Duh-duh, Duh-Duh, DUH-DUH! For Jaws Blu-Ray Release, John Williams Talks About Creating Unforgettable Theme
A simple E-F-E-F bass line progression is all it took to make a generation of moviegoers scared spitless to swim in the ocean. With Steven Spielberg's classic 1975 beach emptier Jaws set for Blu-ray release on Tuesday, composer John Williams talks about the simple-but-oh-so-effective theme he created for the film's voracious Great White shark in an interview with John Burlingame.
According to the interview, the first and only music Williams played for Spielberg prior to the recording sessions was what would eventually become known as the Jaws theme that Williams says was "so simple, insistent and driving, that it seems unstoppable, like the attack of the shark."
Spielberg was not sold at first. "I played him the simple little E-F-E-F bass line that we all know on the piano," and Spielberg laughed at first. But, Williams explains: "I just began playing around with simple motifs that could be distributed in the orchestra, and settled on what I thought was the most powerful thing, which is to say the simplest. Like most ideas, they're often the most compelling."
Spielberg's response, according to the composer who is also known for his indelible scores for the Star Wars films, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, among other landmark films was: "Let's try it."
Burlingame writes that Williams spent two months writing more than 50 minutes of music for Jaws. They recorded in early March 1975 with a 73-piece orchestra. "It was a lot of fun, like a great big playground," Williams says. "We had a really good time, and Steven loved it."
Spielberg even lent his less-than-masterful clarinet playing — shades of Woody Allen worship, perhaps? — to the soundtrack for a scene early in Jaws when a high-school band plays Sousa during a parade. Burlingame notes that "Williams needed to record a terrible-sounding rendition with his orchestra, which included many of the finest musicians in Hollywood." Or as Williams puts it: "It's very difficult to ask these great musicians to play badly." So, Spielberg, who'd played clarinet in a high-school band, joined the orchestra on that number.
"He added just the right amateur quality to the piece. A few measures still survive in the movie," says Williams, who is probably one of the few people in the movie industry who could say Spielberg sucks at the clarinet and still manage to work in the business.
Follow Frank DiGiacomo on Twitter.
Follow Movieline on Twitter.