John Altman (composer)

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John Altman
John Altman.jpg
John Altman on set of the short film "Pass:on". London, 2009
Background information
Born (1949-12-05) 5 December 1949 (age 64)
United Kingdom
Occupations Musician & Composer
Instruments Saxophone

John Altman (born 5 December 1949, London) is a British film composer, music arranger, orchestrator and conductor.

Music career[edit]

Altman was introduced to the music of the 1930s and 1940s at an early age by his uncles, bandleaders Woolf and Sid Phillips. In fact, Woolf Phillips[1] arranged and composed music for big bands and conducted for Judy Garland, the Marx Brothers, and Laurel and Hardy, among others. John Altman's cousin, Simon Phillips, is the drummer of the world famous rock band Toto.

Altman's only formal musical training was piano lessons as a child.[2] While enrolled at the University of Sussex he was involved in session work and gigs with Fleetwood Mac and Nico. His later studies at Birkbeck College were interrupted when he left school to work with Hot Chocolate as musical director for their concert tour for two years.[3] He also played saxophone in rock bands and with blues and jazz groups with such artists as Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Little Richard, and Van Morrison.[4] Among the many other artists Altman has played with over the years are Muddy Waters, Nick Drake, Jimmy Page, Rick Astley, The Comets, Spencer Davis. In the mid-1970s, Altman began arranging and conducting. Among his hit records have been Aled Jones' Walking in the Air (which he also produced); Alison Moyet's That Old Devil Called Love, Simple Minds Streetfighting Years, Rod Stewart's Downtown Train, George Michael's Kissing a Fool, Prefab Sprout's Hey Manhattan, Tina Turner and Barry White's Wildest Dream, Diana Ross' Christmas Album, Björk's It's Oh So Quiet, Goldie's Saturnz Returns. He was musical director for the All-Star Band assembled for the 1981 Amnesty International benefit show The Secret Policeman's Other Ball – an ensemble that included Sting, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Phil Collins, Bob Geldof, Donovan and Midge Ure.

Altman is a highly accomplished jazz musician, lauded by respected critic Don Heckman in the Los Angeles Times as "one of the few film composers with authentic jazz skills." In the jazz world he has performed with Chet Baker, Plas Johnson, Ernie Watts, Red Holloway, Conte Candoli, Slim Gaillard, Barbara Morrison, Herb Geller, Wild Bill Davison, Bud Freeman, Les McCann, Percy Heath and many others. He conducted the Stan Tracey Big Band and the Durham Cathedral Choir for an album of Duke Ellington's Sacred Music. His jazz quartet CD You Started Something was released in January 2006 on the Bronze Jazz label, of which he is A&R Director, and was named 'Jazz CD Of The Month' in The Observer. His previous CD (featuring his orchestra with jazz singer Joan Viskant) also received this accolade. The John Altman Big Band frequently performs in the US and UK. Personnel includes Wayne Bergeron, Andy Martin, Pete Christlieb, Grant Geissman, Gary Foster, Warren Luening, Peter Erskine, Alex Acuna, and Tom Ranier. Altman performed at the Vladivostok Summer Festival, the San Jose winter jazz series, the LA Jazz Festival, the Hollywood and Highland Summer Jazz Series in Los Angeles and the London Jazz Festival both with the big band, which garnered a standing ovation and rave reviews, and the Caribbean Jazz Cruise, on which he recently returned for a sixth successive year. He is also a Trustee of the National Jazz Archive and was honoured by the Archive in July 2010. He recently recorded the big band for an album released in the New Year of 2010. Altman also undertook a well received big band tour of Australia, and a quintet tour of California.

Altman is frequent guest conductor for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and serves on the board of ASMAC, the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers, and as a member of the governing Council of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). His latest record arrangements are for the Amnesty International 50th anniversary celebrations CD, Chimes of Freedom – one featuring 92 year old Pete Seeger with banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck, and the other a jazz track featuring Evan Rachel Wood with Patrice Rushen and Tom Scott. He was flattered to have been recommended for this prestigious gig by Sir George Martin.

He recently contributed songs for a stage musical devised by Terence Frisby from his best selling book Kisses On A Postcard. He was also co-founder – and co-host for seven years – of the "10 Room" Monday night jam session in London which has won Club Night of the Year awards – and has featured guests such as: Lionel Richie, Macy Gray, Will Smith, Black Eyed Peas, Alicia Keys, Najee, Wycliff, Shaq O'Neill, Jah Rule, the Roots, The Neptunes, R. Kelly, Mario, Roy Ayers, Omar, Chaka Khan, Chris Tucker and the Back Street Boys, as well as helping to launch the careers of Katie Melua, Jessie J, and Amy Winehouse, who was a regular 10 Room habitué and performer. Two new venues in London have recently begun to host the weekly sessions with guests including Prince and the New Power Generation and new sensation Jessie J, and others are to be added worldwide.

Film score composing[edit]

He has had a parallel successful career as a composer/arranger/producer for films and television, winning most of the prestigious film composer awards -an EMMY and an ASCAP Film Award for RKO 281The Making of Citizen Kane, the Anthony Asquith Award (BAFTA) for Hear My Song, a TRIC Award for Peak Practice, a Golden Reel nomination for Little Voice, a BAFTA nomination for The Old Devils, an Oscar mention for the period music for James Cameron's Titanic, which he also produced, and a second Emmy nomination in 2003 for his score for The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone starring Helen Mirren and Ann Bancroft. His contribution to British and international film music has been recognized in October 2006 by the award of the prestigious Gold Badge of Excellence, the lifetime achievement award of the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters, in 2011 with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Monaco Film Festival, and in 2012 with an honorary doctorate of music from the University of Sussex where he was the first ever Creative Arts Fellow in the Department of Humanities, a position he held through 2010.

His credits as a film score composer include Funny Bones, Beautiful Thing, The MatchMaker, Legionnaire, Hope Springs, Aakasha Gopuram, Bhaji on the Beach, Bad Behaviour, Fidel, King of Texas, Beautiful Joe, On Thin Ice, and the controversial Emmy-nominated mini-series The Reagans. He also scored the tank chase sequence in the James Bond film GoldenEye (voted number 2 in the all time James Bond favourite moments list by the viewers of Channel 4), and arranged and produced the Academy Award-nominated period music James Cameron's film Titanic.

Altman's screen career began as the musical arranger/director for the 1978 film Just a Gigolo. In 1979, he arranged the song "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" for the film Monty Python's Life of Brian voted the greatest comedy song in movies by the viewers of Channel 4 in the UK. His association with Monty Python had started when he arranged the music for the Rutles television special All You Need Is Cash created by Eric Idle and Neil Innes. He orchestrated and conducted the soundtrack album for the Rutles film and fulfilled the same role on the Rutles 1996 album Archaeology. Altman arranged and conducted the music for the three BBC TV series of The Innes Book of Records starring Rutles/Python composer Neil Innes and has made multiple related onstage appearances with Innes. He continued in this capacity for numerous film and television productions, including Shadowlands, the score for The Sheltering Sky, Léon (The Professional) and Miss Marple. He was the first Western composer to score a Russian film (Tsareubiytsa, aka The Assassin of the Tsar). ). John’s recent scoring projects include esteemed Indian director K P Kumeran’s modern day setting in Malayalam of Ibsen’s Master Builder, Castles In The Air, filmed in the UK and starring India’s finest classical actor Mohan Lal, and the late Jag Mundhra’s thriller Shoot on Sight filmed in London with Brian Cox and Greta Scaachi. Also recently on air was a 90 minute comedy drama for Granada TV, The Good Samaritan, starring Shane Richie. His most recent Hollywood credits are the top 5 worldwide hit movie Shall We Dance? starring Jennifer Lopez, Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon for Miramax, for which he won the ASCAP Film Award; the music for the CBS movie Suburban Madness with Sela Ward, and the controversial Emmy nominated miniseries, The Reagans starring Judy Davis and James Brolin. In the UK he scored Mr Harvey Lights a Candle for BBC Films, and the BAFTA nominated The Queen’s Sister for Channel 4.

He has also become a guest presenter on the BBC Television Culture Show and Channel 4's The Music of James Bond, and was seen extensively in the BBC4 documentary How Pop Songs Work, as well as frequent radio appearances as guest presenter of various jazz shows. His current TV project is as musical director for the BBC TV ‘celebration’ of the centenary of Titanic. He has also just completed the sleeve notes for the album he has produced of unreleased material for a double and quadruple CD special edition box set of music from the James Cameron movie Titanic, issued at the time of the release of Titanic 3D, in April 2012.

Commercial music composing[edit]

Altman is the most prolific writer of music for commercials, having scored more than 4,000 TV advertisements. He won every major creative award, including the inaugural MPA Music in Advertising Award, and being named by Campaign magazine in 2002 as one of the 100 most influential figures in contemporary British advertising, and in 2005 as one of the 5 top composers. His compositions for Levi's and Renault won the Campaign Award for Best Soundtracks in 2003 and 2004. He won the inaugural MPA Music-in-Advertising Award. He scored Ridley Scott's promotional film for Prada. His recent composition for the advertising campaign for Sheila’s Wheels car insurance has swept the country, and the Sheila’s Wheels theme is now the most downloaded ringtone in the UK. Among his collaborators in advertising have been such giants as David Bailey, Terence Donovan[disambiguation needed], John Frankenheimer, Tony Scott, and Sir Salman Rushdie. He is also a prolific composer of library music, with his work being featured worldwide in movies and on television.

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