Tuesday, February 01, 2011

John Barry Remembered: My First Associations

John Barry, famous film composer died on January 30 of this year at the age of 77.

I've heard and seen some nice pieces on his death and most are framed in the way that introduces the name John Barry to general audiences by mentioning that he's won 5 Oscars and is best known for his scoring of 11 James Bond films.

Before I had ever watched a John Barry scored film (with the exception of Dances With Wolves, perhaps) I was learning to play the saxophone.

I'm sure many people who've played an instrument can relate to the scenario where you are beginning to play an instrument but early on become weary of playing "Hot Crossed Buns", "Mary Had A Little Lamb", and "When The Saints Go Marching In."

So, it wasn't long before I got a music book or two with hit movie songs. Of course, I didn't know the majority of the songs or their films, and even if I did they were still too advanced for my technical ability. But I'd give them a try.

One song I remember embracing was the theme from Midnight Cowboy, written by John Barry. I didn't know the story of this film about an unsuccessful hustler in New York, but I knew that there was something enjoyable in the sad lonely descending scales that made up this piece, and I could execute that sound when I played it on my sax.

I would pretend that the song had soulful lyrics that was simply the repetition of the words "Mid-ni---ght Cow-boy, Mid-night Cow-boy" over and over down those scales that in the original version were done with a harmonica not a saxophone.

I'm pretty sure that same same song book had the winning theme to "Born Free" as well. Which I distinctly also remember playing later, and I've never seen the movie Born Free before. But I know the music.

And perhaps that's the magic of Barry's music is that it's intrigue was capable of superseding the films in which it was written for, but at the same time dramatically shaped the feel and tone of the films. Honestly, the music written for a James Bond film is intriguing and interesting on it's own, but in the films it becomes a character itself dramatically increasing the adventure, the excitement, and the intrigue.

Similarly, I think the role of music was a significant influence in the role of many of the films John Barry wrote...Midnight Cowboy, not an exception.

(The image above is from the album John Barry: The Best of the EMI years)

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