An interest in film music is something traceable as far back as Dave Grusin can remember, but it was in his college years, in particular, when he started to envision that the sphere of motion pictures might become his own. “I used to look at the film world as this vast frontier of musical possibilities,” he says, admitting, not only to a fascination over the psychological use of music in movies, but also to the way that scores were synchronized to picture.
“A lot of my idols were film composers when I was coming up,” he states. “I was very impressed with people like Andre Previn and David Raksin and some of the real giants of early film music.”
His early enchantment with the scores of Hugo Friedhofer, Alfred Newman and Max Steiner was a reflection of not merely his love of wonderful music, but how it related to the action on screen as well. In this respect, he perceived how the giants of cinematic music would place their individual stamp on a film, in a grand way or a subtle one, whichever was required.
This enthusiasm was well nourished. Dave Grusin's home environment enabled him to listen to and appreciate music at many levels, as well as to develop his instincts and feelings. He attributes his “understanding of classical music” and “the literature of great orchestration” to the inspiring guidance of his father Henri Grusin. The early explorations into jazz heightened a sense of understanding and interpretation. A first-rate musical education at the University of Colorado (and graduate studies at the Manhattan College of Music) rounded out the basics.
Bridging the gap from gifted student to film scorer, however, proved a demanding exercise. As musical director of “The Andy Williams Show,” Dave Grusin learned and then perfected the crafts of conducting, orchestration and arranging - the hard way. Despite the foundation of his fine musical education, these skills were in reality self-taught.
Live television variety was an ideal workshop to acquire the expertise he would need to advance his growing interest in composing for films. In addition to assembling the obvious tools of his trade, he also became accustomed to the inevitable rigors of writing through the night, as well as impressing many people during this time, such as the program's producer Norman Lear.
"I wanted to compose professionally,” he recalls, “and I realized that the one way a professional could really be heard is through the medium of film.” For one with the diverse mind of a Dave Grusin, the field further offered an outlet for composition in a breadth available nowhere else. As he notes, “I'm convinced there are at least a half dozen ways to successfully score almost every film; I mean radically different ways with radically different styles of music."
An early foray into composing for television series preceded his work in variety. After the latter stint, starting out scoring weekly series and writing TV themes, he quickly advanced to feature films when producer Norman Lear and director Bud Yorkin invited him to do the music for the star-studded “Divorce American Style” in 1967. "I'll always be eternally grateful to those people," he says. "To get your foot in the door, to have somebody take a chance on you if you've never done anything like that before, it's a big milestone in my career."
Another important influence in his early film work was the great screen composer Henry Mancini, whom Dave Grusin credits as the individual from whom he learned the most about the art and craft of scoring. (He has paid due homage to the songwriter with the 1997 CD “Two For The Road.”)
Someone else who played a significant role from the beginning and onwards was Quincy Jones. The legendary wearer of every possible musical hat has served as father confessor on a string of Grusin scores as well as collaborating on numerous recording projects. (In this connection, Dave Grusin asserts that, while he generally refrains from scoring shop talk, the geometric Q is the great exception, divulging that with him, he discusses the subject “endlessly.”)
Go to: Composing for Television