Trevor Jones: Hollywood hitmaker returns home

You’ve heard Trevor Jones before – been moved by his music – but you probably didn’t know it. The award-winning film composer, who was born in District Six, returns to Cape Town to share knowledge, build the local film and TV music industry – and, hopefully, get Telkom to sort out his landline.

Trevor Jones

Trevor Jones

This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus newspaper of 2013/03/22.
Trevor Jones was born in District Six in 1949 and won a scholarship to London’s Royal Academy of Music when he was 18. He studied at the University of York and England’s National Film and Television School where he wrote music for over twenty student projects before landing his first commissions: for John Boorman‘s “Excalibur” and Jim Henson‘s “Dark Crystal“. Since then, he has composed music for over one hundred film and television projects, many of which you’ve probably seen: “The Last of the Mohicans”, “Angel Heart”, “GI Jane”, “Dark City”, “Notting Hill”, “Around the World in 80 Days”, “Arachnophobia“, South African film-makers Craig Foster and Damon Foster‘s “My Hunter’s Heart” and a new German / South African television mini-series entitled “Labyrinth“. He also scored the 1986 “Labyrinth“, starring David Bowie and a young Jennifer Connelly.
Now, Trevor Jones has returned to Cape Town, and intends to build up South African film and television music capacity – and, hopefully, get a ‘phone line installed. “‘Labyrinth‘, the new one, took about 18 months of my time,” he says, “Then I was doing concerts and master classes across Greece, and in Madrid. I enjoy live concerts: it’s such a sedentary job sitting at a desk and writing all the time so, after the second day of the pain and aches of conducting, you find yourself getting into the swing. Physically, I’m quite robust – touch wood! – and I quite enjoy doing things; like spending time working on my little bungalow, doing the furnishings and things you need for living. Relocating to Cape Town has been one of the happiest things I’ve done. Except that trying to sort out Telkom and the other amenities takes a very long time – which I don’t understand, since I was here just after the (Soccer) World Cup and I was working on a project with Los Angeles every day, with great bandwidth.”
The travails of a first world needs in a second world country aside, Jones is clear about what he wants to achieve here. It started with recording the score for the Craig and Damon Foster film, “My Hunter’s Heart” entirely in South Africa in 2010 at the University of Stellenbosch music conserve. Spearheaded by the Cape Music Industry Commission, the score was recorded with a 42-piece orchestra of local musicians in a week. At the time, he noted that film music can cost $100 for a second, and that musicians need to play in time, and tune, to a tolerance of 1/24th of a second for sessions lasting three or four hours.
“Establishing a film-scoring industry in South Africa will be quite difficult unless we can get orchestras established for film,” explains Jones. “There are things like the brass section – horns in particular – where the pool is not as deep as I would like it to be here, in terms of the people that can be called upon. I’m hoping to do little chats at the South African College of Music and other music training places in order to entice brass and woodwind players to come and join us, and develop their skills in terms of the types of instrumentation, and what is needed for film.”
Another of Trevor Jones‘ ports of call was the keynote address at the third annual South African Music Exchange conference in March 2013.
“I was very honoured to be able to exchange information about music with aspiring musicians,” he says. “To get them to realise that it’s essential to keep an eye on what the rest of the world is doing – especially with joining the commercial market – but it’s about exploring our own potential, rather than wanting affirmation from elsewhere. The thing is we tend to think, ‘What do other people think?’ But the fact is: who cares? It’s what we think about ourselves.”
  “I had a habit to support”
   – Trevor Jones on working at the Cape Argus newspaper 
 
Jones pauses mid-interview to interject an anecdote: “Did you know that, for four years of my young life, I spent every Saturday afternoon in the print room of the Cape Argus newspaper?” he says. “I was vying against equally desperate young men who wanted the job of loading the vans with newspapers. Now, from being at that end of the spectrum, I find it a very strange and wonderful that I’m back in South African and being interviewed to appear in that newspaper! I was just hired muscle, earning the princely sum of two and sixpence, but it was essential to my finances. I had a habit to support, you see: attending the cinema and buying music!”
Jones is frank about his return to South Africa: ” Because people flatter me by asking to score movies internationally, I can’t see a time where I won’t get on a plane to Hollywood or Tokyo or London,” he says. “But, physically and mentally, I have come home. Whether it’s in Johannesburg with Mfundi Vundla (television producer and “Generations” creator) or in Durban with Anant Singh (South Africa’s top film producer) or down at the Cape Town Film Studios, I feel at home, and I feel that there’s an infrastructure that I can try to be a part of and make a contribution to.”
“Without boasting, I do feel I have something to give,” he continues. “Speaking at Music Exchange was about encouraging young musicians to be bold and brave enough to go out there and do it. Now it’s about looking for ways in which mentors can help them to achieve, and getting education authorities and schools to encourage kids to learn instruments, and then move them through music colleges and other institutions. The London Symphony Orchestra does master classes via their Skype network every day to various places around the world. Last week I was giving master classes that were networked through to all the schools in Malta. I don’t see why we can’t log into that world network of teaching.”
He is enough of a gentleman not to mention the nagging question of his Telkom line again.
This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus newspaper of 2013/03/22.
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