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Ennio Morricone: Once Upon a Time…

[6 Jul 2020]

It is with great sadness that Jacaranda Records learned of the death of Ennio Morricone, who passed away in Rome this morning, aged 91.

The composer of over 500 film scores in a career spanning seven decades, Morricone leaves behind a grieving legion of family, friends and fans; a global reputation for artistry, excellence and innovation, and a pantheon of works – including Once Upon a Time in the West, Once Upon a Time in America, the Fistful series, Cinema Paradiso and The Mission – with a strong claim to be considered some of the greatest movie soundtracks ever recorded.

Jacaranda Records’ Capomaestro Ray Mia was fortunate to work with the composer in 2015, when he brought Morricone to Abbey Road Studios for a special live session of The Hateful Eight. Filmed over two days, in both Studio One and Two, with a press conference in Studio Three with Tarantino to boot… the performances were recorded live to lathe, producing a limited edition vinyl LP and documentary that became the basis of the composer’s successful Oscar campaign the following year.

Referred to by those who worked with him as simply ‘Maestro’, Morricone was a man of passionate contradictions. He was fiercely experimental, but with an innate understanding and respect for the traditions of cinematic orchestral music. He had an explosive temper on the dias, but was calm, considered and kind in private. He revelled in the strategic artistry of chess, but loved beyond measure the roar of Roma’s football crowd.

He was, beyond question, unique.

Ray Mia said: I have had the misfortune of working with a number of my musical heroes and The Maestro was the only one to exceed my expectations. I recall having to “speak up” in Studio One at Abbey Road, the production crew wanted The Maestro to redo a section of the music so the cameras could reposition and capture ‘pick-up’ shots, close-ups of the strings and brass. No one in the crew had the guts to speak up, let alone the balls in a second language to approach him. Seeing as I was the senior guy in the building (for my sins)  – and I had spent the evening before with the man and his wonderful wife Maria conversing in my pigeon Italian, naturally, the job of asking The Maestro to redo his conducting fell to me. So I did – certainly, no one else in UMG stripes would crawl out from under whichever rock they were hiding under! Now, my Italian is not that good, but it’s not that bad either, I especially know most of the expletives. The Maestro erupted, it was a proper Southern Italian explosion – none of this Milanese or Florentine sophistication, this was bare-knuckled and as street as you would hear it (my wife is Sicilian, and so was The Maestro’s… we had this in common…) everyone in the room shrank away, everyone visibly, psychologically, philosophically, spiritually and physically – disappeared from the room, the man was in his late 80s and he grew in size like something out of a Tolkein novel. He railed at me “How dare I f*ckig ask him to redo what was clearly perfect the first time around, who did I f*cking think I was? Did I honestly f*cking think he or his orchestra were actors to do whatever we f*cking liked? Did I think they were some lowly f*cking actors?” (please do note, I am toning down the language…) everyone was crestfallen, I looked across the room at Maria – his wonderful wife and she was shaking her head,  it had been a long day (increasingly so for me as the Studio and the entire production camera crew were breaking up at the seams) and I was devastated at having to upset The Maestro. This was a man I had studied religiously at film school and who I hero-worshipped and idolised because of his groundbreaking work with Sergio Leone. Most of my team knew I don’t take crap from anyone, let alone one of my heroes, and so there was a moment where I could tell the room was getting ready for more fireworks. The Maestro got up and stood in front of me, I was trying to say “We need to do this as it would be for the best…it would make you look better” the room reduced to slow-motion with everyone’s head bowed. Just as I was going to speak up, just as I took a breath to respond –  he reached out to my arm and squeezed it – and looking straight in my eyes, he winked. His timing was immaculate, no one else in the room saw the gesture or the acknowledgement. The Maestro performed the sequence again for the cameras, flawlessly, we got what we needed to get – and he was in complete control the entire time. The man was class personified, I will always be honoured to have spent the time in his company, and I learned so much about true leadership from such a wonderful talent. RIP Maestro, hoping he gets to play his beloved game with his old friend Sergio…”

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