Jack Nitzsche (1937-2000) - film composer and songwriter

Jack Nitzsche - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest soundtrack CD cover Jack Nitzsche played piano, guitar and saxophone and started out as a song-writer working with artists such as Sonny Bono (co-writing "Needles and Pins") and also releasing his own instrumental "The Lonely Surfer", before teaming up with Phil Spector as an arranged and conductor. Working for Spector, he orchestrated tracks and created backing music for artists such as Ike & Tina Turner, Glen Campbell, Doris Day, The Beach Boys, The Monkees and The Rolling Stones. He worked closely with Neil Young for a number of years, playing keyboards in his band, before the two parted after a disagreement. In the 1960s and 70s he found increasing opportunities in the film business, many of those opportunities arising through Nitzsche's many contacts and close personal relationships with musicians and filmmakers. Initially many of the films he worked on had song-based soundtracks, though he progressed very naturally into writing film scores. He created additional music for "The Exorcist" and scored a handful of soundtracks before his first major film hit "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" which gave the composer his first oscar nomination.

Jack Nitzsche - Starman soundtrack CD cover Around this time Nitzsche met and collaborated with the singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie. In 1982 Nitzsche got another "best original score" oscar nomination for the film "An Officer and a Gentleman", with Nizsche and Saint-Marie (along with lyricist Will Jennings) winning the "best original song" category for the film's huge hit song "Up Where We Belong". Nitzsche and Sainte-Marie married soon afterwards. Director John Carpenter frequently scored his own films but producer Michael Douglas persuaded Carpenter to ask Jack Nitzsche to score "Starman", thanks to Douglas' prior successful collaboration with the composer on "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". "Starman" went on to become something of a cult hit for both the film and its music. Indeed Nitzsche's main Starman theme is being used in the UK on a series of television advertisements for Virgin Media - view here on youtube. Michael Douglas went to Nitzsche again for "Jewel in the Nile", the sequel to his earlier "Romancing the Stone".

Jack Nitzsche - The Razor's Edge soundtrack CD cover Nitzsche worked with director John Byrum on several occasions, scoring his films "Heart Beat", "Cutter's Way" and "Razor's Edge" and his television series "Middle Ages" later in the 90s. Jack Nitzsche continued to score films throughout the 1980s, and many of his individual songs have featured on multiple soundtracks, though his new output started to decline in the 1990s when he suffered from health-related problems. When the composer died in 2000 at the age of 63, the tributes he received were a testament to his influence on other musicians. Hans Zimmer and Klaus Badelt included a dedication in the credits for the film "The Pledge": In Memory Of Jack Nitzsche (our brother in arms), and an R.E.M. instrumental track written by the group's guitarist Peter Back was called "2JN" meaning "To Jack Nitzsche".

Film music by Jack Nitzsche:

    The Exorcist - Various Artists soundtrack CD cover
  • The T.A.M.I. show - documentary about the music business with Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, The Supremes and Nitzsche as arranger and conductor
  • Village of the Giants - songs and arrangements
  • Performance - starring Mick Jagger, with songs and arrangements put together by Nitzsche, with the musicians including Buffy Sainte-Marie and Ry Cooder
  • Greaser's Palace
  • Sticks and Bones
  • The Exorcist - Bill Malley is the main composer though Nitzsche receives a credit for "additional music", the most famous track is undoubtedly Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells" but the soundtrack also features a lot of modern classical music including several works by Krzysztof Penderecki
  • Moment to Moment
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - apparently Jack Nizsche and Jack Nicholson were born on the same day - 22nd April 1937
  • Heroes
  • Blue Collar - again working with Ry Cooder on the arrangements
  • When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder?
  • Hardcore
  • Jack Nitzsche - An Officer and a Gentleman soundtrack CD cover
  • Cruising
  • Heart Beat - for director John Byrum
  • Cutter's Way - again for John Byrum, the soundtrack including a glass harmonica and a zither
  • Personal Best
  • Cannery Row
  • An Officer and a Gentleman - famous for the song "Up Where We Belong" co-written with Buffy Sainte-Marie and Will Jennings
  • Without a Trace
  • Breathless
  • Windy City
  • The Razor's Edge - working again with John Byrum
  • Starman - the cult John Carpenter film
  • The Jewel of the Nile - for producer and star Michael Douglas' follow-up to "Romancing the Stone" (scored by Alan Silvestri)
  • Stripper - documentary
  • Nine 1/2 Weeks
  • Jack Nitzsche - The Jewel of the Nile soundtrack CD cover
  • Stand by Me
  • The Whoopee Boys
  • Streets of Gold
  • The Seventh Sign
  • Next of Kin
  • Revenge
  • The Last of the Finest
  • The Hot Spot
  • Mermaids
  • The Indian Runner
  • Blue Sky
  • The Crossing Guard

Television Music by Jack Nitzsche:

Again Nitzsche's songs, particularly "Up Where We Belong" have appeared in many television programmes.

  • Middle Ages - TV drama series, through his work with John Byrum

Jack Nitzsche Recommendations:

Some of Nitzsche's scores are quite rare fetching generally high prices online, but it is worth checking the following links for bargains: