Williams learned how to compose from Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco while at UCLA, learned to play the piano from Rosina Lhévinne while at Julliard, and learned to orchestrate from the three wise men of Hollywood film scores: Franz Waxman, Bernard Herrmann, and Alfred Newman. But he made his first deep mark on popular culture playing piano in Henry Mancini’s studio orchestra when they cut the soundtrack for the TV show Peter Gunn. That cat beating boogie-woogie piano? That’s “Johnny” aka “Little Johnny Love” Williams.
Though there are other great film score composers working now, Williams has truly defined the genre for the last thirty-five years. He wrote the scores for not just all Spielberg’s movies (including the upcoming Lincoln), and all the Star Wars movies, all the Indiana Jones movies, all the Superman movies, all the Jurassic Park movies, and all the Harry Potter movies, but also the scores for JFK, Nixon, and, yes, Valley of the Dolls.
Without Williams’ score, the opening shark attack in Jaws would be just some blond being whipped back and forth in a water tank, and the climactic chase would be just three dudes in a boat towing three yellow barrels. But with Williams’ music, those sequences are among the most exciting in cinema.
[Originally published in August, 2012.]