Leave it to director Steven Soderbergh and composer Thomas Newman to go retro ’60s with the music for their fourth collaboration, “Let Them All Talk.”
Accompanying Meryl Streep, Candice Bergen, Dianne Wiest and the rest of Soderbergh’s cast crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2 is a jazz score that might easily have been penned by John Barry (“The Knack”), Neal Hefti (“The Odd Couple”) or Henry Mancini (“The Pink Panther”).
“Steven genuinely loves that kind of music,” Newman tells Variety. “It was fun to be doing something so different, so outspoken. I’m usually more into the sensuality of how music hits image and can shape and structure things. This was a lot of jazz waltzes.”
Soderbergh contacted Newman while the composer was finishing his “1917” score in London a year ago. They had previously collaborated on “Erin Brockovich,” “Side Effects” and “The Good German,” the last of which earned Newman one of his 15 Oscar nominations.
Newman called on his longtime collaborator, keyboardist John Beasley, to arrange the score and perform it with his MONK’estra big band. Beasley’s Hammond B3 organ — a sound familiar to ’60s jazz buffs — joins guitarist George Doering, flutist Steve Tavaglione, drummer Peter Erskine, bassist Benjamin Shepherd and percussionist Dan Greco as the core ensemble for most of the score.
The lighthearted, effervescent tone is heightened by the presence of wordless voices (“processed samples,” Newman reveals). “There’s something spritzy and carbonated about it, that Swingle Singers kind of sound,” referring to the ’60s vocal group famous for their vocalized versions of classical pieces.
In addition to Beasley’s 15-piece big band, there’s also a cushiony string section recorded at Fox’s Newman stage. They managed to record everything in January and February, prior to the pandemic that ended virtually all orchestral recordings for the next several months.
Newman says he’s been working with Beasley since around 1990, mostly playing keyboards and synthesizers. For “Let Them All Talk,” Newman wrote the waltzes, blues numbers and other cues, and Beasley arranged, orchestrated and conducted.
Soderbergh resisted a traditional underscore, Newman reports, so the total amount of music in the film is only about 20 minutes. “He didn’t want music doing what, typically, film music would do. He just wanted it to be outgoing, to carry with it a kind of breeziness. It went with Meryl Streep’s sunglasses and Candice Bergen’s cowboy hat. The cruise [setting] played into that vibe and style.”
The composer praised the director for “wanting you to be creatively expressive. He feels it’s in the interest of the film to let his creative people be that way.”
Beasley, coincidentally, is currently up for four Grammys in the jazz and arranging categories; Newman’s also nominated for composing the “1917” score.
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