James Newton Howard - Hollywood Reliable
James Newton Howard started out playing keyboards (as "Jim Howard") in a little known rock band called "Mama Lion". He played keyboards, piano or synth in other groups and as a session musician, while releasing a couple of solo albums of his music. He joined Elton John's group of backing musicians and went on tour with the legend. This experience led to him working with many great singers, and gaining experience in conducting and arranging. An early introduction to film music was playing keyboards for Jerry Goldsmith on "Twilight Zone: The Movie". It wasn't long before Howard was asked to compose film scores himself and he has never looked back. Howard has other connections in the film industry too including a brief marriage to actress Rosanna Arquette. His brother Arliss Howard became an actor, and James Newton Howard has scored at least one of his films.
Howard belongs to that small select group of composers who can also be called upon to create a suitable soundtrack for virtually any large budget Hollywood film. There has been a fair quantity of family or romantic comedies (many starring Julia Roberts) for him to score, like "Pretty Woman", "My Girl", "Three Men and a Lady", "One Fine Day" and "French Kiss", but enough material from other genres to keep things interesting. "Wyatt Earp" demonstrated his Western genre credentials with the sort of music pioneered by Aaron Copland. "Prince of Tides" for which he was rightly oscar-nominated, has a wistful, nostalgic main theme with plenty of strings. At other times the soundtrack hints at dark undertones without revealing too much of the background story. Indeed every score produced by Howard does everything that a director could ask for, plus a little bit more.
That dark side merely hinted at in "Prince of Tides" has been more to the fore in recent years, since Howard seems to have struck up a fruitful artistic partnership with the director M. Knight Shyalaman, producing some unique and disturbing story-telling and suspense-laden, psychological music. This series of films has resulted in some truly memorable scores from the composer such as The Village with its mix of beauty and dread. Perhaps it was his music to accompany the dark psyche of Michael Douglas in "Falling Down" which suggested his suitability to this director, and Howard has also created some deliciously dark material for "Devil's Advocate". In complete contrast, Howard has also scored a number of Disney animations of late, including "Dinosaur", "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" and "Treasure Planet".
The death of Elmer Bernstein left a vacancy on the board of ASCAP. James Newton Howard was elected to the board to fill that vacancy and represent the composer community joining the team led by lyricist Marilyn Bergman as president and chairman. If you see King Kong the movie, in addition to James Newton Howard's excellent score you will also briefly see Howard Shore conducting the orchestra when Kong is put on stage in New York, and the final piece of music you hear while he's on stage is the soundtrack from the original "King Kong" by Max Steiner. The reason Howard Shore is in the movie is that he was originally going to composer the score following his collaboration with Peter Jackson on the "Lord of the Rings" movies, but following creative differences, James Newton Howard stepped in to provide the music.
It is surely only a matter of time before Howard wins an oscar. He has had many nominations now, with consecutive nominations in 2007 and 2008 for his excellent scores to "Michael Clayton" and "Defiance". We thought perhaps he had a chance with Water for Elephants but amid strong competition there was no nomination. However in recent years Howard has scored The Hunger Games (1 and 2: Catching Fire), "Snow White and the Huntsman", "The Bourne Legacy" and Maleficent so it seems just a matter of time.
Films by James Newton Howard:
- Pretty Woman
- The Fugitive - a very effective score for this thriller, even blending in some touches of jazz
- American Heart
- King Ralph
- Alive - a stirring orchestral score with touching moments of intimacy
- Junior - the song "Look What Love has Done" received an Oscar nomination
- My Girl
- Three Men and a Little Lady
- Wyatt Earp - some of this reminds the listener of Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring, but it's done very well indeed
- Prince of Tides - quietly heroic with a passionate love theme, Oscar nominated
- French Kiss - look out for the track played by Toot Thielemans on the harmonica
- Waterworld - this also includes a snippet from Henry Mancini's Peter Gunn theme
- Restoration - skillfully fitting into the period and blending nicely with music by Henry Purcell
- My Best Friend's Wedding - some tongue in cheek music for this romantic comedy, and lots of songs by Bacharach and others
- One Fine Day - formulaic romantic comedy and soundtrack, but winning Howard a joint oscar nomination with his collaborators Friedman and Rich for the song "For The First Time"
- The Devil's Advocate - a good opportunity for some dark Omen-like material, though like Witches of Eastwick it doesn't take itself too seriously
- The Postman
- Falling Down - some dark psychological music to accompany this finely balanced movie
- Runaway Bride - yet another romantic comedy featuring Julia Roberts
- Vertical Limit
- Dying Young
- Dinosaur - first Disney animation with more to follow
- The Sixth Sense - suitably dark at times
- Snow Falling on Cedars - some very effective music (sad yet beautiful) for this Scott Hicks film
- Unbreakable - the second movie with Shyalaman
- Atlantis: The Lost Empire
- Signs - third film with Shyalaman
- Treasure Planet
- Hidalgo - integrating Western and Middle Eastern sounds
- The Village - the 4th from the partnership with Shyalaman features haunting solos from violinist Hilary Hahn
- Batman Begins - with co-composer Hans Zimmer
- The Interpreter - largely suspense music with some moments of action, though cleverly integrating African music including drums and wooden flute
- King Kong - replacing Howard Shore on Peter Jackson's remake
- The Lady in the Water - another Shyalaman collaboration
- Blood Diamond - lots of action music and more relaxed ethnic tracks
- Michael Clayton - moody, atmospheric and perfect for the film, well-deserving its oscar nomination
- Water Horse: Legend Of The Deep
- I am Legend
- The Happening
- The Dark Knight - again a co-credit with Hans Zimmer on this sequel
- Defiance - inviting comparison with "Schindler's List" for its story of surviving great odds during WWII, and Joshua Bell as the violin soloist
- Confessions of a Shopaholic
- Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang - also known by the less exciting title of "Nanny McPhee Returns"
- The Last Airbender - the latest with Shyalaman featuring some great music
- The Tourist
- The Green Hornet - is Howard becoming the composer of choice for comic superheroes?
- Gnomeo & Juliet
- Water for Elephants - the music has a dreamy quality at times but always very likeable and engaging
- The Green Lantern - Howard is going through a Green period for Superheroes!
- Larry Crowne
- Darling Companion
- The Hunger Games - an excellent adaptation of the books by Suzanne Collins, with an effective score from Howard and some equally effective songs by T-Bone Burnett and others
- Snow White and the Huntsman
- The Bourne Legacy - taking over from John Powell with a similar action-led style
- After Earth - latest M. Night Shyamalan movie starring Will and Jaden Smith
- The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - first of several sequels
- Maleficent - a dark fantasy score on a grand scale
- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 and Part 2
- The Huntsman: Winter's War
- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - going in a different direction from John Williams but just as magical
- Red Sparrow - a wonderful score, sounding classical at times and Herrmannesque at other times
- Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald - sequel using some of the same themes, with the score album featuring 3 nice versions for piano solo
- The Nutcracker and the Four Realms - using some material from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ballet
TV work by James Newton Howard:
- E.R. - theme tune for the series
- From the Earth to the Moon - part 6 of this mini-series whose theme was provided by Michael Kamen
- A Series of Unfortunate Events - the TV series
James Newton Howard - Recommendations:
All of James Newton Howard's soundtracks are consistently good, though some of the CD albums have a lot of source music with only a few tracks by Howard himself, so choose carefully. The following CDs will give you a feel for the breadth of his work:
The official website of the composer is at www.jamesnewtonhoward.com.
James Newton Howard - Memorabilia:
Here are some CD covers signed by James Newton Howard. Our thanks to Petr Kocanda for permission to use his collection of autographed CDs. Click the thumbnail below to see the image full size in a separate window.