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An incredibly prolific and versatile composer, James Newton Howard scored a dizzying array of popular and critically acclaimed films, beginning with "Pretty Woman" (1990), "The Prince of Tides" (1991), "The Fugitive" (1993) and "Wyatt Earp" (1994), through "The Sixth Sense" (1999) "Batman Begins" (2005), "King Kong" (2005) and "I am Legend" (2007). Howard - who first sat down at a piano at age two - went on to earn a degree in music and orchestration from the University of Southern California's School of Music, and could have, theoretically, dove right into movie scoring - except for a midstream diversion as a remarkable pop musician in the 1970s, playing keyboards for Elton John, Cher and Toto, among others. Inspiring the loyalty of many prominent filmmakers, Howard enjoyed ongoing working relationships with Lawrence Kasdan, M. Night Shyamalan and sometime director, Kevin Costner. With sweeping scores drawing upon his early exposure to Beethoven and Bach, and melodies informed by his brief but potent career in pop rock, Howard's scores literally resonated with millions of moviegoers, even if household name recognition continued to elude him. But with his stated growing interested in more ambitious...
An incredibly prolific and versatile composer, James Newton Howard scored a dizzying array of popular and critically acclaimed films, beginning with "Pretty Woman" (1990), "The Prince of Tides" (1991), "The Fugitive" (1993) and "Wyatt Earp" (1994), through "The Sixth Sense" (1999) "Batman Begins" (2005), "King Kong" (2005) and "I am Legend" (2007). Howard - who first sat down at a piano at age two - went on to earn a degree in music and orchestration from the University of Southern California's School of Music, and could have, theoretically, dove right into movie scoring - except for a midstream diversion as a remarkable pop musician in the 1970s, playing keyboards for Elton John, Cher and Toto, among others. Inspiring the loyalty of many prominent filmmakers, Howard enjoyed ongoing working relationships with Lawrence Kasdan, M. Night Shyamalan and sometime director, Kevin Costner. With sweeping scores drawing upon his early exposure to Beethoven and Bach, and melodies informed by his brief but potent career in pop rock, Howard's scores literally resonated with millions of moviegoers, even if household name recognition continued to elude him. But with his stated growing interested in more ambitious themes and unusual arrangements - coupled with his Oscar-nominated score for the George Clooney legal thriller "Michael Clayton" (2007) - many in the industry believed his best work was still yet to come.
Howard was born June 9, 1951 in Los Angeles, CA. His grandmother was a classical violinist, so young Howard grew up with music all around him, taking his first formal lessons at age four and attending symphonies and classical concerts through his childhood. He later reflected that it was his favorite period of musical life. But Howard's musical interests were far from limited to the classical; like any other teenager in the 1960s, he fell in love with the music of The Beatles, devouring album after album, and moving on to other rock legends such as Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and Led Zeppelin. Rounding out his insatiable music appetite was a steady diet of movie scores from Henry Mancini, Elmer Bernstein and Johnny Mandel.
After high school, Howard studied piano at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, CA and continued on at USC's music program, where his studies included piano performance, accompaniment and orchestration. Howard toyed with the idea of becoming a piano recitalist, but sensed he was not good enough to fill concert halls; instead redirecting his energies toward his love of pop music. He was hired on as a keyboard player for a band called Mama Lion in 1972 and began learning about emerging synthesizer technology of the time period, spending time with innovator Robert Moog, who had at one point planned to custom-build a modular system just for him. Howard released his own self-titled album in 1974, a collection of instrumental jazz, rock and classical music; much of it performed on a Yamaha synthesizer. However, dwindling sales forced him to continue to work as a session keyboardist, backing up the likes of 1970s songbirds Melissa Manchester and Olivia Newton-John, as well as ex-Beatle, Ringo Starr. One of his biggest breaks was in 1975, when he joined the road company for Elton John - then at his peak of popularity - playing backup keyboards for the flamboyant pop star. Newton worked on-again, off-again with John over the years, joining him to help arrange the seminal Live in Australia Tour, where John performed with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in 1986, memorable for a moody and effective string section behind "Madman Across the Water" and re-introducing a live version of "Candle in the Wind" to the charts, over a decade after the single was first released on the LP, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
Throughout the 1980s, Howard's backup, session and arrangement work was almost too numerous to mention. He contributed to the music of Neil Diamond, The Pointer Sisters, Kenny Loggins, David Lee Roth, Rod Stewart and Peter Cetera, former lead singer of Chicago. One of his greatest contributions was to the pop group Toto, and their successful album, Toto IV, which included the single "Rosanna," partially inspired by actress Rosanna Arquette (whom Howard would go on to marry in 1986). It was around this time that Howard made his first Hollywood connection, when his rock-solid keyboard reputation led to a request for him to provide work on the soundtrack to "Twilight Zone: The Movie," (1983) scored by composing legend, Jerry Goldsmith. Holding his awe in check, Howard pounded out a complex synthesizer arrangement written by Goldsmith. Soon Newton was hired to score his first film entirely on his own - a small comedy, "Head Office" (1986) starring Danny DeVito. Setting aside his own trepidation about working in industry he still knew little about, Howard knocked out the score in seven weeks and realized he had found his calling.
And he never looked back. Early smaller assignments such as the Goldie Hawn comedy "Wildcats" (1986), Dennis Quaid's football drama "Everybody's All-American" (1988), and the baseball comedy "Major League" (1989), gave way to higher profile movies such as the biggest grossing film of 1990 and the movie that made Julia Roberts a star, "Pretty Woman." That same year, Howard scored Joel Schumacher's spooky "Flatliners," also featuring Roberts, about a group of medical students who conduct dangerous experiments to create near-death experiences. Howard expanded his range by adding choir, percussion and synthesizer elements - enough that soundtrack enthusiasts consider the score among his best work, including a track entitled "Redemption," a stirring near-religious arrangement, considered to be one of his early outstanding achievements. He would go on to work with Schumacher again on the Julia Roberts tragic romance, "Dying Young" (1991), as well as the violent Michael Douglas social commentary, "Falling Down" (1993).
Howard's first important critical notice was for his work on "The Prince of Tides." Not surprisingly, considering the perfectionism of his director, he found himself rewriting the main theme several times to meet the demands of director Barbra Streisand, with whom he once played backup. The hard work paid off with Howard earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score for the emotional film, starring Nick Nolte and Streisand, herself. He earned another Oscar nomination for his first action movie, the Harrison Ford vehicle "The Fugitive," an otherwise unremarkable, largely percussive score whose recognition may have had more to with a growing appreciation for Howard himself, who was all too happy to branch into still new genres. For the action drama "Alive" (1993) about a plane crash victims who must resort to extremes in order to survive in bitter cold, Howard tried new techniques during the editing process - such as using electronic "mock-ups" of his score as he was writing, to avoid the use of temp tracks or tracks from other movies. The mock-ups were better suited to his increasingly complex orchestrations, and also minimized the chances of a director growing too attached to temp music. Showing still more versatility, Howard also scored the smart political comedy "Dave" (1993) and wrote the Oscar-nominated score for "Junior," both for director Ivan Reitman.
Building on positive experience on the drama, "Grand Canyon" (1991), Howard worked again with writer-director Lawrence Kasdan on his western epic, "Wyatt Earp," jumping at the chance to compose his first epic western. Taking advantage of an unusually long lead time of six months, Howard turned out a grand, sweeping score that remained a personal favorite of his. Howard went on to score the Meg Ryan rom-com, "French Kiss" (1995), "Mumford" (1999) and later "Dreamcatcher" (2003) for Kasdan, whom he publicly praised as one of his favorite filmmakers with which to work. Through Kasdan, he met star Kevin Costner, who hired Howard at the last minute to score the troubled "Waterworld" (1995), following director Kevin Reynolds' unceremonious departure from the project. Howard would go on to earn a reputation for coming in to projects late and still turning out an accomplished score.
The fast working Howard remained fervently in demand, providing the opening theme to the hit TV series "ER," (NBC, 1994- ), and then returning to romantic comedies with "One Fine Day" (1996) and "My Best Friend's Wedding" (1997), for which he earned Oscar and Grammy nominations for both. He also scored projects as diverse as the British period film "Restoration" (1995), action movies and thrillers like "Outbreak" (1995), "Primal Fear" (1996) and "Devil's Advocate" (1997), as well as re-teaming with Garry Marshall and Julia Roberts for "Runaway Bride" (1999) - her supposed reunion on film with Richard Gere which was less than successful. The year 1999 also saw Howard's first collaboration with M. Night Shyamalan with the creation of his spooky score for "The Sixth Sense." Howard's subtle, underplayed score reflected the haunting, melancholy the film held over its audience. Howard's minimalist approach perfectly matched Shyamalan's own style, so the director picked him to score his next few films, including "Unbreakable" (2000), "Signs" (2002) and "The Village" (2004), for which he was nominated for an Oscar. Even Howard's lyrical, sweetly sinister notes and chimes during the trailer for the critically disappointing "Lady in the Water" (2005) were arguably among the film's better attributes.
Continuing at a pace of three or more films per year, Howard provided majestic adventure scores for the otherwise commercially disappointing "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" (2001) and "Treasure Planet" (2002); combined western themes with Arabic influences for the Viggo Mortensen vehicle "Hidalgo" (2004); and action and dramatic accompaniment for "King Kong," "The Interpreter" (2005) and "Blood Diamond" (2006). In a rare collaboration, Howard co-wrote with Hans Zimmer the action theme for "Batman Begins," after years of planning to work together. The result, with its emphasis on electronic and percussion music, owed more to Zimmer's action movie style than Howard's focus on melody. Also, the lack of a heroic main theme was a point of contention among fans, despite the film's otherwise consistent quality as a restart for the beloved Dark Knight.
The year 2007 would mark Howard's busiest year to date, with the composer turning out seven film scores, including the futuristic actioner "I am Legend" as well as "The Lookout," "The Great Debaters," "Charlie Wilson's War" and "The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep." His understated, mostly ambient score for the sophisticated George Clooney thriller "Michael Clayton" - one of the year's best-reviewed films - was Howard's seventh Oscar nomination. A winner of dozens of American Society of Composer, Authors and Publishers Awards, Howard was also nominated for several other awards, including a Grammy nod for his dark, haunting score on "The Dark Knight" (2008), perhaps his most memorable and poignant - particularly in scenes featuring The Joker (Heath Ledger) - of his career to date. Howard also scored Edward Zwick's World War II film about the Holocaust, "Defiance" (2008), for which he received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score - Motion Picture. That score also earned him a nod at the Academy Awards, the eighth of his career.
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"Even though I was an instrumentalist and I had composed some instrumental music, the idea of being able to compose on demand was really frightening to me . . . I took a giant leap of faith and decided I would give [film composing] a try . . . And I just fell in love with it . . . when I write the right music for the picture, it's absolutely exhilarating and incomparable experience." --Howard quoted in THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, January 16, 1996
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