Top 10 Jazz-Inspired Film Scores

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Henry Mancini's Pink Panther is one of our top jazz-inspired film scores.

As finals come to an end, and students everywhere have a chance to relax, we take a look at some great jazz-inspired film scores for you to relax with this summer:

10). Laura (David Raskin, 1964): The jazz standard “Laura” was written for this film by jazz-inspired composer David Raskin. The soundtrack for this film was among the first to become a best-selling album, and Raskin’s haunting melody lives on in the ears of all jazz fans to this day.

9). Bullitt (Lalo Schifrin, 1968): To me, Schifrin’s score to Bullitt is the quintessential example of jazz in a crime drama. Schifrin uses a modified big band with strings as his orchestra for the film, and is able to devise some exceedingly tasty colors.

8). Touch of Evil (Henry Mancini, 1958): Henry Mancini does an excellent job in bringing Latin jazz to the big screen in this Orson Welles classic.

7). Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Henry Mancini, 1961): The jazz standard “Moon River” debuted in this film, and also features the now-famous film composer John Williams (credited as Johnny Williams) playing piano.

6). A Streetcar Named Desire (Alex North, 1951): Set in New Orleans, this film calls for a jazz score, and North delivers.  Of particular note is the attachment of certain instruments (particularly the clarinet and alto saxophone) to different characters in the film. One of the first jazz scores, North paved the way for the future of jazz in cinema with this score.

5). Chinatown (Jerry Goldsmith, 1974): Goldsmith combines a jazzy trumpet melody with avant-garde classical textures, including prepared piano, string harmonics, and piano players strumming piano strings.  The score is only 23 minutes long, but provides a perfect accompaniment to this neo-noir classic.

4). Bird (Lennie Niehaus, 1988): One of the more interesting stories on this list, this biopic features Charlie Parker’s actual solos, but separated from their original recordings and re-recorded with Lennie Niehaus’s orchestrated accompaniment.  The result is a strong, authentic score that reflects the music of Charlie Parker.

3). Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Miles Davis, 1958): This score is not so much a jazz-inspired score, as much as Miles Davis playing with a quintet alongside a film.  The music is phenomenal; Davis does a really nice job capturing the essence of film noir, while still maintaining his hard-bop voice of the late ‘50s.

2). The Pink Panther (Henry Mancini, 1964): For many, Mancini’s theme in this film is synonymous with the word “jazz.”  However, many of the secondary cues in the film are also outstanding jazz cues, often buried underneath the fantastic main theme.  Among this writer’s personal favorites are: “Royal Blue,” the quirky “Village Inn,” and the sophisticated “Champagne and Quail.”

1). ‘Round Midnight (Herbie Hancock, 1986): ‘Round Midnight stars Dexter Gordon, who plays the part of a fictional tenor saxophonist, Dale Turner.  Herbie Hancock writes the original music for the film, and it is performed by some of the greatest jazz musicians to ever live: Tony Williams, Freddie Hubbard, Pierre Michelot, John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, and many others. It’s no wonder that Hancock won the Academy Award for Best Music, and The Other Side of ‘Round Midnight won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance.

Round Midnight is our pick for the top jazz-inspired film score.

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          February 10, 2018