×

Elliott’s works fused jazz, classical music

Composer known for TV themes to 'Angels,' 'Barney,' 'Court'

Composer Jack Elliott was known for his themes for the TV series “Charlie’s Angels,” “Barney Miller” (both written with his longtime partner, Allyn Ferguson) and “Night Court.”

But starting in 1979, Elliott, who died in 2001, had another vocation as music director for an organization that sought to commission and play new music that combined jazz and classical techniques — a continuation and expansion of the “Third Stream” concept and that of Stan Kenton’s famed Neophonic Orchestra of the 1960s.

Over the next two decades Elliott’s Foundation for New American Music and his 84-piece L.A. ensemble — variously called the Orchestra, the New American Orchestra and the American Jazz Philharmonic — commissioned or premiered more than 100 new works by such film composers as Henry Mancini, Lalo Schifrin, Dave Grusin and Patrick Williams, and such jazz greats as Ray Brown, John Lewis and Bill Holman.

Elliott’s family has donated all of these scores to his alma mater, The Hartt School at Connecticut’s University of Hartford. The school will commemorate the donation with a “Concert of American Music” on April 20 at the university’s Millard Auditorium. Dionne Warwick, a Hartt alumna who performed with Elliott’s orchestra at a 1983 tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., will host; bassist John Clayton will be a soloist.

The concert will include several pieces commissioned by the Foundation, including Brown’s “Afterthoughts,” Clayton’s “Open Me First,” Claus Ogerman’s “Symphonic Dances,” John Williams’ suite from the film “1941,” and Elliott’s own arrangement of works by early American composer L.M. Gottschalk.

According to Elliott’s son Alan, president of the Composers Guild of America, this music constitutes “the largest collection of commissioned works for orchestra in American history.”

Many of these pieces — such as Mancini’s “Piece for Jazz Bassoon and Orchestra,” Schifrin’s sophisticated “Invocations,” and Patrick Williams’ “Spring Wings,” a double concerto for saxophone, piano and orchestra — are notable compositions that have received only a handful of concert performances.

“The real world of making music is much more intregrated, and more globally oriented, than ever before,” says Hartt School Dean Aaron Flagg (who once played trumpet for Elliott at the 1984 Summer Olympics in L.A.). “Students need to be exposed not only to the masters of classical tradition, but to Broadway, Tin Pan Alley and these (Foundation-commissioned) composers and arrangers who were such great craftsmen.

“We’re not just doing a concert,” adds Flagg, “but a multi-year project to study, digitize and perform the music.” Flagg says he is halfway toward a $50,000 goal of donations to cover the costs of archiving, cataloguing and preparing the music for study and performance.

Among the gems of the collection are concert suites from composer Jerry Fielding’s Oscar-nominated scores for “The Wild Bunch” and “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” which were performed only once, by Elliott’s orchestra after Fielding’s death in 1980. All of Elliott’s music for the Grammys — for which he served as musical director for many years — was also donated to Hartt.

Popular on Variety

More Music

  • Taylor Swift Debuts 'Lover' Video, Sings

    Taylor Swift Debuts 'Lover' Video, Sings 'Archer' During YouTube Livestream (Watch)

    Taylor Swift went live on YouTube today to talk about the inspiration behind her new album “Lover,” dropping tonight. Those who tuned into the live event on Swift’s YouTube channel were virtual attendees of the “Lover’s Lounge,” which included an acoustic performance of her already released single “The Archer,” a Q&A sesh and a behind-the-scenes [...]

  • Missy-Elliot VMA

    Missy Elliott to Drop New EP, ‘Iconology,’ Tonight

    It’s been nearly 15 years since Missy Elliott dropped her last album, and in that time she’s released a handful of songs, made some guest features, played some lconcerts, appeared alongside Katy Perry at the 2015 Super Bowl and this year she’s been voted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and on Monday night she’ll [...]

  • John Janick Interscope Geffen

    And the New Interscope Records Publicity Chief Is...

    Variety has confirmed one of the worst kept secrets in the music business: Cara Donatto is joining Interscope Geffen A&M (IGA) as its new head of publicity. She arrives at the Universal Music Group label from Atlantic Records, where she has spent nearly two decades of her career guiding public relations strategy for such artists [...]

  • Jamie-Lynn Sigler'Woke Up This Morning: The

    ‘Sopranos’ Cast Members to Present at VMAs in New Jersey

    The VMAs will reunite “Sopranos” castmates for the big awards show happening Monday night in Newark, New Jersey — right next door to America’s favorite crime family.  Drea De Matteo (who played the mobster girlfriend-turned F.B.I. informant Adriana La Cerva), Jamie-Lynn Sigler (who played Tony Soprano’s precocious daughter Meadow Soprano) and Vincent Pastore (who played [...]

  • Mary J. Blige

    Mary J. Blige to Produce Drug Queenpin Drama in Development at USA Network

    Mary J. Blige is attached to executive produce a drama series in development at USA Network, Variety has learned. The project is titled “Philly Reign.” Inspired by the life of Thelma Wright. From suburban housewife to drug queenpin in under five years, the death of Wright’s husband left her two choices: let her family starve or [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content