The trio of composers behind Disney-Pixar’s “Soul” won the Oscar for best original score Sunday night. It was the first Academy Award for jazz artist Jon Batiste and the second for Nine Inch Nail rock writers-turned-film composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
Batiste becomes only the second Black composer to clinch the original score award in the 86-year history of the category. (Herbie Hancock was the first, for 1986’s “Round Midnight,” another film sporting a jazz backdrop.)
“God gave us 12 notes,” Batiste said at the podium. “It’s the same 12 notes Duke Ellington had, Bach had, Nina Simone…. Every gift is special. Every contribution with music that comes from the divine, into the instruments, into the film, into the minds and hearts and souls of every person who hears it. The stories that happen when you listen to it, the stories you share, the moments you create, the memories you make, man, it’s just so incredibly special.”
Best known as the music director for “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” the 34-year-old Louisiana native not only wrote all of the on-screen jazz for the animated tale of a middle-school music teacher who aspires to be a professional jazz pianist, he was also the model for all of the on-screen depictions of piano playing in the film.
Reznor and Ross, who wrote nearly all of the film’s dramatic underscore – including the ethereal sounds of The Great Beyond, The Great Before and the Astral Plane, the mystical afterlife worlds where pianist Joe Gardner finds himself – were competing against themselves, having also been nominated for the more down-to-earth, orchestral score for David Fincher’s “Mank.” The duo, best known as part of rock group Nine Inch Nails, previously won for Fincher’s 2010 film “The Social Network.”
The three worked separately in their studios on opposite coasts, but collaborated on key scenes, particularly near the end of the film. Batiste’s music required real musicians (including such jazz legends as Roy Haynes and Harvey Mason), while Reznor and Ross created their otherworldly soundscapes using samplers and synthesizers.
The “Soul” win was widely expected, as the film had already won the Golden Globe, BAFTA, Annie, Critics’ Choice, L.A. Film Critics and Society of Composers & Lyricists honors earlier in the season.
Co-director Pete Docter acknowledged all three composers during his speech, earlier in the evening, accepting the Oscar for best animated feature. He also turned and nodded a thanks to Oscar music director Questlove, who was billed as “music consultant” on the film.
Although Pixar films have won three best song Oscars, this marks only the second time a Pixar film has triumphed in the score category (Michael Giacchino won for 2009’s “Up”).
It’s also only the fourth time in Oscar history that the award for original music was shared by three composers. The last time was for 1987’s “The Last Emperor”; prior to that only Charles Chaplin’s “Limelight” and the Disney classic “Pinocchio” walked off with a trio of golden statuettes.
Batiste was one of only two newcomers in the category. He beat fellow first-timer Emile Mosseri (“Minari”) along with veterans Terence Blanchard (“Da 5 Bloods”) and James Newton Howard (“News of the World”).