Alexandre Desplat has experienced quite a year. In February, he won his first Oscar for scoring “The Grand Budapest Hotel” after six previous nominations, and despite competing against himself for “The Imitation Game.” So it was especially gratifying to know that the celebrated French composer, being lionized Wednesday night at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel as BMI’s Icon Award honoree, can junk out on classic jazz just like the rest of us.
At a time when the 50th anniversary of such iconic hits as the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” and Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” is being celebrated, Desplat admitted that most of his favorite music centered around the year of his birth (1961), and he harbors a passion for American jazz instilled in him by his father. Then Desplat, whose speech was as assiduously researched as his music, rattled off the titles that influenced him like so many desert-island discs: Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” (1959), Bill Evans’ “Sunday at the Village Vanguard” (1961), John Coltrane’s “Ballads” (1963), Ella Fitzgerald’s recording of the Gershwin songbook with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra (1959), among others.
Even his favorite film music hails from the same period: Bernard Herrmann’s all-string score for “Psycho” (1960), Alex North’s lush themes for “Spartacus” (1960), Leonard Bernstein’s propulsive yet lyrical soundtrack for “West Side Story” (1961).
“I would like to thank all of the American musicians who have accepted me and honored me, who record my music in the studios here,” said Desplat, who also collected four BMI citations last night (one award for winning an award, the Oscar). “They are beautiful people whom I respect and love, because it’s maybe the hardest thing, being a musician; the discipline that it requires is incredible. I said to someone earlier that if I want to conduct, it’s not only to give my input to musicians, but it’s also to be with them, sweating with them in the studio, and it’s an incredible moment of joy.”
Longtime president of Walt Disney music Chris Montan was also honored with BMI’s Classic Contribution Award. Montan, who has worked with such musicians as Elton John, Phil Collins and Randy Newman (who, in a taped comment, wryly noted, “It’s been a great pleasure working for and against you”), recalled being asked by the Disney Channel in the early ’90s to act as an emissary when there was a lot of litigation that pitted the performance societies like BMI against the studios.
“So the head counsel called me and said, ‘Chris, would you be willing to go to Washington and testify on our behalf?’ And I said, ‘Of course, I’d love to. But you should know that as a songwriter, BMI bought me my first house.’ And there was this silence. And they never called me again.”