Wednesday, April 1, 2020


Welcome to, the companion blog to my two-volume study of this genre — Crime and Spy Jazz on Screen, 1950-1970 and Crime and Spy Jazz on Screen Since 1971 — published by McFarland & Company.

If you've somehow found this blog before first, you can place advance orders via the McFarland links to the right. 

(And if you've arrived after finding the URL in purchased copies of one or both books, you've made a starving author very happy.)

My goal, with these two books, was to provide a contextual survey of action/spy/detective/crime jazz, from its television and film origins (1949 and '50, respectively) to the present day: a celebration of all the cool music by Henry Mancini, John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, Edwin Astley, Quincy Jones, Laurie Johnson, Jerry Goldsmith and hundreds more. Unlike the few existing books on this topic, I wanted to discuss the way in which a score is used within a movie or television show: how and why a composer's efforts helped — or sometimes hindered — the finished project.

And — equally important — the degree to which a director knew how to employ the cues for maximum impact (along with the lamentable cases where a director clearly didn't have the slightest idea how to effectively place music).

This project began not quite five years ago, as a pitch for a single volume not to exceed 125,000 words. (Boy, that was naïve!) After spending months building lists of potential candidates that fit the plot criteria, I wound up with 486 films and 750 TV shows; they were whittled down to 350 and 206, respectively (the others discarded for their lack of jazz scores).

Then came 3-1/2 years of viewing, listening, analyzing and then writing, with the resulting manuscript running just shy of 600,000 words. Okay, fine; first drafts are over-written. Several rounds of judicious pruning later, I wound up with 250,000 words: still far too many. But at this point, I knew that further trimming would have deleted too much of the "good stuff." The text would have been compromised beyond repair, destroying my intent to supply a truly definitive study of this jazz sub-genre.

Fortunately, the kind folks at McFarland agreed with my proposal to re-write the contract for a two-book set, thus preserving every word of that final draft.

Of course, a project of this sort begins to go "out of date" the nanosecond after publication. While it's true that the golden age of jazz scores is decades behind us, with scant few new ones debuting, it's important to acknowledge those that do arrive. That'll be one of this blog's functions: to serve as an ongoing update.

Late 2019's Motherless Brooklyn, to cite a recent example, arrived after these books "went to bed." Its sensational jazz score, boasting considerable work by Wynton Marsalis (among others), will be covered in a future post.

Of equal importance, this blog also will allow me to discuss films and TV shows that I either overlooked — such as 1989's Harlem Nights (and how I missed that one is a mystery for the ages) — or simply didn't know about until recently, such as the 2016 miniseries Four Seasons in Havana.

I also expect to hear from readers demanding to know how I possibly could have forgotten about this movie, or that TV show. All such input is welcome, although please take note of the books' limitations (and mine). Although intended to be a definitive study of American and (to a slightly lesser degree) British output, I had to hold the line at only occasional acknowledgments of international entries from farther afield. As an obvious example, I've no doubt an entire book could be devoted to 1960s and early '70s Italian spy jazz, given all the secret agent knock-off movies that were cranked out, in the wake of '60s Bondmania. Ergo, please don't take it personally if I've omitted one of your favorite films or TV shows, or completely "overlooked" a particular composer. Or two. Or three. Such decisions were borne of practicality, not prejudice.

I hope this becomes a lively forum where fans can help each other empty their bank accounts, in pursuit of ever more sensational jazz scores.

Let's keep on swinging!