The Dave Grusin Archive
Music for the Screen
The Champ

Stars:  Jon Voight , Faye Dunaway , Ricky Schroder, Jack Warden

Director:  Franco Zefferelli
Producer:  Dyson Lovell
Released:  MGM 1979

Story:  The effects of a broken marriage on parents and child is explored against a background of racing, boxing and the fashion world.

While the worlds of horse racing and boxing set the backdrop for “The Champ,” the story 's central core is one thing - the depth and majesty of love, and that is what Dave Grusin has captured in his beautiful main title "What Matters Most."

At first grasp, this grand orchestral theme seems far too tall for its action.  The opening scenes of people working with horses appears to be overcome by its magnificence .  Veering here from his usual style of  waiting for the audience to form its opinion, the composer has warned us that this is not a lightweight motion picture - not a movie about horses, boxers, a cute kid, the wealthy mixing with the semi-derelict or even a tug-of-love battle.

As a motion picture which, through story, direction and certainly acting, unfolds layer upon layer, "What Matters Most" - which is played in full form, at beginning, middle and end of the film- is crucial to conveying  its gravity and meaning beyond the plotline.

Although “The Champ” contains a good deal of varied music, it is this main theme which is the glue binding together all the episodes to capture the intensity of mutual love between the father and son.

So alerted, the viewer subliminally  takes in each succeeding episode on a slightly deeper level than might otherwise occur.

Music plays a critical role in “The Champ,” even beyond that awesome main theme.  The lively and irresistible Caribbean music, which runs under scenes of the horse walkers at work, does as much as anything else to demonstrate the happy, warm and even wholesome world in which T.J. is growing up - quite contrary to what one might conventionally think about the suitability of such an environment for any child.

We are somehow swayed into believing that it was the best possible of atmospheres for him.  The road-running scenes are also enhanced by such merry and invigorating music (“A Cha-Cha do Brazil") that rings with the happiness shared between Billy and T.J.  It's a curious rhythm, but easy to enjoy and fall in with.  More exhilarating sounds are provided in the gym workout scenes, mixing orchestral and rock.

Whereas the main title's principal element is depth and splendor, “Letting Go” (subtitled "T.J.'s Theme") is more sweet and sentimental, tending to concentrate on a different kind of love, that of the boy's newfound mother and what she is quickly learning to feel for him.

Incidental music is used throughout the picture and runs the gamut of genres - most of it source music - from a fusion sound heard from the car radio to a lounge orchestra playing `fashion show' fare, and from honky tonk in a gambling scene to Mozart lending a serene atmosphere to Annie's yacht.  In each case, it's not just a matter of providing background music, but identifying the worlds of the characters involved.

The score received an Oscar nomination for 1979, and reflects the interesting music Dave Grusin was writing and performing following a virtual renaissance after His return to a recording career at  the keyboard.  It is not only an artistic score, but finely conducted as well.  Numerous excerpts can be heard on the soundtrack album. Failing to obtain this, both “What Matters Most” and “Letting Go” are to be found on Dave Grusin's “Cinemagic,” which has the benefit of still being obtainable on CD.  Set alongside some of his other great film music, both pieces shine out.

Sheet music from "The Champ" published by MGM

Music Editor:  Joe Tuley
Music Consultant:  Richard Perry
Music Supervisor:  V. Lojewski

Running Time:  1 hour, 59  minutes
Music Time:  (approx) 51 minutes

Planet - P 9001


If You Remember Me
Main Title
A Cha-Cha-do Brazil
Serenade in G, K.525
    "Eine Kleine Nacht Musik"
Nothing But a Groove
Find Our Way

Gym Montage
T. J.'s Theme
Theme from "The Champ"
Salon du Miami
Visiting Hours

(for lyrics to the main title, see below)

soundtrack album

Dave Grusin
Feature Films


Theme from "The Champ"45


(times approximate)

.12 - 2.39   (2.27)

Orchestral version of “The Champ” theme plays over early morning  scenes and chatter amongst people walking race horses as credits roll.

2.40 - 4.59   (2.19)

Continuing on from Main Title and people walking horses, steel band music plays under further scenes at the training   grounds.  Leans towards geographical locale of Miami, but even more, creates a sense of fun and warm atmosphere.  Reflects the lively dialogue, and almost plays like source music.

10.10 - 10.40   (.30)

Source music “When The Saints Go Marching In” played badly and noisily by inebriated players, including Billy on the drums.

10.41 - 10.44   (.03)

Source music - Billy sings a line of “When The Saints Go Marching In” as he returns home drunk.

10.52 - 11.33   (.41)

Source music -a voice singing soulfully in the far distance as T. J. chats with his father.  Creates a blues in the night background.

11.50 - 13.00   (.1.10)

Source music - same soulful singing in the distance.  Ends with change of scene to T. J. brushing his teeth.

13.38 - 14.29   (.51)

Source music - same soulful singing in the distance as Billy talks of his philosophy.  As T. J. falls asleep, music disappears in a time dissolve to later in the night.

15.38 - 17.49   (2.11)

Steel band music plays over scenes at the training stables as T.J. talks about his father boxing.  The latter then drives up and tells about his gambling.  Music disappears in a roar as everyone goes for presents.

19.55 - 20.29   (.34)

“A Cha Cha do Brazil” plays over arrival of She's A Lady and Billy's presentation of the horse to his son.  Beat has a horsy trot to it.  Music opens up into “The Champ” theme as T. J. realizes it is his horse.  Cha Cha partially runs through Main Title, which rises as father and son admire the horse and T. J. gets up on it while everyone applauds.

20.30 - 24.21   (.51)

Directly from last note of “The Champ,” Caribbean music starts again over scenes of the track on race day.  Visual images of people dancing reinforce the images, and make it seem to be source music, especially when a change of scene makes music more distant, and it grows louder in long shots.  Ends as race preliminaries begin.

26.12 - 26.19   (.07)

Source music - race track fanfare.

30.55 - 31.54   (.59)

“The Champ” theme plays delicately as T. J. says he'll keep the horse whether she can race or not.  Music then takes on a dark, sinister cast - the sense of a great threat - as Annie appears, and Billy confronts her aggressively.  Music fades as they walk into the stable.

34.32 - 35.27   (.55)

“T. J.'s Theme” plays as Annie - now knowing this is her son - speaks to him tenderly about  the money he owes her.  Music reinforces the emotion of the moment, but continues to have a slight dark cast of foreboding.  Ends after both father and son have gone away, and Annie also turns and leaves.  

35.28 - 36.23   (.55)

Source music “Nothing But a Groove” from car radio begins faintly at first, in long shot of the car, then becomes louder in closer shot of father and son driving and chatting about visit to see Annie.  Ends with change of scene

38.36 - 41.58   (3.22)

Source music - “Eine Kleine Nacht Musik” plays in the salon of the yacht as Annie and T. J. enter, and continues to create an atmosphere of absolute serenity - and the opposite of T. J.'s usual world - through conversation with Annie's husband.  Ends as Annie and T. J. go back outside.

42.41 - 43.39   (.58)

As Billy visits carnival and shooting gallery,  boisterous, bright music plays in contrast to salon of ship.

43.40 - 45.24   (1.44)

“T. J.'s Theme” plays over Annie and T. J. swimming at the beach, scenes of other children and Billy watching them, and seeing T. J. join them.  Very sweet and sentimental, and an extremely good marriage of image and music.  Ends in scene on the yacht with others in the salon.

48.31 - 48.58   (.27)

Source music - noisy, but difficult to hear against raucous gambling scene.  Ends in the middle of the scene.

49.11 - 52.57   (3.48)

Honky tonk source music starts up in the middle of gambling scene as Billy is about to leave the game.  Becomes louder outside when he meets Mike, and plays softly in the distance as they talk, becoming louder again when they part, and Billy goes back to the game.

54.09 - 54.57   (.48)

Usual steel band music at stables as Billy makes a frantic phone call for money.  Ends with change of scene.

55.48 - 57.36   (1.48)

Source music - “Salon du Miami” - played by a hotel-type orchestra for the fashion show on which Annie is commenting.  First heard faintly from outdoors, then at full volume in the hall, and ends in applause for the show

57.37 - 59.50   (2.13)

Source music “Salon du Miami” plays faintly from main hall as Billy and Annie speak nearby, becoming inaudible as they move outdoors.

1.08.18 - 1.09.14   (.56)

“T. J.'s Theme” plays poignantly after the boy's father has denounced and slapped him in the prison cell.  Begins after the child's reaction has started, and through his departure from the jail.  Very solemn and grave, ending on Billy hitting the cell wall in despair.

1.09.15 - 1.11.13   (1.58)

Source music - an orchestra playing dance music at a party on Annie's yacht becomes faint as she goes inside to meet T. J., and plays barely audibly over most of their conversation.  Source music is taken over by underscoring, as scene becomes more intimate.

1.11.14 - 1.12.58   (1.44)

Very slow, drawn out version of “T. J.'s Theme” overcomes source music, expressing Annie's tender feelings for her son, and what he is starting to feel for her in return.  Ends suddenly after she blurts out the information that she is his mother, and asks “didn't the champ tell you?” with only silence for the word “I'm your mother.”

1.14.20 - 1.15.09   (.49)

Source music - band on the yacht playing for the party as Annie returns to the deck becoming fainter as she goes out of earshot to the railing, weeping.

1.15.10 - 1.17.10   (2.00)

At the  deserted racetrack, “T. J.'s Theme” is played by a single flute as Billy, released from jail,  walks along.   Music adds a strong sense of isolation, sadness and regret, expressing that he is thinking of his son.  The music emphasizes his reflective state of mind even from the long shot of him in the stands.  As he first sees his son high up, theme segueys into “Champ Theme.”

1.17.11 - 1.19.19   (2.08

“The Champ Theme” begins on a soft but shimmering note as father and son study each other's faces from a distance.  The gentle string interpretation adds great meaning to the moment, portraying their internal response to this encounter.    Music sustains the emotion captured in the closeups through the numerous long shots in the scene.  Theme builds as father and son approach one another and swells as they embrace,.  Ends on scene of flamingos flying away.

1.23.52 - 1.26.10   (2.18)

On Billy's line to Annie `you can always come back,' “The Champ Theme” plays softly, slowly and tenderly while Annie comforts him rather than agreeing.  Ends as he walks away, saying he knows what to do.

1.26.12 - 1.28.26   (2.14)

Spirited A “Cha -Cha do Brazil” plays over scene of Billy running in the road as T. J. cycles beside him.  It captures their optimism, high spirits, vigor and closeness, as “The Champ Theme” played by strings is interwoven into the piece.  Extremely effective cue, ending with change of scene.

1.30.28 - 1.31.40   (1.12)

Fanfare feeling to “Gym Montage” - a mixture of peppy orchestral music and funky sound over scenes of Billy training for the fight.

1.33.08 - 1.34.19   (1.11)

“The Champ Theme” plays over scene of Billy and T. J. swimming at the beach with horses passing in and out of the scene.  Music is warm and expresses the deep emotion between them.

1.54.35 - 1.58.57   (4.22)

“The Champ Theme” begins very softly and slowly on  Jackie's  reaction to T. J.'s despair.  Music holds the gravity of the tragedy as T. J. shouts hysterically, and appeals to Georgie and Jackie to revive his father.  Piano and strings play touchingly over arrival of Annie in tears, and theme takes more form as T.J. turns from his father and embraces his mother.  As camera moves from them to Billy lying on the table, picture fades and music swells over closing credits.  Beautifully executed to close the film.


NOTE:  The main title, “What Matters Most,” also has lyrics written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, which do not appear in the film, but which are featured on the Kenny Rankin recording of the song:

It's not how long we held each other's hands
What matters is how well we loved each other
It's not how far we've travelled on our way
But what we found to say
It's not the spring we see
But all the shades of green
It's not how long I held you in my arms
What matters is how sweet the years together
It's not how many summertimes
We have to give, to give to fall
The early morning smiles
We cheerfully recall
What matters most is that we loved at all
It's not how many summertimes
We have to give, to give to fall
The early morning smiles
We cheerfully recall
What matters most is that we loved at all
What matters most is that we loved at all...

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