John Altman, Board of Directors

Jun 13 • Blog

John Altman began his musical career at age 3 with Judy Garland at the London Palladium! Commencing his recording and live career as an in-demand saxophonist in the late 60s he has performed with all the major figures in music over the last few decades, including Eric Clapton, Sting, Phil Collins (all of whom performed in his band, the Secret Police, an all star aggregation specially assembled for the Secret Policeman’s Ball), Jimi Hendrix, Nick Drake, Muddy Waters, Bob Marley, Jimmy Page, Little Richard, Prince, and Van Morrison and Hot Chocolate (for both of whom he functioned as musical director) and many more. He has recently contributed saxophone solos for the new albums by Rick Astley, Chuck D and Goldie.

Beginning in the mid 70s he found great success as an arranger/conductor. Among his hit records have been Aled Jones Walking in the Air (which he also produced); Alison Moyet’s That Ole Devil Called Love, Simple Minds Streetfighting Years, Rod Stewart’s Downtown Train, George Michael’s Kissing a Fool, Prefab Sprout’s Hey Manhattan, Tina Turner and Barry White’s Wildest Dream, Diana Ross’ Christmas Album, Bjork’s It’s Oh So Quiet, Goldie’s Saturnz Returns, album tracks for Tom Jones, the Pretenders, Ian Dury, Graham Parker and Murray Head, and perhaps his most famous arrangement Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. His association with Python also produced the cult classic The Rutles, and three series of the Innes Book of Records, as well as many onstage appearances. He is also a frequent guest conductor for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and serves on the board of ASMAC (the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers). His latest record arrangement is for cult indie band Eisley.

He has had a parallel successful career as a composer/arranger/producer for films and television, winning most of the prestigious film composer awards -an EMMY and an ASCAP Film Award for RKO 281 – The Making of Citizen Kane, the Anthony Asquith Award (BAFTA) for Hear My Song, a second ASCAP Award and the Choreographer’s Carnival Award for best dance score for Shall We Dance, a TRIC Award for Peak Practice, a Golden Reel nomination for Little Voice, a BAFTA nomination for The Old Devils, an Oscar mention for the period music for Titanic, which he also produced, and a second Emmy nomination in 2003 for his score for The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone starring Helen Mirren and Ann Bancroft. His contribution to British music has been recognized in October 2006 by the award of the prestigious Gold Badge of Excellence, the lifetime achievement award of the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters. In 2008 he will take up a Fellowship in the Music Department of the University of Sussex.

Other films include Funny Bones, Bhaji on the Beach, Bad Behaviour, Beautiful Thing, The Matchmaker, Fidel, King of Texas, Beautiful Joe, Hope Springs, and On Thin Ice produced by and starring Diane Keaton as well as the classic tank chase sequence in Goldeneye. He was the first Western composer in history to score a Russian movie in 1991. (He also arranged and conducted many classic movie scores for other composers including the Golden Globe winning score for The Sheltering Sky, Leon (The Professional) and on television, the highly popular Miss Marple series for the BBC.).

John’s latest completed scoring projects are esteemed Indian director K P Kumeran’s modern day setting in Malayalam of Ibsen’s Master Builder, Castles In The Air, filmed in the UK and starring India’s finest classical actor Mohan Lal, and Jag Mundhra’s thriller Shoot On Sight filmed in London with Brian Cox and Greta Scaachi. Also recently on air was a 90 minute comedy drama for Granada TV, The Good Samaritan, starring Shane Ritchie. His most recent Hollywood credits are the top 5 worldwide hit movie Shall We Dance, starring Jennifer Lopez, Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon for Miramax, the music for the CBS movie Suburban Madness with Sela Ward, and the controversial Emmy nominated miniseries, The Reagans starring Judy Davis and James Brolin . In the UK he scored Mr Harvey Lights a Candle for BBC Films, and the BAFTA nominated The Queen’s Sister for Channel 4, and collaborated with Sir Ridley Scott on a 4 minute film for Prada. He has also become a guest presenter on the BBC Television Culture Show and Channel 4s The Music of James Bond, and was seen extensively in the BBC4 documentary How Pop Songs Work.

Along the way he has found time to be the most prolific writer of music for commercials, having scored over 4,000 worldwide, winning every major creative award, including the inaugural MPA Music in Advertising Award, and being named by Campaign magazine in 2002 as one of the 100 most influential figures in contemporary British advertising, and in 2005 as one of the 5 top composers. His music for Levis and Renault won the Campaign Award for Best sound tracks in 2003 and 2004. His recent composition for the advertising campaign for Sheila’s Wheels car insurance has swept the country, and the Sheila’s Wheels theme is now the most downloaded ringtone in the UK

John is writing an original film musical with Oscar Winning lyricist Don Black (Born Free, Sunset Boulevard etc.), and writing extra songs for a stage musical devised by Terence Frisby, as well as undertaking live gigs worldwide. He was also co-founder – and co-host for seven years – of London’s famous 10 Room Monday night jam session which won several Club Night of the Year awards, and featured guests of the calibre of Joss Stone, Lionel Richie, Macy Gray, Black Eyed Peas, Alicia Keys, Najee, Wycliff, Shaq O’Neill, Jah Rule, the Roots, The Neptunes, R Kelly , John Legend, Mario, Roy Ayers, Omar, Chaka Khan, Will Smith, Chris Tucker and the Back Street Boys. Two new venues in London have recently begun to host the weekly sessions with guests including Prince and the New Power Generation, and others are to be added worldwide.

John is also a highly accomplished jazz musician, lauded by respected critic Don Heckman in the LA Times as “one of the few film composers with authentic jazz skills.” On the jazz scene he has performed with Chet Baker, Plas Johnson, Ernie Watts, Red Holloway, Conte Candoli, Slim Gaillard, Barbara Morrison, Herb Geller, Wild Bill Davison, Bud Freeman, Les McCann, Percy Heath and many others. He conducted the Stan Tracey Big Band and the Durham Cathedral Choir for an album of Duke Ellington’s Sacred Music. He also leads a highly successful big band, heard on many of the above records and soundtracks. John also undertook a well received big band tour of Australia, and a quintet tour of California. His new jazz quartet CD You Started Something was released in January on the Bronze Jazz Label, of which he is A & R Director, and was Jazz CD of the month in the prestigious Observer newspaper, as was his previous CD featuring his orchestra with jazz singer Joan Viskant. Recent playing appearances have included the Vail Jazz Festival, the LA Jazz Festival, the Hollywood and Highland Summer Jazz Series in Los Angeles and the London Jazz Festival both with the big band, which garnered a standing ovation and rave reviews, and the Caribbean Jazz Cruise, on which he recently returned for a fourth successive year.

His all star US big band includes such jazz luminaries as Gary Foster, Warren Luening, Pete Christlieb, Peter Erskine, Alex Acuna, Tom Ranier and Andy Martin.

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