A competent arranger is expected to be, among other things, an excellent musician, a clever “idea” man, an inventor of new styles or patterns, and a composer of sorts. He is supposed to shun the thought of imitating any previously employed devices in his idiom.Marlin Skiles
The Score: Jazz Scores after the Jazz Age
After having watched Mike Hammer, My Gun is Quick (1957) on youtube, the interwebs led me to the below post from Hearing the Movies, a really cool blog by Jim Buhler, David Neumeyer and Rob Deemer. The opening credit sequence is the first installment of Marlin Skiles’ jazz score: a really cool big band piece, with a drum solo (what! say it isn’t so!)…turns out that Skiles was a prolific composer and arranger, and his jazz-noire score for this film rivals my all time favorite, Elmer Bernstein and Chico Hamilton’s Sweet Smell of Success (andTaxi Driver). Skiles was also a major arranger, having worked with everyone on everything from the 40’s till his retirement in 1971.
The score was striking, because we had just watched the classic D.O.A. (1950), (also on youtube), which will be forever indelibly etched in my memory because of the following lines:
Frank Bigelow: Who’s the blonde?
Eddie: Oh she’s one of the chicks that hang around here, she’s jive crazy.
Frank Bigelow: What’s the matter with him?
Eddie: Ah he’s flipped, the music’s driving him crazy.
The score to D.O.A was great, well-written, but more of a traditional treatment, and not really as “jazzy” as the movie. The contrast was striking, but not surprising, especially since the late 50’s marked a turning point in music, with Ornette, Miles, Bill Evans, et al, so perhaps the Skiles’ score for “Mike Hammer…” from 1957, being more custom, progressive and jazzy, reflects the musical upheaval that began then (I’m speculating).
Hearing the Movies published the below excerpt by Skiles, from an ASCAP publication of a collection of the Society’s newsletters from the 40’s. I like Skiles’ point of view, not just that it’s the arranger’s job to lift the music into the realm of performance-worthiness, but also to write in a way befitting the “singularly unique American development” – that is jazz music and the cultural gifts of the jazz age, where arrangers became the important maestros: Don Redman, Fletcher Henderson, Ellington/Strayhorn…et al.
Eddie (the bartender in D.O.A.), however, eventually admits that he prefers Guy Lombardo.
So, without further ado:
Marlin Skiles Says…
The American Society of Arrangers and Composers has posted PDFs to four volumes of The Score, the organization’s newsletter, from the late 1940s. At the time, the organization claimed membership by the prominent orchestrators and arrangers working in Hollywood. The following, short article by composer and arranger Marlin Skiles is typical of the materials to be found in the newsletter
Among the subscribers to THE SCORE, there are undoubtedly many people who wonder just how the arranger functions in the music profession. Consequently, I think it would be well to give a description of just what the arranger’s place is in musical society.
Most of our popular music is written for voice with piano accompaniment. As there are many mediums of performance other than vocal, it is necessary then to have this music read more…