John Williams Celebrated on UK Radio and TV - Interviewing the Interviewer
Posted By: Tim Burden on August 21, 2012 - 9:00 PM
John Williams has a particular affinity for the UK. Not just drawing distinct influence from some of its homegrown composers, but by recording many of his classic scores with some of the UK's finest musicians and technicians.
The recent news that The Classical Brit Awards will recognise the Jedi Maestro (FSM Vol.4 No.5) with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the end of the ceremony with a tribute is another suitable salute from his peers, colleagues and admirers alike.
However, ahead of the October 2nd ceremony (which will be televised), ClassicFM will be devoting two hours of air-time to John Williams' illustrious career this coming Monday 27th August between 8 and 10pm (BST). The two hours won't be just a generic tribute show though, quite the opposite. It will include an in-depth interview with JW by the director and producer Tommy Pearson (www.redtedproductions.com) and as you are about to read, this will feature more than just some of the same old questions we're so used to hearing. Here's what Tommy said when I caught up with him whilst he was editing the show in question:
(TB) We're really looking forward to Monday's interview, what can we expect?
(TP) Well, JW doesn't do many long career interviews as you know and I had an hour and a quarter with him, which is very unusual. But where do you start with this extraordinary career? Navigating through is a fruitless task, so I decided to talk about as many things as possible and try to avoid all the same stories (although that is quite difficult!). We talked a lot about his father - the original Johnny Williams - and how his career led to JW's career; about his early life as a session pianist and orchestrator (particularly on his playing on To Kill A Mocking Bird, The Apartment and Some Like It Hot; working with Hitchcock; and then many films - Fiddler on the Roof, Jaws, Close Encounters, Superman, Raiders, ET, Tin-Tin, War Horse, Harry Potter, and working on Schindler's List and Jurassic Park at the same time. We even had time to talk a bit about Star Wars. We also talked about his views on film scoring today, the music he listens to at home, composers he admires, and whether he plans to retire.
What sort of preparation was involved, was there some re-familiarising with certain scores?
As always, I research a lot. I'm always prepared, just in case the conversation goes in unexpected directions. On the other hand, I'm pretty familiar with his work and have interviewed him a number of times. This interview is for Classic FM and we had a clear objective for it - we certainly weren't going to be spending much time on obscure scores, and there wasn't enough time anyway. So, although there is a lot that's pretty unfamiliar in the interview, most of it is on the scores that are the most popular.
You had the unenviable task of choosing questions from hundreds of online responses via fans, did you select at random or trawl through them all?
There were a lot of really good questions. I chose the ones that fitted alongside the interview I had prepared, ones that would perhaps elicit the best answers. Many of the questions submitted were way too specific, others weren't really questions at all, just statements. Some of them had absolutely no chance of being asked! Anyway, I got about 5 in I think - nice ones.
Will we hear original JW recordings? ClassicFM has been known to play lesser re-recordings at times.
There's a mix, but they are all excellent recordings. The clip of To Kill A Mocking Bird is the original recording, of course, as it has JW playing the piano solo. All but one of the JW recordings are conducted by JW - the short cue from Jane Eyre is Nic Raine on SilvaScreen. But the others are either OSTs or JW recordings with the LSO, Boston Pops or, in the case of Schindler's List, with Perlman and the Pittsburgh Symphony.
You mentioned that you were talking with him about his session pianist days, any interesting revelations or stories?
Not really any 'revelations', but I was fascinated to hear about his playing on To Kill A Mocking Bird and Some Like It Hot - I didn't know that was him until recently. He also played on the West Side Story movie soundtrack. There really hasn't been anyone who has had such an impact on big movies, it's extraordinary.
If there's one thing you took away from the interview......?
As always it's his modesty and charm. JW is a lovely man and always generous in my interviews, particularly this one. And he has that skill of telling a story as though it's the first time he's ever told it, rather than the 500th time. A couple of physical things I took away from it: I never ever ask anyone I interview for their autograph, it's incredibly unprofessional. But this time, since I've seen him a few times before and he was in a good mood, I did get JW to sign an original Jaws poster I bought that morning in a specialist store on Hollywood Blvd. That will have a special place on my wall. We also had a photographer there and those photos, which are lovely, will be available on the Classic FM website in time for the broadcast.
You also interviewed James Horner whilst in LA, when will we hear the outcome?
There will be a short clip of it in a Classic FM podcast coming up very soon. Horner was very entertaining; we recorded it at his home in his completely crazy studio - full to bursting with his collection of mechanical toys. He tells some great stories and reveals something extremely surprising about a film he didn't end up doing - a fact I didn't know and wasn't prepared for! I'm not sure when the full interview will be broadcast - that's up to Classic FM.
Needless to say, the interview will be essential listening and if you can't listen on DAB or FM, you can listen live via http://www.classicfm.com from 8pm this coming Monday.
Here's a clip from a previous JW interview conducted by Tommy for the LSO in 2009: