Are you a fan of Elmer Bernstein? If so, you've got a treat in store. Fan of John Williams? Same treat's in store. Read on and find out why.
If you enjoy TV shows, or DVDs of them anyway, you may have discovered this already. Otherwise, if you're a fan of the above composers you should check out the new 3-DVD set of the complete series STACCATO. It debuted in 1959 and ran just the one season, so it's pretty easy to swallow. (You'll find it being marketed as JOHNNY STACCATO, albeit the actual series title remains the truncated STACCATO.)
It's general knowledge in TV land that PETER GUNN made a huge impact the year earlier. That show featured Craig Stevens as a private eye who took breaks from detective work by hanging out at Mother's, a local night club, and listened to jazz. The jazz was, of course, penned by Henry Mancini, who not only had spectacular success with his music but also created a chartbusting LP, a big first for a TV score. It also started a really hot trend in TV scoring at the time. Witness STACCATO. With TV producers eager to capture more lightning in a bottle, another private eye show was launched, this one with John Cassavetes in the lead. The new wrinkle - this time our private eye not only hangs out at the local night club to listen to jazz - he plays it! Yep, the musical private eye. And the music he plays? Written by Elmer Bernstein, landing his first important TV assignment. Bernstein contributes all the music played by the combo on screen (featuring real session players) as well as the exciting theme and background scores for the episodes. It was really hot stuff. And as sure as dogs get fleas, a record album was released on Capitol, featuring selections from both Bernstein's combo writing and his bigger cues.
So where's the beef... er, the connection to John Williams? Though his composing career was still ahead of him, John Williams was the session pianist in the combo. Hardcore fans of the album may have known this already but unless you're really hardcore, you may not have known that Johnny (as in Williams, not Staccato) also appears ON SCREEN! Watch the pilot and enjoy seeing Cassevetes tickling the ivories with the group, then taking a call and waving over to another pianist to take over for him. Then watch with a smile as a very young Johnny Williams nods and sits down at the piano to take over. (For doubters that assume he was never this young, catch his credit as a combo player in the end credits for proof.) Anyway, this living legend of more famous movie scores than you can shake a stick at is right there, with nary a clue as to all those sharks and superheroes and star warriors and UFOs and archaeologist/adventurers and natural disasters and Hogwarts students and extra-terrestrials and kids stuck home alone and you name it coming up ahead.
As you watch him simply playing the piano, what fun it is to ponder the thought!