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More Like Michael....
Old 23rd November 2019
  #1
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oceantracks's Avatar
 

More Like Michael....

Please forgive if I've posted this somewhere in the past. But somehow I always think of this around the holidays.
This is an account of great experience I had with one of my favorite composers. Some younger musicians may not know him, others will. I wrote this years and years ago, it took place back in the 1980s. Hope you enjoy.


"You know I've been meaning write this up here for almost a year...bear with me. It might be long, but for anyone composing music, it might be somewhat inspiring to you.
This is a dedication to film composer Michael Small, who wrote some extremely unique and memorable scores that impressed me to no end when I was younger. I used to take cassette recorders to the theater in the 70s so I could record the scores and go home and listen again.
I was just starting out getting commercial work in the early 80s here in Florida when I decided to try to contact him...to tell him how much I loved his work, etc. I managed to find his home phone number after really not much effort, and called him cold one day. As I heard the phone ring I was a nervous wreck, but endured.

"Hello?
"Yes...is Michael Small there?" I said... "Speaking..."
"Is this THE Michael Small...the film composer?" "Uh...yes..."
"Well..this is a very big moment for me. I'm a fellow composer, but just starting out...and I just wanted to call and talk to you for a moment or two, because you've been such a great influence on me..."
(Laughs)...."Well....wow, that's great...now...where are you calling from?"


And so the conversation went. At the end, I asked if I could send him some of my work from a recent PBS documentary, and he welcomed it. I did, and when I called a week or so later, his wife Lynn answered and said that he was out of town, but had gotten my tape, and loved it. "He wants you to call him, so try at the end of the week, he'll be back...."
And I did. You can imagine how I felt when this hero of mine said "Yes, I got your tape and I was very impressed. The writing was very mature and the orchestrations sounded great."
I told him I suppose he picked up on his influences on me here and there and he said "Yes, I heard that" with a grin in his voice.
And so began a telephone relationship with one of my idols. I would call him about once a month, and pick his brain about his scores ("Geez, you're as bad as my youngest son...he hears EVERYTHING and wants to know what it was!" he said to me once). And I would share my insecurities with him, and he would have none of it. "Look, now if you're going to call and act insecure, I don't want to hear it."
"But what if I got an assignment to do a COWBOY or something?" I'd ask. "Then I'm sure you would do your homework and come up with something great. I don't want to hear you speak negatively" he would answer.
Finally, on one phone call, he abruptly said..."Listen, I'm doing a session in New York this Friday, and it's jingle making (he did post scores between films) at it's highest level. Big agency, good size section. You should get up here and see it."
Well I almost flipped. "Just get on a plane, book a room overnight in the city and be at the session at 10 PM. You'll learn a lot."
So I did. I went by myself and flew up on some super saver fare....stayed in the hotel all night...got up and took a cab to the session. I arrived before Michael did. I was greeted by his orchestrator and the engineer.
The studio had a fair sized string section....maybe 24 strings, woodwinds, brass, the works. Up on the monitor in the control room, a very cool TV spot, played....a commercial for Sperry Rand Corporation....the kind of big image spots you see on Sunday during football games.
All of a sudden the control room door opened and in walked a young, very well dressed and GQ looking man with a briefcase. After greeting everyone, he looked over to me and said ...."And you must be Tom..." and I got up and shook hands. "Glad you could make it."
The next hour was filled with Michael running between the control room and conducting in the studio, as the agency producer monitored from the console. The spot just sounded huge. Sonny, the orchestrator, gave me a copy of the score to follow. It all looked really complex, and sounded like a million bucks.
And just like that, the hour was up, the musicians were out of there, and Michael Small was saying..."So, let's go to lunch! Did you like the score?"
I told him it looked complex and sounded great...."Do you think it's complex? I thought it was really pretty easy..." which made me feel like I had even
FARTHER to go.
I told him he looked younger than I pictured him, and that his voice on the phone was kind of stern....and he was turning out to be a really nice and easygoing guy. "Well, I don't want to be too nice here, I want you to get something out of this," he said. "Also, you don't have to eat that Borscht if you don't like it, " he added with a smile.
As lunch ended, he reached into his briefcase and said "Would you like a copy of the score?" and I said..."Are you kidding, yes!". As he handed it over across the table he paused and said....."Now...I don't want to HEAR This anywhere..." and gave me a grin. I promised. I still have it.
I walked with him to Union Station, where he took a train home. He showed me the con artists on the street corners with their 3 card whatever it's called...and he pulled a lady out of the way of a cab who was ambling toward the street. "I'm always rescuing people here in the city," he smiled.
I thanked him profusely and watched him melt into the crowds catching their train. I called a cab for the airport and returned home, never to see him again.
We talked a few more times, and he finally said that he had done all he could do for me. He now wanted me to go find musical happiness, whether that was staying in Florida (which I did) or moving to LA and trying to be a big gun. He had been gracious, and patient, and more than understanding. He didn't want to be a crutch. He wanted to let the bird fly free. I never felt like I couldn't call him anymore, but I did understand what he was trying to get through to me.
I hadn't spoken with him in years, and was shocked to see Michael had passed away last year, of prostate cancer. I called his wife and she said it was very sudden.
It hit me like a shot because I will always remember his youthful exuberance that day in NYC. After I got back, I forever dressed better at sessions, and tried to be more prepared.

More like the professional I wanted to be.

More like Michael.

A real life personal hero.

Thanks for listening. And don't forget to contact your heroes. You never know.
Tom Hartman

One of Michaels most classic scores can be heard here, the long opening before the theme starts is due to the fact that this opening Main Title happened as a verdict was being read.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5w0omihotg

Last edited by oceantracks; 24th November 2019 at 04:36 AM..
Old 23rd November 2019
  #2
Gear Nut
 

Yes he was certainly a great atmospheric filmscore writer. I saw most of his early films when they came out at the cinema with notables such as The Parallax View. But the one that stood out for me was Klute. He managed to do the scary stuff mixed in with a fantastic theme for the two main characters.

I watched The Driver the other day on Talking Pictures. Again, he creates a lot of atmosphere and leaves the audience in no doubt. There's not much, if any, ambiguity in his scores.

Other notables, Night Moves, Marathon Man, Stepford Wives and The Star Chamber. The 1970s were definitely his golden period though.

I only really comment on this because I got asked to write library music for the upcoming December election in Great Britain and had about 4 weeks to do what turned into 14 tracks. So I keyed into Michael Small for the album. Even though it doesn't sound anything like Michael Small, it's a nod to Michael in my own Small way.
Old 23rd November 2019
  #3
So how much money did you make?
Old 23rd November 2019
  #4
Lives for gear
 
oceantracks's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Adrian Cook View Post
Yes he was certainly a great atmospheric filmscore writer. I saw most of his early films when they came out at the cinema with notables such as The Parallax View. But the one that stood out for me was Klute. He managed to do the scary stuff mixed in with a fantastic theme for the two main characters.

I watched The Driver the other day on Talking Pictures. Again, he creates a lot of atmosphere and leaves the audience in no doubt. There's not much, if any, ambiguity in his scores.

Other notables, Night Moves, Marathon Man, Stepford Wives and The Star Chamber. The 1970s were definitely his golden period though.

I only really comment on this because I got asked to write library music for the upcoming December election in Great Britain and had about 4 weeks to do what turned into 14 tracks. So I keyed into Michael Small for the album. Even though it doesn't sound anything like Michael Small, it's a nod to Michael in my own Small way.
Very cool Adrian!

Yes KLUTE was so unique. I do remember asking him about it but not many details other than he said he had heard some foreign female percussionist and immediately found her for the score.

"Marathon Man" is probably my favorite, and I loved Stepford as well. I asked him about that score as well and mentioned the "supermarket" music near the end (which is the same as the Main Title" and he said "Oh you got that! Great!"....meaning that whole opening theme was supposed to hint at Muzak which would make sense considering the plot. Beautiful though.

Michael was great at creating cues that were unsettling and foreboding without smashing you over the head. In one scene in "Stepford" Katherine Ross is speaking to a psychologist making small talk and after a pause the Dr. says "What does surprise me is you came all the way up here to talk with me, and you don't talk to me." The strings sustain a single note so subtly at that point that it's masterful..wonderful how the cue is spotted. I mentioned it and he just said "Oh wow, thank you!"

Nice to hear others know and admire him as well.
Old 23rd November 2019
  #5
Gear Nut
 

Yes Marathon Man has a scene that's totally brilliant.

I have no idea whether John Schlesinger said he didn't want any music to this scene, but I sort of doubt that because he hits it at 3:24. One of the most minimalist cues ever in film history on a continuous set of cuts. And Mike Small just nails it without going overboard. Let's the audience know barely in advance with no ambiguity at all.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3neQZqFP3M

The only other effective fimscore writer at the time that could have done the same kind of job would have been Jerry Goldsmith for Marathon Man. Benard Herrmann had died the year previously to the film's release.

But on Klute (1971), without Mike Small, Herrmann would have been about the only effective choice at that time imho.
Old 23rd November 2019
  #6
Lives for gear
 
oceantracks's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Adrian Cook View Post
Yes Marathon Man has a scene that's totally brilliant.

I have no idea whether John Schlesinger said he didn't want any music to this scene, but I sort of doubt that because he hits it at 3:24. One of the most minimalist cues ever in film history on a continuous set of cuts. And Mike Small just nails it without going overboard. Let's the audience know barely in advance with no ambiguity at all.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3neQZqFP3M

The only other effective fimscore writer at the time that could have done the same kind of job would have been Jerry Goldsmith for Marathon Man. Benard Herrmann had died the year previously to the film's release.

But on Klute (1971), without Mike Small, Herrmann would have been about the only effective choice at that time imho.
That's a great cue just before the truck backs up. Yeah way more effective than scoring that whole "chase" sequence! Ian Underwood was responsible for the "dentist drill" type electronic effects in this film.

Michael was especially proud of the romantic piano cue as well. There were eerie moments throughout...
Old 24th November 2019
  #7
Gear Nut
 

Speaking of Jerry Goldsmith.

I never get tired of hearing this. Time signature? What time signature.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjGumnQ1cZ0
Old 24th November 2019
  #8
Lives for gear
 
oceantracks's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Adrian Cook View Post
Speaking of Jerry Goldsmith.

I never get tired of hearing this. Time signature? What time signature.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjGumnQ1cZ0
Yeah love that. It's 3/4 and 5/8.

PMd you.....
Old 24th November 2019
  #9
Here for the gear
 

Hey! This is really crazy, but yesterday (for some reason) I was compelled to do a search to see if anything ever came of the "promised" new Areovons album! I didn't even know that you were on this site until I saw this post! So...anything happening? I certainly hope so!
Old 24th November 2019
  #10
Here for the gear
 

Oh, and, your post is truly wonderful...such a great story!
Old 25th November 2019
  #11
Lives for gear
 
oceantracks's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Old Gretscher View Post
Oh, and, your post is truly wonderful...such a great story!
Hey thanks man. About seven songs done. So hard to do as grown up with a family to support, much different when you are young and have all the time in the world!

They will come out one way or the other! Thanks for the kind remarks!

Tom
Old 25th November 2019
  #12
Here for the gear
 

Well, as they say, good things are worth waiting for....still have the old material to keep me happy in the meanwhile! Be well, and Happy Holidays!
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