The Dave Grusin Archive
Music for the Screen
Scoring Assets and Philosophy

Enjoy our sister site

The Ultimate Episode Guide to
Starring Ben Gazzara


"Sparseness is artistically quite pleasing”

-- Dave Grusin

What is it that separates a merely talented composer from a top motion picture scorer?  In Dave Grusin's case, it may be his ability to look at a movie, not merely from a musical perspective, but from a film maker's as well.

He believes, “a successful score must have the same kind of exposition and development and recapitulation that a successful script has.  And if you take out elements along the way, or leave  out exposition , then it doesn't work quite as well.”

Of Dave Grusin's numerous assets as a scorer, a particularly important one which has caused him to be in such demand is his unending resourcefulness.  While he has acknowledged, "I worked a lot to be eclectic," he also believes that that special something which gives character to a score, comes not from attempting to submerge his own style, but from the movie itself, saying, “the film sets the parameters of the music for me.”

Nevertheless, one of his greatest fans, the aforementioned Sydney Pollack, has never failed to be impressed with the scope of Dave Grusin's scoring, so vast is the range of moods he is able to engender in his films.  "I just don't know anyone who does it better and with greater versatility than Dave Grusin," he declares.
Sydney Pollack

"I speak from experience when I tell you he can do anything, and he has done everything."  The eminent producer-director is unabashed in his admiration.   "From a 60 or 70 piece classical  score to a jazz combo to a single piano. He's done them all.  Lush romantic melodies for love stories.  Haunting, heartbreaking themes for rights of passage.  Driving energetic blues for thrillers.  Ethnic forms for authenticity.   Written and performed with authenticity."

Relating Dave Grusin's talents to others who make a film work, the director continues, "Dave, more than any composer I know, is like a really marvellous actor, in the sense that whatever signature he has, he tries to give up for the sake of the material.  He truly becomes what he feels the material needs."

In this regard, Dave Grusin discloses that a lot of his inventiveness comes not from direct research of the various genres, but from his own innate feeling for a style, such as rock or country.  “It's an impressionistic kind of thing,” he reveals.

One of the best ways he finds of connecting to a film is through location, saying, “I always look for the geography of the piece I'm working with, because I've found if I can attach some cultural sensibilities to it, it's easier for me to find my way through musically.”

Another noticeable scoring trait is the restrained use of music, most particularly what might be considered the delay in introducing a cue, above all, at a dramatic moment.  This respect for an audience's intelligence, enabling them to form their own conclusions has earned the composer esteem not only in the Hollywood artistic community, but among discerning moviegoers as well.

“He's very big on waiting. I've learned that from him,” asserts Sydney Pollack about the technique.  “It's so much better when you're not leading - You don't know the cue is starting.  It's less manipulative.”

Such restraint can also be found directly within the structure of Dave Grusin's music. Scores like "The Yakuza" and "Random Hearts" are like fine brushwork paintings.  For him, “less can really be more in film scoring.” He feels, “that's why so many art films are so impressive musically: They are sometimes scored with just a few instruments." Although this may be the result of budgetary restrictions, he admits, “personally, I find that kind of thing terribly appealing.”

A study of Dave Grusin scores also reveals a virtual absence of character-oriented themes.  For rather than letting personality or storyline be the stimulation for his music, he invariably gets his inspiration from the cinematic effect of a film.  As he says, “the emotional response I get mostly is not from what it's about.  It's what it looks like and feels like.”

He finds that directors often have preconceptions of themes to represent individuals in a picture, but claims, “I've never understood that, and never worked that way, unless really forced to.  And I can't recall anybody ever insisting.”  While a number of circumstances might combine to cause a motif to recur in situations involving the appearance of a particular character, he maintains that in his scores, this never has a conscious genesis.

Amplifying on the visuals which act as stimuli for musical cues, he cites “something as simple as lighting or a nice shot, some surprising unusual thing that happens or an optical effect,” admitting that the latter has a special lure.  Atmosphere - especially one which is dark or mysterious - is one of the biggest triggers for music, and along with mood, can surely be enhanced, if not virtually created by a score.

Go to: Realization of a Film Score     

Photo Credit
3 - Carol Weinberg
5  - Christina Parley

Dave Grusin
Feature Films