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Silvestri Alan (USA) 

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       2007 - Beowulf  (73%)

Alan Silvestri has grown in a remarkable short time from a guitarist, drummer and arranger in various bands to one of the world's most prolific and successful film composers. His name is attached to an impressive amount of successful movies like: Back to the Future Part I, II and III, Forrest Gump, The Abyss, Predator, Judge Dredd, Cast Away, Who framed Roger Rabbit?, The Mummy Returns, Contact, Stuart Little, The Bodyguard, What Lies Beneath, Romancing the Stone, What Women Want, Lilo & Stitch, Van Helsing, The Polar Express and lately Night at the Museum.

He possesses an exceptional talent for writing razor sharp, memorable themes. His sense of rhythm is even more remarkable and probably the best in the business. Because of this combination of qualities he is considered by a lot of people as the best action composer. Often referred to as a musical chameleon Silvestri has also amazed many people with the diversity of his work and has proven many times that he can score every movie genre at the highest level.
Certain critics believe that his true genius lies in the fact that he instinctively has a deep understanding of what the core and emotion of a movie is and consequently produces music that fits perfectly with the movie.

Alan Anthony Silvestri was born on March 26, 1950 in the city New York. He grew up several miles west of the city New York in Teaneck, New Jersey. His father is a second generation Italian immigrant and his mother a second generation Irish immigrant. Alan was already fascinated by music at a very early age, although he wasn't brought up in a musical family. He was only 3 years old when he started playing the drums (this probably relates to his extraordinary rhythmical talents). Alan: "My parents were not interested in music. The first time I heard a symphony orchestra was in my early 20's. So there wasn't exposure to a certain kind of music, and yet music was what I always wanted to do"

During his school years in the sixties he was a member of the high school orchestra and taught himself to play various instruments like the drums, bassoon, clarinet, saxophone and woodwinds. He also did some writing at that time, studied harmony and started putting bands together (small horn bands). Alan also had a great love for baseball in his high school years.

Around the age of 14 Alan started playing the guitar. "When I was about 14 my dad bought me a $15 guitar and a Mel Bay book. I remember my dad knew a few chords, turned it up for me, and I never came out of my room again! It captivated me", Alan recalls.

At the age of 15 Alan began to think seriously about making music his future profession. Although at that time he never had any thoughts about becoming a film composer. He was actually dreaming about becoming a jazz performer, as a bebop guitar player (bebop is a rhythmic form of jazz). Alan was a big fan of the jazz guitar legend Wes Montgomery.
In 1967 Alan formed his first own jazz band "The South Winds Trio" at the age of 17 with Glen Gollobin on flute, Ken Petretti on drums and Alan on guitar.

After he graduated from high school in 1968, Alan chose to attend the jazz-oriented Berklee College of Music in the city of Boston. He played there among other things guitar in one of Berklee's guitar ensembles. He only stayed at Berklee for less than two years because he wanted to go out and play music. This happened in 1970 when Alan moved West to Las Vegas and began touring as a 20 year old guitar player in the well-known rhythm & blues band Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders. Wayne Cochran was also known as "The White James Brown" and he was notorious for his rough shows (e.g. he threw with chairs on stage). Alan continued to study while he was touring.

The following anecdote told by C.C. Rider Mike Katz (trombone) shows that Alan had an adventurous character: "Wayne Cochran's people had contacted Berklee for a guitar player. Alan was sitting in class when someone came in and asked if anybody wanted to go on the road. Alan said: 'I'll go!' and away he went. Alan toured with us for about a year and he was an excellent guitar player".

Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders (Las Vegas 1970)
Alan Silvestri - guitar (top left), Phil DiMaio - drums,
Artie Goleniak - bass, Charlie Brent - guitar and Wayne Cochran

How Alan Silvestri got his first movie assignment is a remarkable story.

After a brief trip back to Boston, Silvestri returned to Las Vegas and became a guitar player and arranger in a band (supposedly his girlfriend's band). At some point a certain man was interested in them and wanted to make a record deal. To sign the contract they had to travel to Phoenix, Arizona. After they have signed the contract they found out that the received paycheck bounced. Because they were bound to the contract for the rest of their lives, they decided to go to the hometown of this impostor: Los Angeles. Fortunately they were able to buy back the fake contract with some borrowed money. The result was that they were stranded in Los Angeles not really knowing anyone and with almost no money in their pockets!

Luckily Alan knew a songwriter, Mike Jarrett, whom he played guitar for in Phoenix. Through him Alan met Bradford Craig at the Travel Lodge motel on Sunset Boulevard. As a lyricist for some projects with Quincy Jones, Craig had been nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award. He gave Silvestri some arranging assignments, which turned into the break Silvestri had been waiting for.

"Bradford received a call from a small production company that had misread his film credit and assumed that he had scored a movie that he had worked on with Quincy Jones" Silvestri recalls. "They asked him if he could put together a score to this little film that they had." As a lyricist who knew nothing about writing music, Craig placed the caller on hold and called Alan. " 'There's a movie here, do you want to do it?' I said yes, and just like that, I had my first film. I was about 20." The movie was called The Doberman Gang (1972), a real super-low-budget film.

Silvestri had no composition experience at the time. "I had to have a meeting with the movie producer the next day, so I went to a book store and asked for every book they had on writing music for a movie. Well, there was only one, "How To Score A Film" by Earl Hagen. It was seventy five dollars, which was more than I could afford, but I had to have it so I bought it, and I spent all night reading it, cover to cover" (Alan also got the Carroll Knudson timing book and learned the mechanics of scoring a picture in about two days). "When I watched the film with the producer and he asked me what I thought and what my ideas were and I told him and he gave me the movie. He said, "See you in two weeks." I had two weeks to score the film, which I did. I wrote about 60 minutes of music for it and the next thing I knew, I was a film composer!".
"I literally tried everything in the book on this film. I had cues on top of cues, all kinds of things. I mean, I wasn't short of opinion, which was helpful. I had immediate responses and input into the whole film making process." "I basically scored it with friends, I played half of the stuff myself."

The Doberman Gang was ultimately quite successful. It triggered a succession of low-budget film assignments for Alan, like Las Vegas Lady (1975), The Amazing Dobermans (1976) starring Fred Astaire, and The Fifth Floor (1978).

We can conclude that Alan Silvestri never had any plans about becoming a film composer and entered the film music business totally by accident. With absolutely no experience in film music, writing music for a full-blown movie within two weeks was an almost impossible task. But his strong determination, self-confidence and musical talents made sure that he was successful. He was also extremely young (a 21 year old punk) when he scored his first movie (only Cliff Eidelman comes close, with an age of 25 on his first movie). If it wasn't for Bradford Craig, Alan would probably still be playing in a band.

Only around 1976 Alan started to learn to play the piano. "When I met my piano teacher, Abe Fraser, I was 26 years old. It was the first time I had ever played piano, or any of the great piano pieces, and he was a really wonderful influence. He said, 'If you play great music, (and I always had three books on the piano: Mozart Sonatas, Beethoven Sonatas and The Well-Tempered Klavier) it will change you.' Not only was he right, but I think what happens is that if you participate in the movement of these notes, it physically changes you, and your brain's physical connections are altered by following the thought processes of these composers. I think that over time it creates a kind of sensitivity that just starts to change people, and I really feel like that's what Abe was talking about."

Around 1977 Silvestri broke into television with an episode of Starsky & Hutch. Alan had been coaching Paul Michael Glaser ('Dave Starsky', one of the show's stars) as a guitar player for a film project Glaser wanted to do. When Glaser got to direct his first episode of the show he asked Alan to do the music. Alan was delighted, but it would turn out to be a very tough job. Alan explains: "I did it, but it was a nightmare. There was a lot of dramatic music that needed to be written for it. I had never written anything for orchestra before, the only thing I had ever done was small bands or big bands. So I did this episode, lost about 30 pounds and almost lost my wife in the process. In a way it worked out fine, but there was no consistency in it."

After Alan did only a few episodes of Starsky & Hutch, Harry Lojewsky - head of the Music Department at MGM - asked if Alan could do a episode of the Police TV series CHiPs (the funny thing was that the producers screened an episode of Starsky & Hutch that Alan had nothing to do with). When Alan was called in (second season in 1978), the TV show CHiPs was in big problems because times were changing and CHiPs was becoming a bit old-fashioned. At that time there was the so-called "disco fever" and they wanted youthful rhythmic music for the show. They also acquired a new producer, who was very excited about Alan after he had scored his first episode. Alan recalls: "We did the first episode, it was basically Erik Estrada's version of John Travolta doing Saturday Night Fever. The ratings went crazy, all of a sudden we had a hit show. The producer said, 'You can do all of my shows!'."

CHiPs was a turning point in Alan's career. He would score approximately 120 hours of this popular show. His life in poverty was over because he finally had a steady job to support himself (the films he did before that only costed him money because he scored only about one movie a year).
Furthermore, he would acquire invaluable experience in the fast-paced world of television music. He would compose a new theme for every episode. Silvestri: "There's just about nothing as pressurized as a weekly television show, where you score a show in the morning, and that afternoon you see the next one, and then a week later you score that one in the morning, and you see the next one in the afternoon. So in terms of that kind of pressure I've had tremendous training by being in television for four or five years".
The music that Silvestri made for the show was mainly strong rhythmic (disco-like) music for action scenes. "There was no real underscoring of dialog in that show", Silvestri recalls.

A funny anecdote about when Alan just started on the TV-series CHiPs is the following:
"It was the beginning of the second year, the show was very successful, and I felt great because I had a steady job. So when I did the first episode of the second year I just went all out and wrote something that I thought was just spectacular, really great." Silvestri recorded his first cue at the session and went into the booth to see his producer, certain that he was about to be showered with praise. The playback was greeted with a lengthy silence, after which the producer tactfully informed him that he needed to remember that CHiPs starred Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox, not Alan Silvestri". "It's not the Alan Silvestri Show," Silvestri points out. "You have to remember that your job is to collaborate and make what's on the screen work better, not just to show off what you can do musically."

This story perfectly demonstrates Alan Silvestri's current and past style of writing film music. The director and the film are much more important to Silvestri than how the music stands on its own (although his music also does a VERY good job in standing on its own on CD)

During his TV years Alan also worked as a guitar player and arranger in various bands like with Jimmy Smith (1977), Mystique (1977) and Scherrie & Susaye (1979). But Alan's long-time love for guitar playing slowly faded away when he began writing film music: "At some point beyond when I started scoring films, the playing just kind of fell away, and I became more and more interested in writing".

In 1983 CHiPs suddenly canceled. After about five years of steady scoring Alan was back on the streets. Shortly after that Alan got, with the help of composer Mark Snow, the chance to write music for the police TV-series T.J. Hooker. But unfortunately the producers weren't satisfied and Alan wasn't hired. Fortunately Alan did got to score 7 out of 8 episodes of Glen A. Larson's fantasy TV-series Manimal.

In 1983 after a long working drought Silvestri's phone rang again. This time it was one of the music editors (Tom Carlin) that he had worked with on CHiPs. Silvestri: "I got this call at about 7:00 at night, and he said 'I'm working on Romancing the Stone. They've got an office full of tapes. They've hired people, they've fired them, they can't find anything they like. Would you be interested in doing something on spec?' Naturally, I said yes. He put Robert Zemeckis, the director, on the phone and he told me he needed about three minutes of music that would go with a South American movie sequence in which Kathleen Turner is chased through the jungle, in the rain, by a bunch of machete-wielding maniacs. 'Can you do about three minutes and be there for lunch tomorrow?' So I said 'Absolutely'. I had just started to put a studio together in my house and I had a limited amount of electronic equipment. I stayed up that night and did a funny little demo tape. I literally only had a Linn Drum and a 8-track machine, but no board, no echo - nothing. The next day, before I met Zemeckis, the music editor wanted to hear my demo tape, before he got himself fired. He liked it and when we played it for the filmmakers they had wide smiles on their faces after only 2 or 3 bars. That night Michael Douglas (who was also the producer) called and we had a deal by the following morning".

The phone conversation that Silvestri had with director Robert Zemeckis that night would prove to be one of the most important of his life. The paths of two whiz kids had crossed each other and they would start one of the most successful director-composer partnerships in the history of the movie industry. Every single film they would produce would prove to be a big success: Back to the Future Part I, II and III, Forrest Gump, The Polar Express, Cast Away, Who framed Roger Rabbit, Death Becomes Her, Contact, What Lies Beneath and of course Romancing the Stone. They also worked together on the TV-series "Tales from the Crypt" (3 episodes) and "Amazing Stories" (1 episode).
Their collaboration is unique and can really only be compared in terms of success and duration with the collaboration of Steven Spielberg and John Williams (but unlike Silvestri and Zemeckis, even they didn't work together in one movie, namely The Color Purple).

Not only do Silvestri and Zemeckis have a good professional relationship but they are also personal friends. Silvestri recalls his first personal encounter on Romancing the Stone with Zemeckis: "I'm standing there in this Calvin Klein white sweater, and all of a sudden Bob walks in wearing the exact same sweater. Right then, we knew that we were connected for life."

Silvestri describes Romancing the Stone as "incredibly important to everyone involved in it. It was important in terms of Bob's career as a director, it was important to Kathleen Turner and Danny Devito as actors, and it was important to Michael Douglas as an actor and a producer. There was definitely a kinetic energy which existed between everyone involved in that picture, and I think the audience picked up on it."

Silvestri also did some experimenting on Romancing the Stone. "We used quite a great deal of electronic instruments and to my knowledge it was one of the first times that computerized sequencers were used on live sessions along with a big orchestra. Just working out the logistics of putting the entire score in the hands of a little black box, and if this thing goes off, great; and if not, you're dead! As it turned out it all went just fine, but we really stretched in terms of experimentation and it paid of, but not without some rather tense moments on those sessions".

On Romancing the Stone Silvestri also worked for the first time with the orchestrator James Campbell. It was the beginning of a long successful collaboration. Together with Alan he would orchestrate every movie Alan scored until 1991. Unfortunately the professional relationship with James Campbell ended and on Ricochet (1991) William Ross would replace Campbell and to this day he still does an excellent job as Alan's orchestrator (he's also a rather good film composer).

Eraser (1996) was however the first sign that there were changes with respect to Alan's orchestrators. Mark McKenzie and Conrad Pope joined William Ross as orchestrators on Eraser and Alan would orchestrate more of his films himself from the year 2000 onwards (he had already orchestrated Shattered (1991) himself, just before William Ross would replace James Campbell). Alan declared that if he has enough time on a project, he enjoys orchestrating his scores himself.

After Romancing the Stone (1984) it took a little while for things started to happen for Silvestri. But he could feel that it was coming. The first sign was an offer to score a Stephen King horror movie for Dino De Laurentiis named Cat's Eye (1985), that resulted in an atmospheric score that was fully electronic.

But before Cat's Eye Alan also scored a French film. In 1984 he met a very enthusiastic French director named Philippe Clair. Alan was overwhelmed by his energy and was delighted to work with him. The result was a French comedy with Jerry Lewis Par Où T'es Rentré... On T'a Pas Vu Sortir (How Did You Get In... We Didn't See You Leave).

Silvestri's next project was a road movie called Fandango (1985). It was a movie that Steven Spielberg was producing and it was directed by the then rookie director Kevin Reynolds (who would later direct Waterworld and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves). Because Zemeckis knew Steven Spielberg personally, he recommended Silvestri to Spielberg. Spielberg was very impressed by the work of the young composer and decided to hire him.

Silvestri recalls when he first saw the film with the director: "I went over there, and the picture started off with Shostakovich's 8th Symphony, from there to 'Spooky' and 'Born to be Wild' and back to Shostakovich. The man had literally trimmed his film to his records. I walked into this thing, I had never written for an orchestra before; now, Romancing the Stone is basically a rhythm score. I was a drummer and a guitar player remember. I got the job, just because I had done Romancing the Stone".

"It was made clear to Silvestri that the filmmakers wanted music that was equivalent to the classical pieces they had chosen. I was so intimidated, I put off writing forever. I mean, I was down to the last second on this thing, and I was literally going to tell them that I couldn't do it. I was going to quit the business, and it was to the point where if I would have quit there was no way they'd have time to hire somebody else and have them do it, so I was really going to cause a disaster for everybody concerned. Finally, the last possible night, something broke and I just started writing out of sheer desperation. And the first thing I wrote seemed okay. So I wrote some more. And I kept writing all night." Silvestri eventually finished the complete score on time.
"It was like making a crystal, there's nothing there, and all of a sudden it was there. It was probably my most miraculous moment. I think it will be always my favorite score. A great deal of it never wound up in the film. Up until that moment I had thought that a project like Back to the Future was beyond possibility, like another lifetime, to be able to write for an orchestra and for a project like that".

Under stressed conditions... without any notable experience in orchestral music... without ever having an experienced composer as a tutor... with absolutely no help, Silvestri created his first orchestral score that night, that was also of considerable quality. This is an incredible accomplishment if you really think about it. It was also a clear sign that he is one of those rare true naturals.

With his next Zemeckis project Back to the Future (1985) the young Silvestri would really display his exceptional talents. Being only his second(!) orchestral work he would produce a score that most experienced composers can only dream of. His heroic main theme from Back to the Future would become world-famous and can be placed in the same league as the classic Star Wars theme from the legendary John Williams.

According to Silvestri he got the assignment from Robert Zemeckis to do a 'big' score. Zemeckis told him: "Al, I don't have any jungles here, I don't have any big pictures in this film. So I'm depending on you to somehow give me a big movie, because I don't have one, in terms of visual size".
The rousing adventurous score from Back to the Future resulted in two Grammy Award Nominations for Silvestri and finally gave him a comfortable position in the marketplace.

With his next movies in 1986, Silvestri shifted more to electronic scores (The Clan of the Cave Bear, The Delta Force, No Mercy and Flight of the Navigator). Although not the taste of certain conservative film music critics back then, Silvestri showed with these scores that he is also exceptionally good at writing very swinging, funky electronic music.
The extensive use of synthesizers was of budgetary reasons. But Silvestri also likes to use synthesizers to produce certain sound colors that just can't be made with a traditional orchestra. In The Clan of the Cave Bear for instance there had to be a sense of an exotic environment which the (then just new) Synclavier synthesizer used by Silvestri was perfect for.

Another landmark in Silvestri's career is the score for the action classic Predator (1987) directed by John McTiernan. Predator was produced by the very successful producer Joel Silver (e.g. 48 Hrs., Die Hard, Lethal Weapon 1 - 4, The Matrix, Weird Science, Hudson Hawk, The Last Boy Scout). Silver was a friend of Zemeckis, that Silvestri once met on Back to the Future. Because it clicked between them right away, they were looking for a film to work together and Predator was the one (they would work together again on Predator 2, Ricochet, Richie Rich and Tales from the Crypt).

The sophisticated score for Predator is regarded as one of the most effective action scores ever. Silvestri's score focused strongly on sound and rhythm and less on melody as in his previous works. His music and the film were a perfect match and the music brought the tension and atmosphere of the film to the highest attainable level. It still functions as an example for many composers.

In 1988 Silvestri and Zemeckis teamed up again on Who framed Roger Rabbit? (actually the production already started two and a half years earlier). Also very well received by critics, it was a unique and perfect mix of orchestral and jazz music. Silvestri's past jazz experiences proved to be a great inspiration. Just like Back to the Future Silvestri got nominated for two Grammy Awards for his score.

Silvestri continued to produce high quality scores and was slowly making a name for himself in Hollywood as a melody wizard and a musical chameleon. He has tried out almost every type of film genre: comedy, action, romance, science fiction, animation, horror, drama, fantasy, western, thriller, slapstick, adventure. What is truly remarkable is that Silvestri handles every genre exceptionally well. Alan Silvestri seems to be one of those rare composers with practically no weaknesses.

Further highlights in his career are James Cameron's masterpiece The Abyss (1989), Robert Zemeckis' Back to the Future - Part III (1990), Charles Shyer's Father of the Bride (1991), Mick Jackson's The Bodyguard (1992), Stephen Hopkins' Blown Away (1994), Donald Petrie's Richie Rich (1994), Danny Cannon's Judge Dredd (1995), Robert Zemeckis' Contact (1997), Rob Minkoff's Stuart Little (1999), Robert Zemeckis' Cast Away (2000) and Stephen Sommers' The Mummy Returns (2001).

But Silvestri's greatest highlight is Robert Zemeckis' masterpiece Forrest Gump (1994). With this score Silvestri proved that he could also easily compose the more 'heavy-weight' dramatic, emotional music that a diverse movie like Forrest Gump needed. Silvestri got universal appreciation for his score that was translated into nominations for an Academy Award, Grammy Award and Golden Globe.

1994 was a characteristic year in which Silvestri showed that his music had greatly matured. Silvestri also stated that he learns new things with every movie and that he loves to experiment. If a composer with this talent is getting better every year what for brilliant works can we expect for the future?

In 1995 Silvestri received the Richard Kirk Award from BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) for outstanding career achievement and a Honorary Doctorate from Berklee College of Music. And more recently in 2002 Alan received The Henry Mancini Award from ASCAP for lifetime achievement. It seems that Alan Silvestri is finally getting some of the appreciation he clearly deserves...

Alan Silvestri married his wife Sandra in 1978 (actually, after he just got back from his honeymoon to Hawaii he was contacted to score the TV-series CHiPs). Sandra was a Ford fashion model in the 1970s under the name Sandi Shue but she stopped modeling soon after they married. The Silvestris live in the picturesque Northern California town of Carmel with their three children Alexandra, Joey and James. They own a ranch with a lot of cattle, horses and other animals. For relaxing Alan loves working at the ranch and ride the tractor for long hours. Alan also has a large vineyard used for growing his own commercial wine, named Silvestri Vineyards.

Their son Joey has juvenile type-1 diabetes mellitus. Joey was on the edge of a coma when he was diagnosed at the age of two. Sandra Silvestri recalls: "It took five days before he was stabilized and could come home. I was in shock when I realized how close to death he was and how I had not recognized the symptoms of diabetes".

Contributing to finding a cure for their son's chronic illness is an important goal in Alan's and Sandra's life. That they spend a lot of energy in this is demonstrated by the fact that they co-chaired the Children's Congress held by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) in 1999. JDRF is an organization founded by the parents of children with diabetes (see the links section for more details). Sandra Silvestri is also an International Board Member of JDRF International.

Alan finds scoring film music very important and enjoying, but to certain limits. He also enjoys a lot of other things in life. For instance, Alan loves to fly. He has a private pilot license along with an instrument and commercial rating. He flies himself with his own plane to Los Angeles for sessions and meetings. He is also a wine lover, Silvestri: "I enjoy wine but I don't get crazy about it. That's what I feel about film music. I enjoy it but I have other things in my life that I'm enjoying also. Wine is a symbol or an expression of the enjoyment of life and I think music is a very similar expression".


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