For those of us who live in parts of the country where the seasons change, those transformations keep life interesting and varied. Much in the same manner, a change of pace musically can keep your ears perked and the creative juices flowing. Those of us who are serious collectors often go through a 'change of seasons' when focusing on a specific genre or record label. Immersing ourselves in the music, we might spend a good deal of time and effort looking to fill gaps and listening more intently to a specific style. Long story short, my summer listening tastes have found me going back to a number of my favorite jazzy soundtracks and realizing that the times sure have changed. Today's big productions go for commercial soundtracks that are essentially a collection of pop singles used to promote and sell even more records. But back in the days, you had talented composers and arrangers scoring themes for studio orchestras that regularly included New York's first-call jazz musicians.
While the temptation was there to include some of my favorites by Quincy Jones, Lalo Schifrin, and Duke Ellington, over the next few months the focus will instead be on some obscure soundtracks that have alluded repackaging up to this point. This month's column will be the first of a five-part series and it kicks off with an LP from one of my favorite composers, who just so happens to have been the topic of discussion before here at the Vinyl Junkyard. Kenyon Hopkins was a very talented writer and arranger who wrote original music and soundtracks for a number of motion pictures and has lately become the darling of those who prefer the style that has been billed as Space Age Pop or Bachelor Pad Music.
One of three soundtracks that Hopkins would record for producer Creed Taylor at Verve Records, Mr. Buddwing is a long-forgotten flick from 1965 that finds James Garner playing a man who awakens on a park bench in Central Park with no memories at all. The drama then chronicles the search for his identity until the music from a record player touches off a lost chord in his memory. Hopkins' score is decidedly upbeat and extremely jazzy, with a small combo at the core of the music, the use of strings and horns done so sparingly. "Hard Latin" comes on with a salsa backbeat and punchy brass accents. The Hammond organ spins a few choruses with a sound more in line with the Larry Young school than the cheesy ice rink variety that was popular at the time.
Other prime tracks include "West Side Radio," a loping 6/8 number with some snappy trumpet work and an insistent cowbell beat. And while Hopkins does have a few reoccurring themes that he recycles as do most soundtrack composers, the majority of the cuts have their own identity and the record does flow more like a typical jazz album than a sequence of cues from the movie. Unfortunately, personnel are not listed on the cover and various discographies I've consulted don't offer much help either. Based on my own experience and aural evidence, it is nonetheless very likely that Rudy Van Gelder engineered the sessions as the sound quality is superb and the stereo mix is tight and precise.
As soundtracks go and as an excellent demo disc for audiophiles, Mr. Buddwing makes a strong impression and it can be found in regular rotation on my turntable. Hopkins made his mark with this one and another soundtrack that we'll be taking a look at next month. Meanwhile, this one's definitely worth tracking down and while somewhat rare, it usually comes at a modest price.
Side One: The Bridge, Hard Latin, Lunch Room, Main Titles, Memory Montage, Fiddler's Walk
Side Two: Mister Bee, West Side Radio, Headache Montage, R & B 12 (Blues), Mirror, 12/8 Theme