Magazine article Variety

Maestro of Musicality Vividly Plays on Virtues of Versatility

Magazine article Variety

Maestro of Musicality Vividly Plays on Virtues of Versatility

Article excerpt

The music for "The Birth of a Nation" incorporates African vocals and drumming, strings and brass, gospel choir and children's voices. The music for "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back" is an ultra-contemporary mix of electronic elements with more traditional orchestra.

It's hard to imagine a greater contrast in scoring styles for these two October releases. Yet both are by the same person: Englishman Henry Jackman, who in less than a decade has risen through the ranks to become a sought-after composer.

From animated Disney films "Wreck-It Ralph" and "Big Hero 6" to superhero films "Captain America: Civil War" and "X-Men: First Class," including dramas "Captain Phillips," and even Seth Rogen comedies such as "This Is the End," Jackman has demonstrated an ability to tackle diverse subjects with fresh sounds and approaches.

"Henry is highly intelligent and understands storytelling on a very sophisticated level," says Joe Russo, who with his brother, Anthony, directed Jackman's two "Captain America" films. "He can go as cutting- edge or avant-garde as you need him to, but he also does traditional scoring as well as anybody. He's extremely versatile."

It was that versatility that attracted the directors of his two current films. "Henry hadn't done a film like this before, but he is a genius," says "Birth of a Nation" director Nate Parker. "Never have you heard Africanized sounds and orchestral music merged in this way. He honed every single cue to perfection and created something essential to the experience of the film."

It started out a little more tentatively. When Parker asked Jackman about the Nat Turner slave-rebellion story, there was "a script but no deal and no budget," the composer recalls. But he was excited to work with Parker, "who lives and breathes the issues of African-American injustice."

Jackman worried about Parker's ambitious musical ideas costing more money than they could afford.

"We could do a very beautiful score for solo piano and cello," the composer offered. "To his great credit, Nate said, 'No, by the time you get to the third act, I'm thinking symphony orchestra and choir. Whatever needs to happen, I'll make it happen.'" And, says Jackman, he did.

It took an international ensemble to make the music for this quintessentially American story. Jackman called on Alex Boye, whose parents were Nigerian, to supply some of the vocals, and Afro-Cuban specialist Alex Acuña to play percussion.

Jackman wanted a gospel choir, not for spirituals - which he saw as a cliche - "but the tradition of that style of singing, that culture, gives a sound and a feel that's entirely different from a classically trained choir." They recorded the A Cappella Choir of Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, and the One Voice Children's Choir in Salt Lake City, the latter singing a poem adapted from the Zulu language.

"It's the only thing I've ever done that at no point felt like work," Jackman says.

In the case of "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back," director Ed Zwick liked Jackman's sophisticated musical approach to both the Tom Hanks film "Captain Phillips" and Amazon's recent "The Man in the High Castle."

"Henry was the person who most captured my imagination, and he didn't disappoint at all," says Zwick. "He did what the best composers do: They make the good parts better and they can be problem solvers for those parts that are in need of help."

This second "Reacher" film still has "music hovering around the genre of espionage and tension," Jackman notes, but there was also "a genuine and committed emotional storyline" that required a delicate musical touch. …

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