Top Module Empty
Main Menu
Sheet Music
Jazz Theory
Rate this site:
Dialogue - Frank Griffith talks to Sir John Dankworth Print
Article Index
Dialogue - Frank Griffith talks to Sir John Dankworth
2. Initial involvement in scoring for films.
3. Working with Joseph Losey.
3. Defining the requirements of the score.
4. Potential for creative freedom.
5. Notes and References.

2. Initial involvement in scoring for films.

  • John Dankworth's first film score was for We Are the Lambeth Boys (1959), although he and his band had played on two previous films: The Whole Truth (1958), with Mischa Spolianski's music, and Sapphire (1959), with Philip Green's.

FG - In 1959 Karel Reisz invited you to compose the score for his documentary We Are the Lambeth Boys and the following year you scored his groundbreaking film Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.   Could you describe how you originally met up with Karel Reisz, and how you started composing for films in the first place?

z_sat_nite_sun_morn_3.jpgJD - Well, I can't remember exactly how he contacted me.   When he first approached me I knew his name but I had no idea of what he was like.   I always imagined movie directors in those days to be sort of cigar-smoking Americans, well groomed and dressed in Rodeo Drive stuff.   Only much more formal in those days, I guess.   So, when I went to meet him in an Italian restaurant in Soho, I was all dressed up with a collar and tie, whereas I usually wore something much more casual; and he usually, apparently, dressed up with a collar and tie but had dressed down quite casually.   So there was me looking formal and him looking casual, instead of the other way around, and we got on together.   In fact, we had quite a long friendship.

Karel obviously was a person who wanted to create new styles, rather than follow existing styles.   He'd made a documentary, and someone had written a score which he didn't like it and which he rejected.   I don't know what he did after that, how he replaced it.   But he played this film, or part of it, to show me the sort of music that he didn't like.   It wasn't at all bad, but it was traditional in that it used the sort of effects and sort of music you would expect.   It wasn't trashy in any way, but 'that's what I don't want', he said, 'I just want you to sit in front of this film and think of something'.   But he certainly wasn't a particular jazz fan.   He may simply have heard my records and liked what he heard.

Up to that time I'd had no interest in doing music for movies at all.   Rather the contrary.   I thought it was a compromise, in the same way that I also felt to some extent that opera and ballet were a compromise, in that something was distracting the audience when they should be listening to the music.   So I wasn't very keen, but he persuaded me to see the film, which was called We Are the Lambeth Boys.

I watched it on a clattery old Moviola which made more noise than an aircraft taking off, so it disturbed your train of thought till you got used to it.   Anyway, I looked at it and, all of a sudden, something happened in my head, and I started hearing music which I could never have imagined myself doing before.   The scene was so descriptive and the way it was shot, and the way the story was being told, was so sympathetic to these rather sad kids, who were never actually enjoying themselves even at work.   But something hit me, and just made me feel that I could write something that was different.   So I did, and I was very pleased with it.

Karel was right at the beginning of his career then.   I remember that we recorded the whole soundtrack in one session at the National Film Theatre on the South Bank.   I can distinctly remember Karel going to his car and getting out the microphones and bringing them in.   It was all done on a shoestring even though Ford sponsored it and you would have thought that they had plenty of money.

z_jazz_in_revolution.jpgFG - Karel Reisz has described your music for We Are the Lambeth Boys as 'having a joyful astringency'.   In your book Jazz in Revolution you state that you felt that your best collaboration with Reisz was in the documentary, and that Saturday Night and Sunday Morning didn't quite recapture the same magic of the marriage between the music and the movie.   I gather that Reisz wanted to feature an accordion in the score, and that you weren't very keen.   However, you integrated it very effectively into a jazz group and the accordion works well as a musical protagonist, expressing both the sentiments of the main character and all that goes on around him in a wide spectrum of moods.

JD - I don't know why Karel specified it.   However, he did, so we had to have it.   I would have never chosen an accordion, but I didn't have that sort of breadth of imagination.   I was a bit too much of a blinkered jazzer, who wouldn't use an accordion if I didn't think was the best possible instrument to use there.   I'd have probably used a Miles Davis-style muted trumpet, a tin mute, or something like that, which wouldn't have quite done the trick like the accordion did.   It became the theme instrument at various moments in the film and helped in that way to point up certain aspects of the plot.   I still don't know why it works, but I've got to admit that it does work in a way in the context in which it's used.   Incidentally, although Karel wasn't a jazz fan, Albert Finney, then an unknown actor, really loved jazz, and often used to come to gigs before we did this film. 'next', at right, to read on.....

< Previous   Next >