical and conjunct.

"The problem with most melodic writing, outside the obvious banalities of contemporary pop music, which is at the level of finger painting, is that in the effort to avoid what has been done, composers too often avoid what should be done. Hugo manages to be lyrical without being sentimental. His music has dignity to it.

"He is a sophisticated and thoroughly-schooled musician fully conversant with Twentieth Century music who also happens to know that the tonal system is far from dead."

Which brings us to one of Hugo's worst puns. The music he wrote for one scene in The Companion was in three keys. "This was inspired," Hugo said, "by the parrot in the scene. It's Polly-tonality." He used to make these outrageous jokes even in the music itself. Many years ago he was assigned to score a picture about the French revolution. There is an old and angry maxim among film composers — everybody in Hollywood has two areas of expertise: his own and music. The producer on this picture was a self-important jackass of the old school. Striding the room during the music conference, he said, "Friedhofer, this is a film about the French Revolution, so I think there should be lots of French horns in the music."

Hugo found this so hilariously stupid that he did in fact use "lots of" French horns in the score. And as he neared the end of the picture, he put a capper on his joke. In the last scene, when the escaping lovers espy the cliffs of Dover, he reprised the melody with solo English horn.

The Hug used to say that listening to a film score without the movie was like trying to ride half a horse. He said that if a film score had the weight and richness of texture of the Brahms Fourth Symphony — he particularly loved Bach and Brahms — it would overwhelm the scene and damage the picture. But his own scores tended to undermine his theory. Such of them as The Best Years of Our Lives are beautifully detailed. It is regrettable that everything he wrote exists in short segments, although there is always a continuity and form about his scores. I would like to see Paul Glass structure some of them into suites for public performance, being confident that Paul would have been Hugo's own choice to do so. Hugo is one of the few film composers ever to get an occasional approving nod from the classical establishment. His work is particularly admired in Germany. Donald Bishop Jr. wrote some years ago, "Friedhofer's classicism is one of the finest esthetic achievements in contemporary music, in and out of films."

I turned up one day at that little apartment on Bronson Avenue, to go with him to lunch. In it were an upright black Steinway, a small black Wurlitzer electric piano, four swivel chairs, a big round coffee table on which reposed his typewriter and stacks of the correspondence he was always in the process of answering, a tape recorder, and shelves of records and books. Everything was functional and there was not one chair you could honestly call comfortable. He owned not one copy of the albums of his film scores.

On the wall above a work table, on which was piled his score paper, was a display of plaques commemorating those of his scores nominated for Academy Awards — The Young Lions, An Affair to Remember, Between Heaven and Hell, Above anc Beyond, Boy on a Dolphin, The Woman in the Window, Joan of Arc, The Bishop's Wife. One year he lost out because several of his scores were competitive to each other. Where, I asked, was the statue for The Best Years of Our Lives?"In storage somewhere,' he grumped. "Let's go to lunch." He always maintained that the the Academy nomination was more honor that the award, since only the music division voted on it, while the award itself derived from the votes of actors, producers, directors and others who might or might not know what music is all about. And anyway, he had resigned from the Motion Picture Academy, which he despised, many years before.

"I have seen," Hugo said to me once,"two authentic geniuses in this industry, Orson Welles and Marlon Brando. And this town, not knowing what to do with genius, destroys it."

We were discussing his score for One-Eyed Jacks, the one film Brando ever directed and for which Brando was raked across beds of broken glass by studio executives and their lackey press agents and — in supine obedience to the moguls — by the newspapers. Brando was made to look the self-indulgent infant terrible for his meticulous shooting of the picture, when in fact he was seeking that evasive goal of perfect craftsmanship. But the picture has now taken on a sort of cult status. Mort Sahl has seen it twenty times or more; I've seen it about ten times, partly for the pas de deux acting of Brando and Karl Malden, partly for the performances Brando elicited from Ben Johnson and Slim Pickens, partly for the cinematography, and partly for Hugo's splendid score. How heartbreaking that main lyrical theme renders the morning scene on the beach, when Brando tells the girl he has been lying to her and has shamed her. Hugo used a distantly lonely solo trumpet in front of strings, one of his favorite devices. He loved jazz and jazz musicians, and that trumpet solo is by Pete Candoli.

"I had ten weeks to work on that score," Hugo told me, "longer than I've had on any other picture.

"Brando had cut the film to about four and a half hours, and then it had been cut further to about two hours and fifteen minutes, at which point it was turned over to me for scoring.

"When I saw it at that length, it was without doubt the goddamnedest differentest western I have ever seen, and I loved it. They sneak-previewed it somewhere in the hinterlands on a Friday night with the kids and the popcorn and all that, and it bombed. They tried this and that and the other and cut it again, and it went out in a very much bowdlerized form. In fact they even butchered the music. Whole sequences I had designed for one scene were shoved in somewhere else. So the score is best heard in the UA record album, which I had the opportunity to edit. That is the real score of One-Eyed Jacks, minus about 45 minutes of music.

"By the way, in Brando's cut, the girl dies in the end. The studio didn't like that."

One-Eyed Jacks, in which Hugo's genius is fused to Brando's, is a broken masterpiece. And as for the UA album of that score, if you can find a copy of it, it sells for $150. Or at least it did five years ago.

The cavalier treatment of film scores — the actual paper scores — by movie studios is notorious. The studios claim that they own the scores, as one owns a suit ordered from a tailor — which in fact is precisely the analogy their lawyers used during a law suit filed against them by the film composers, a suit the composers for all substantial purposes lost. And when studios have become pressed for storage space, they have often consigned these national treasures to the incinerator or the dumpster.

The score for The Best Years of Our Lives, so highly acclaimed even in academic music circles, was lost for thirty-two years. Attempts by Elmer Bernstein and Dave Raksin, among others, to get Hugo to reconstruct it, failed. "My mind is not where it was when I wrote that," he said. But then it was learned that someone who had worked on the picture had kept a set of acetate recordings of the score, and working from them, Australian composer Anthony Bremner reconstructed and orchestrated the music. A Chicago producer named John Steven Lasher recorded it with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. And he commissioned a fairly elaborate booklet to accompany the record, which was issued in 1979 to commemorate Hugo's fiftieth year in Hollywood.

Composer Louis Applebaum wrote an excellent technical analysis of the score. And a lot of us wrote tributes for it: Royal S. Brown, one of the few classical music critics to recognize the worth of motion picture scores, George Duning, John Green, Bronislau Kaper, Lyn Murray, Dave Raksin, Lalo Schifrin, and David Shire. I thought Henry Mancini said it best, in two lines: "Hugo is the silent conscience of the film composer. An affirmative nod from the man is worth more than all of the trinkets bestowed by the film industry." And when it was done and packaged, we sent the whole thing to Hugo. And he never said one word to me about it. Not a word.

A few months after that, when Jack Elliott and Allyn Ferguson had assembled what they called The Orchestra — a virtuosic organization of more than eighty-five of the finest studio, symphony, and jazz musicians in Los Angeles — I suggested that they perform Best Years in concert. Hugo at first refused to attend, as he had previously refused to attend a retrospective of his movies. But Jeri Southern prevailed and we went.

The orchestra gave a shimmering performance, all its members knowing he was there. Most of them had worked for him at one time or another and revered him. Part way through the first section, Hugo said to me in that sepulchral voice of his, "The tempo's a little fast."

"Oh shut up," I said.

And when it was over, the audience cheered as at a football game, and Hugo had to stand up and take a bow. It was, as far as I know, only the second time in his life he had heard his music played in public and received the applause he deserved. And I think it was the last time he heard his music played anywhere.

Claus met him at last. I took Hugo to lunch with him and Allyn Ferguson and actor Michael Parks. Parks can be rather reticent, but I induced him that day to do his eerie reproductions of various famous voices. "It's amazing," Hugo said. "He doesn't sound like an imitation but like a Xerox copy." Claus and Hugo felt an immediate rapport, although I haven't the slightest idea what they talked about: their conversation was in German. "How good is his German?" I asked Claus later. "You would never know he is an American," Claus said.

I had come into a habit, whenever Hugo and I went anywhere, of hovering over him, in a surreptitious way. His step had become faltering and slow, and I was always afraid he would fall. He used a beautiful cane of dark wood that Jeri had given him, which he treasured. Once he left it in my car and he was frantic until he reached me and found that it was safe. As we left Musso and Frank's that day and were crossing a street, I reflexively and involuntarily took his arm. He gave me a withering stare, and I never made that mistake again. But my hands were always ready to catch him if he stumbled. The tragedy was that his body was failing and his mind was not.

He had a spot on his lung which turned out to be malignant and he underwent chemotherapy. He smoked far too much, all his life. He used to say that he needed the cigarette in his left hand to balance the pencil in his right. And then, as I had feared he would, he fell, and broke his hip. He was taken to the hospital for surgery. Ginda came up from Mexico and began making arrangements to put him in a home. Karyl and I both believe that Hugo decided to die. Pneumonia set in and he lost the power of speech, this most articulate of men.

Jeri sat by his bedside all one afternoon. He looked at her and silently formed the words, "I love you."

After Jeri had gone home, exhausted, a nurse entered the room to make him comfortable. He opened his eyes. Miraculously, the power of speech came back to him and he got off a last line that, days later, set off gales of consoling laughter, because it was so typical of him. He said, "You know, this really sucks." And he died.

When a great tree falls, it makes quite a crash. Without the help of the New York Times or the Hollywood Reporter (which printed about four lines on his death), the news travelled by mysterious means all over the world. Paul Glass called Roger Kellaway from Switzerland, desperate to know whether Hugo's scores were safe and where they were, saying they would be invaluable to music students for generations to come.

I became agitated about the scores when Dave Raksin told Ginda he was planning a memorial service for Hugo and she said, "But who'd come?" Whether his full scores still existed in dusty studio archives I did not know, but I knew the whereabouts of his meticulous six-stave "sketches", so complete that Gene DiNovi once said, "When you orchestrate for Hugo —" and Gene proudly did at one time "—you are a glorified copyist." These were still in the apartment on Bronson Avenue. Everyone kept saying that something would have to be done about them. And at last it dawned on me that I would have to do it.

I felt a kind of shock, when I entered that familiar silent apartment, knowing he would never be there again. Then I went to work. I knew where all his scores —each of them bound in hardcover, the film titles imprinted with gold leaf — were stored, and I hauled them out in great armfuls and heaped them on a flat-bed cart I had brought. In six minutes and three trips, I stripped that place of his scores, rushing along the U of the balcony and dumping them in a huge pile in the middle of Jeri Southern's living-room carpet. I left Jeri's key to his apartment on her coffee table, went home, called Roger Kellaway and told him to tell Paul Glass the "sketches" were safe. A few days later Karyl, who is a map librarian at Stanford University, took them home with her and they are now in a vault. Lawyers say they are worthless. Try telling that to a musician.

We held the memorial service in a small sunny chapel in Westwood. Dave Raksin conducted a chamber orchestra, made up of musicians who loved Hugo, in a recital of Bach and Brahms.

Elmer Bernstein and Leonard Rosenman and Dave and I made little speeches and the service was not remotely sad. Indeed the conversation before and after it was full of laughter. Jeri didn't come, which I thought appropriate: somebody had to uphold Hugo's tradition of not attending affairs in his honor.

No life of course is long enough, but Hugo's was, as lives go, fairly long, and it was brilliant, and he left us with a thousand funny stories and a mountain of music whose worth has yet to be fully evaluated.

"Lucky as we were to have had him among us," Dave said that day, "we must not risk offending Hugo by overdoing our praise — which he is even now trying to wriggle out of, somewhere in time...

"Peace be yours at last, dear friend. Sleep well."”

You can listen to the opening theme from The Best Years of Our Lives on the following video and then visit YouTube directly to hear the full score by clicking on the link below the video.

Full Score link: