Preview: Exploring Music: Jazz Scores for the Big Screen at The Sage Gateshead

IT’S a memorable scene: Michael Caine’s Cockney gangster Jack Carter sitting in the carriage of that clattering train en route to Newcastle with a soundtrack of jangly, jittery jazz.

The Sage Gateshead which is holding a chill-out night celebrating the use of jazz in films and on TV

IT’S a memorable scene: Michael Caine’s Cockney gangster Jack Carter sitting in the carriage of that clattering train en route to Newcastle with a soundtrack of jangly, jittery jazz.

Get Carter, Mike Hodges’ gritty 1971 crime thriller, saw its star walk a knife-edge of tension and violence and the music matched him every step of the way.

Pretty much every film buff will recognise it but not everyone could name the composer.

Roy Budd, who died from a brain haemorrhage in 1993 at the age of just 46, was paid £450 for his seminal work.

With this year marking the 20th anniversary of his death, local media historian Chris Phipps will be paying him a special tribute at The Sage Gateshead tomorrow as part of a chill-out night celebrating the use of jazz in films and on TV.

Chris will be including extracts of soundtracks from a wide range of films but Budd, he says, is the main inspiration behind the event.

As well as composing the Get Carter theme and score, the composer, whose other works include The Wild Geese, played electric harpsichord on the often eerie-sounding soundtrack which also featured a bass player and “no percussion, only the Indian tabla” says Chris.

He adds: “It was odd. It had an almost mid-European feel to it, quite like the zither music in The Third Man theme.”

He often listens to it in his car as he drives into Newcastle and says its power is such that “you listen to it and immediately you see the film in your mind’s eye. You can see Michael Caine travelling first class in that railway carriage, shot in natural light, coming up to the North”.

The same, he feels, can be said of his other film choices for the night, featuring the 50s and 60s, whose dramatic, often confrontational, subjects seem to find their perfect match in jazz.

“The music conjures up the film images in people’s minds,” he says.

“My aim is to prove that a lot of this music stands on its own ground – it doesn’t need visuals.”

In his selection is a film which was an early source of inspiration for him: The Pawnbroker, which starred Rod Steiger and was scored by Quincy Jones who is most associated with the Thriller album but composed for both film and TV (including Ironside).

Then there’s John Barry’s score in the “appalling” Adam Faith film Beat Girl, which Chris says was an “an attempt to emulate American exploitation films”.

It was A Streetcar Named Desire, the smoldering 1951 classic based on Tennessee Williams’ play and starring Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh, that “set the ball rolling” in the use of straight jazz for a film soundtrack.

It’s by Alex North, who had scored for theatre such as Death of a Salesman, and his seductive music, which had as much tension and passion as the film, certainly steamed up the critics.

Prior to it, jazz had been used only episodically in Hollywood films, heard on a radio perhaps or played by a domestic servant.

Chris says: “It was like musical segregation up to the end of the Second World War: casts had to be either all black or all white in movies.

“Jazz was used as a gimmick, it had never had a serious role to play.”

But in Streetcar it spoke volumes.

“Alex North fitted the music to the character rather than the plot.”

However, the Catholic League of America at the time protested, the offending instrument apparently being the saxophone.

“They tried to get them to drop the sax for being lewd,” says Chris. Many of the films, from which tomorrow’s audience will hear musical snippets, are landmarks.

Two directed by Otto Preminger, for instance, tackle themes of drugs and rape. The Man With The Golden Arm starred Frank Sinatra and was the first to confront drug addiction, while Anatomy of a Murder had the first Afro-American soundtrack (by Duke Ellington), says Chris. Before that film they were played by Hollywood composers. Others getting a share of the attention will include John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet, for heist film Odds Against Tomorrow, and Johnny Dankworth, whom Chris saw perform with wife Cleo Lane at the Sage not long before his death.

“He’s known for The Avengers but is forgotten as a film composer yet he wrote some wonderful stuff, like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.”

And film fans will be delighted at the inclusion of all-time favourites Bullitt, whose score is by Lalo Schifrin who did the first Dirty Harry instalment, and The Wild One.

Bullitt is known for its car chase, of course. However, ironically Schifrin chose not to score that bit so that the tension would build better in silence, “but he does a sequence as Steve McQueen is changing gears before the chase,” Chris says.

The night is about him sharing some favourites and it’s likely to appeal to both music and film fans.

Later in the year, he’s hoping to arrange another event to celebrate the work of Budd and has in mind a specific talk, a bus tour involving the session musicians who played the soundtrack on previous Get Carter tours he’s hosted and a screening of the film.

Meanwhile, Mark Knopfler fans might like to know that a documentary about him that Chris was involved with is being re-screened on BBC4 on Thursday night.

Mark Knopfler: A Life in Songs features intimate interviews with the singer-songwriter.

Exploring Music: Jazz Scores for the Big Screen takes place tomorrow night in the Squires Seminar Room of The Sage Gateshead at 7pm. Visit www.thesagegateshead.org for further details or call 0191 443 4661.

 

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