A John Williams Work for every Year of my Life 4: Cinderella Liberty

In some ways John Williams’ music for Cinderella Liberty was a departure from the style he was beginning to make his own in the early seventies; certainly in the context of the soundtracks which he’d composed in the years before, such as Jane Eyre, the Cowboys, it almost feels like a different composer. It is very much inspired by jazz idioms – felt very much in the two opening tracks – Wednesday Special (The Main Title), and Nice To Be Around, sung by Paul Williams (no relation to the composer).

However, this was no departure for Williams, but a return in some ways to much of his work during the 60s, when he’d written jazz elements in many of his scores for films such as Diamondhead, Batchelor Flat, A Guide for the Married Man. It was an idiom to which he’d return in later scores, including his disaster film of the mid-seventies such as Towering Inferno, and even later in “Cantina Band” in Star Wars as well as the dance scene in 1941. Perhaps it finds its ultimate expression in the soundtrack to “Catch Me if you Can”, as well as in the title sequence to “the Adventures of Tintin”. That is one of the many refreshing aspects of listening to John Williams’ ouvre – his ability to write in so many different styles, chameleon-like. He is just as much at home with big band numbers as with the full symphony orchestra, as well as much more intimate writing for chamber orchestra, as is found in scores such as “Stanley and Iris”.

The score opens with the vocal “Wednesday Special”, sung by Paul Williams, himself a songwriter – he penned the lyrics throughout. It’s a groovy soul number which has echoes of Williams later work in “Rosewood”. This is followed by “Nice to be Around”, which is perhaps the most famous number form the score. It’s a much more laid back expansive piece complete with soaring harmonica lines, which you can imagine being played in smoky jazz clubs at the end of the evening.

This is followed by “New Shooter”, an upbeat piece for brass, drums and saxes. It’s similar to “Miles on Wheels” which Williams would compose the following year for Earthquake. It illustrates another aspect of Williams’ scores, or at least his presentation of the scores – and fans argue about whether he’s right to do this. He organises the tracks not in the order in which they appear in the film generally, but to make for the best listening experience, so he follows up a lazy jazz theme with this light-hearted poppy piece, so that the ear doesn’t get too used to any one style or dynamic for too long. For myself, it depends on whether I want to listen to the score as background music, or if I want to actually listen with a musician’s ear to the music. In that case, I prefer to have the tracks arranged in dramatic order, as they appear in the film. But in that case, I also want to listen to the entire score, so that’s where the spate of entire score presentations in recent years from La La Land Records and Intrada come in very handy.

The 4th track, Maggie Shoots Pool, is again a wonderful quietly understated jazz inspired piece. It is very like music he would compose for his disaster films for Irwin Allen the following year.

The following pieces are built on ideas which Williams has already worked into the score – for example, Boxing Montage is a more upbeat version of Nice to be Around, all fast paced shuffle beats and funky piano. It’s brilliant Sunday afternoon listening. This is followed by the first vocal rendition of “Nice to be Around”, sung again by Paul Williams.

Neptune’s Bar is out and out jazz, built around a series of harmonic ostinati, with searing sax lines improvising above.

The last few pieces are again built on existing musical ideas from the score – generally either of the songs. But each time we hear them, they are treated differently. They are still recognisably themselves, but the particular instrumentation might vary. The tempo might be different. The harmonies might be subtly changed. The treatment of the jazz elements might be altered. And that again is part of William’s huge talent. He is able to write variations on a theme with deceptive ease, and this is a craft he uses throughout his career – that ability to change the purpose and emotional impact of one single melody simply by changing tempo, orchestration, rhythm, pitch. He is an absolute master of this.

I’ve never seen the film “Cinderella Liberty”. To be honest, I don’t feel I need to. The music is a pleasant listening experience in and of itself. Because of the lack of action cues and its being built around jazz elements, it almost feels like a concert album, an easy listening album of the seventies. As a child of the seventies, I love the sounds of this album. I know it’s not to everyone’s taste, but if you’re not a heavy jazz officianado but enjoy some light jazz listening on a Sunday afternoon, you could give this score a go.

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