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‘Gray Man’ Composer Henry Jackman Scored Film’s Music Without Seeing a Single Frame

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Henry Jackman’s music for “The Gray Man,” the spy thriller debuting Friday on Netflix, is as cutting-edge and exciting as any score you’ll hear all year. Yet he wrote all of the film’s key musical elements without ever seeing a frame of film.

It’s what happens when real life collides with a movie career.

Jackman, the London-born, L.A.-based composer of the last three movies by “Gray Man” directors Joe and Anthony Russo (including two “Captain America” films and “Cherry”), became a father for the first time in March 2021. He planned to take nine months off work in order, he says, “to be the perfect dad.”

The Russos had alerted him before they started shooting their $200-million action film in which Ryan Gosling plays a CIA agent (nicknamed “Six”) targeted by an insane ex-colleague played by Chris Evans. But they weren’t going to need him to begin writing before December 2021, when editing would be well under way.

“We had a discussion about Six’s internal trauma, and how he’s got a bit of a ‘ghost in the machine’ issue that won’t go away,” Jackman tells Variety. “I thought, well, I can’t just sit here dealing with my son peeing on me and screaming all day long, so I’ll quickly knock out this piano idea.”

So in his non-dad hours, Jackman went into his home studio and began putting down musical ideas. “I used a reverse reverb effect and fiddled around a bit,” he says, until he had a two-minute piano-with-effects demo that might be useful for emotional scenes.

That piece opens the 17-minute “Gray Man” suite on the soundtrack album, the creation of which occupied those nine months of “time off” and now serves as an overture of all of the film’s themes.

Jackman read the script and couldn’t stop adding material to that opening theme. He came up with an offbeat percussion sound, invoked the classic “Mission: Impossible” 5/4 rhythm, and “went on this massive mission designing percussion sounds.” The highly produced music incorporates tick-tock figures, eerie noise and minor chords that are “very espionage,” he says.

“I chipped away at this piece a bit like (producer) Trevor Horn used to chip away at an Art of Noise album for months and months. It almost became an artistic endeavor in itself. At no point was I even thinking about Joe or Anthony (although) every now and then I would think, I really ought to play just a couple of bars of this for them.”

But he didn’t. “Every week this suite got longer and longer. I started messing around with some jazzy chords, a new idea in the brass,” he says, citing David Shire’s classic “The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3” score, “like an atonal kind of jazz” that became the signature for Hansen, the sadistic psychopath who pursues Six across the globe.

Eventually he added a driving bass line and a series of “big, Mancini-esque long brass statements,” referring to Henry Mancini, whose ’50s and ’60s scores included such detective and caper films as “Peter Gunn,” “Charade” and the “Pink Panther” series.

Nine months later, as the Russos were editing, Jackman finally sent his 17-minute masterpiece to his directors. “I didn’t really want to play it. I just wanted to hide,” he admits, apologizing in case they felt it wasn’t appropriate for the film. Luckily, Joe Russo loved it, texting Jackman with live reactions as he played it through for the first time.

With the approval of the Russos, Jackman went to work on scene-specific music. But most of the key compositional work was done. “Almost all the content, a huge proportion of cues in the score, have its origin somewhere in the suite,” he notes.

In April 2022, he flew to London to record the orchestral parts of the score, with an 80-piece ensemble, mostly strings and brass (recorded separately because of COVID restrictions). But a large part of the score was already recorded. “I spent ages in engineering mode,” Jackman says. “I really enjoy taking sounds and shoving them through late ’70s analog equipment, overdriving and distorting them. Almost all the percussion is heavily hand-made.”

He thinks this unusual process – writing not to the picture, but rather away from it – benefited the film. “If you’ve got the detail of each scene, you’re going to get distracted into the mechanics of the cue. Whereas if you want to come up with something original and interesting, explore your ideas and pursue them to find their own internal logic.

“You put all of that in the melting pot and keep stirring. Hopefully something pops out that you haven’t quite heard before.”

 



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Michelle Pfeiffer Remembers Coolio: ‘Nothing But Gracious’

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Michelle Pfeiffer, the prolific screen star of the ‘80s and ‘90s, has paid tribute to Coolio as a “gracious man” whose mega-hit “Gangsta’s Paradise” powered the success of one of her own films, Dangerous Minds.

Coolio was found dead on the bathroom floor at his friend’s house on Wednesday (Sept. 28), at the age of 59. Paramedics initially suspect that he suffered cardiac arrest, reports claim, though an official cause of death has yet to be announced.

Pfeiffer joined the chorus of tributes to Coolio, whose career briefly intersected with hers and created dynamite at the box office and on sales charts around the globe.

“Heartbroken to hear of the passing of the gifted artist Coolio. A life cut entirely too short,” she writes on social media.

“As some of you may know I was lucky enough to work with him on Dangerous Minds in 1995. He won a Grammy for his brilliant song on the soundtrack – which I think was the reason our film saw so much success. I remember him being nothing but gracious. 30 years later I still get chills when I hear the song.”

She’s not the only one still touched by the song. In July of this year, the official music video for “Gangsta’s Paradise” passed the one billion streams milestone on YouTube.

That clip featured Pfeiffer in her Dangerous Minds character Louanne Johnson, and went on to win best rap video category at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards.

The track, one of Coolio’s six hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, would go on to win the Billboard Music Award for single of the year, and a Grammy for best rap solo performance.

The single interpoles Stevie Wonder’s 1976 song “Pastime Paradise,” and was deemed the best-selling single on Billboard‘s year-end Billboard Hot 100 chart after spending 12 weeks in the top two positions; it logged a total of 62 weeks on the chart, including 3 at No. 1 and 11 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot Rap Songs survey.

Dangerous Minds
, which observes the day-to-day of Johnson, an ex-Marine now teaching at a tough inner-city school, grossed more than $179 million worldwide on a budget of about $22 million, according to IMDB.

“Sending love and light to his family,” Pfeiffer signs off. “Rest in Power, Artis Leon Ivey Jr.”



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5 Takeaways From Ivy Queen’s Empowering Q&A at 2022 Billboard Latin Music Week

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At Billboard Latin Music Week on Wednesday (Sept. 28), Ivy Queen candidly discussed her career, her songwriting and her struggles as the only woman in a genre dominated by men and her new music.

Moderated by Leila Cobo, vp/Latin industry lead, Billboard, see the best takeaways from the Icon Q&A with the Queen of Reggaeton.

On Fashion: “It’s always been important for me. When I started in the industry, everyone criticized my long nails, they called me Freddy Krueger, Edward Scissorhands. Now everyone has them long and I have them short. It was hard to find my identity. I dressed very tomboyish, to feel comfortable in a male-dominated industry. When we grow older, we appreciate our curves more. It was a very drastic change. 

On Finding Her Sound: “My own style is made to defend women. It took me time to define my sound. I’ve always loved the reggae movement and everything that was being done in Panama but then I fell in love with rap music because it’s poetry. I can express what I feel.” 

On “Te He Querido, Te He Llorado”: “I’ve always been very open and I’ve always sang to love. This song touched my life and the ones of who have deeply fallen in love. It was an overcoming process. Instead of doing something physical to my ex, I grabbed a pen and wrote the song. Music has showed me how to ventilate my feelings and go to bank to get my royalties.”  

On Her Empowering Lyrics: “I get inspired by real things and tragedies that women can’t voice. It’s for those women who are going through a crisis in a toxic relationship and can’t see it. My music is based on the reality of many women.”

On Authenticity: “Feel comfortable with who you are, your punchlines, your lyrics. Whoever tells you differently, it’s because they can’t comprehend it. People in the industry said my look and voice were very masculine. But in the end, it was my biggest blessing. I asked for advice in the wrong but you have to give it your all.”

Coinciding with National Hispanic Heritage Month, Billboard Latin Music Week includes workshops and panels featuring artists such as Christina Aguilera, Romeo Santos, Camilo, Nicky Jam, Wisin y Yandel, Maluma, Chayanne, Ivy Queen, Grupo Firme, Bizarrap, Blessd, Grupo Firme and many more.

The event also includes superstar concerts, intimate showcases, and new music premieres by Bizarrap, Elena Rose, Justin Quiles, Mariah Angeliq, and BRESH, who will throw the ultimate closing party at Oasis, in Miami’s Wynwood. 

For 30 years, Billboard Latin Music Week has been the longest-running and biggest Latin music industry gathering in the world. It will also dovetail with the 2022 Billboard Latin Music Awards on Sept. 29, in Miami.

The Billboard Latin Music Awards will broadcast live on Telemundo, and will also broadcast simultaneously on the Spanish entertainment cable network, Universo, and throughout Latin America and the Caribbean on Telemundo Internacional.



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‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, LL Cool J, MC Hammer, Questlove Pay Tribute to Coolio: ‘Peaceful Journey Brother’

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Fellow musicians and other entertainers are paying tribute to rapper Coolio, whose songs “Gangsta’s Paradise” was used in “Dangerous Minds” and “Aw, Here It Goes!” in the opening sequence of Nickelodeon’s “Kenan & Kel,” died Wednesday in Los Angeles. He was 59.

Coolio, born Artis Leon Ivey Jr., also had hits with “Fantastic Voyage” and “1,2,3,4 (Sumpin’ New)” and “It’s All the Way Live (Now).”

Among those who remembered Coolio on social media were “Weird Al” Yankovic, who was involved in a feud with the rapper when he released the song “Amish Paradise.” They later mended fences. Ice Cube, Questlove, Debbie Harry, Martin Lawrence and M.C. Hammer also paid tribute to the Compton-raised musician.

“One of the nicest dudes I’ve known,” wrote M.C. Hammer. See more tributes below:



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