I don’t often get to write about one of my favorite jazz artists: Vince Guaraldi, once famed for his Grammy-winning “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” but now best known for his scores for more than a dozen animated Peanuts specials of the late 1960s and early 1970s. His Charlie Brown Christmas album is said to be one of the best-selling jazz albums in history, and to our great surprise, the original 1965 recording sessions were recently unearthed. Craft Recordings, which owns the old Fantasy record label, has issued an expanded Charlie Brown Christmas album with extra tracks in a number of formats. My piece for Variety includes new interviews with Guaraldi biographer Derrick Bang and Jason Mendelson, the son of longtime Peanuts TV producer Lee Mendelson.
Werewolf by Night, which debuted on Disney+ in October, was among the best-reviewed Marvel projects in ages. It really was fun, and the surprise to many was the identity of the director: Michael Giacchino, Oscar- (Up), Emmy- (Lost) and Grammy-winning (Ratatouille) composer. He talked about the experience with me (he scored it, too!) for this story. Giacchino was later named Variety’s composer of the year — considering his massive recent success with the music for Spider-Man: No Way Home, The Batman, Jurassic World: Dominion and Lightyear — and the publication featured him in a conversation with his friend J.J. Abrams, which I recounted in this story.
Some of today’s most compelling scores are on television, and for science-fiction and fantasy projects. This year’s crop was especially interesting, and I explored several of them in stories for Variety: Bear McCreary talked about his grand-scale music for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power; Amie Doherty and Ramin Djawadi discussed their scores for She-Hulk and House of the Dragon, respectively; Laura Karpman regaled us with the complexity of recording Ms. Marvel; Natalie Holt and Hesham Nazih talked with us about Marvel’s Loki and Moon Knight; the composers of Severance, Foundation and The Book of Boba Fett chimed in on their special challenges; and Nami Melumad talked about the latest Star Trek series, Strange New Worlds. Nicholas Britell talked with us twice about Andor, first in announcing his involvement, long kept under wraps; and after the series debuted, although he was still reluctant to give away any secrets.
No sooner do we finish Oscar season than Emmy season is upon us. But it’s always fun if a bit of a scramble to see as many television shows as possible before interviewing their composers for Variety and the SCL. We looked at the superstars vying for Emmy song nominations here; the nominations in all seven of the Television Academy’s music categories were announced July 12. My analysis of the nominees, particularly the lack of superstars in the song categories, is here; more importantly, the diversity among this year’s nominees was notable. I discussed every nominee in all seven categories here; and the winners were finally announced on Sept. 3 and 4. My one regret: that my favorite TV song of the year, Mick Jagger’s Slow Horses theme, wasn’t even nominated — especially after I went to a lot of trouble to get him on the phone for an exclusive story.
This was a special one. We discovered that John Williams was writing a new theme for Lucasfilm’s Disney+ series Obi-Wan Kenobi and broke the story for Variety in February. Then we got to sit down for lunch with British composer Natalie Holt, who galvanized us all with her Loki music and never stopped for minute, diving into the Star Wars world with her own take on music for the Jedi Master. That interview ran as the series was just beginning in May.
Billie Eilish and Hans Zimmer take on James Bond! Those were the headlines for weeks in early 2020 as production on No Time to Die, the 25th 007 film, was winding down. A year later, Eilish and her brother, co-writer Finneas O’Connell, won the Grammy for her title song even though the film had not yet been released. When we finally saw No Time to Die in October, we discovered that Zimmer had incorporated “We Have All the Time in the World” as part of the dramatic score, and I wrote a Variety story explaining the references to John Barry’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service score (including that song). In December I had the pleasure of interviewing Billie & Finneas about their title song, and in January it was a special honor to interview the entire Bond team — producer Barbara Broccoli, director Cary Fukunaga, composer Zimmer, songwriters Billie & Finneas, and associate producer Greg Wilson — for a 40-minute Zoom conversation on music in No Time to Die. And of course Billie & Finneas won the Oscar in March.
Variety was first out of the gate with an instant analysis of Monday morning’s Oscar nominations for original song and score. The early readings suggest that Hildur Guonadottir’s Joker score and Elton John’s Rocketman song have the inside track, but I am being cautioned that Oscar voters can be unpredictable in these categories and not to count out newcomer Cynthia Erivo for her Harriet song or Thomas Newman (a 15-time nominee so far without a win) for his 1917 score. Voting actually doesn’t begin until Jan. 30, and the Oscars are almost a month away. The original Monday stories, containing more statistical detail, can be found here for score and here for song; the slightly truncated print versions are pictured above.
As the Golden Globe awards were nearing and Academy voters were deciding who to nominate in the music categories, Variety commissioned a final few stories related to songs and scores from calendar year 2019. Chris Willman and I shared a byline as we examined how period films handled music (my portions involved 1917, Ford v Ferrari and Little Women). Then, because Globe voters nominated Taylor Swift and Andrew Lloyd Webber for their new song in Cats, but Oscar voters failed to place it on the shortlist for nomination, I went back through recent Globe history to try and determine the odds of them actually rewarding Swift for a tune in one of the year’s most lambasted films. And finally, the Society of Composers & Lyricists held its inaugural awards, handing out most of its film awards to women, including the now ubiquitous (at award ceremonies, anyway) Icelandic composer Hildur Guonadottir for her Joker score.
This writer — the author of The Music of James Bond — was proud to supply Variety with the world exclusive that composer Hans Zimmer is scoring the new 007 film, No Time to Die. I placed a lot of calls to sources on both sides of the Atlantic to lock down as many details as possible. The sad part was having to report, also for the first time, that Dan Romer, director Cary Fukunaga’s original choice as composer (they collaborated on Beasts of No Nation and Maniac), had been fired after months of working on the film. Zimmer joined the Bond team in early December; the Oscar winner is, of course, a veteran of action franchises from Pirates of the Caribbean to the Dark Knight films.
It is a rare privilege to be able to sit down with composer John Williams and discuss his latest project. I was honored that he agreed to talk about his 42-year history with the Star Wars franchise and especially the long-awaited finale, The Rise of Skywalker, which opens this week. In this piece for Variety — believed to be the composer’s only print interview for the new film — Williams talks not only about the movie but about how it all came about back in 1976. Director J.J. Abrams chimes in with some thoughtful historical perspective. The print version was truncated; the online version, which you can read here, contains considerably more information of interest to every Star Wars fan. A few weeks ago, I discussed his latest Grammy nominations, which now bring his total to 71 (including 24 wins)!