Christian Jacob is one of the most well known and respected pianists in the world. His love of music began early in his life at the age of four when he first started to play classical piano. He would continue studying classical music throughout his early years while also playing jazz piano on the side. After graduating Christian moved from Paris to America to begin studying jazz piano. He excelled in his studies, won many awards, and would later go on to teach at Berklee.
Christian eventually left Berklee to begin touring on the road with Maynard Ferguson. This was a great learning experience for him and a turning point in his life as a musician. He would eventually go on to become co-leader, arranger, and pianist with the Tierney Sutton Band. While recording albums with the band he also focused on building his solo career, which flourished. He began arranging, conducting, and playing music all over the world with big bands, symphonies, and even the King of Thailand. Christian has continued to build a steady and impressive career with a wide variety of collaborative and solo projects which have earned him five Grammy nominations.
Christian’s latest project involved scoring the music for Clint Eastwood’s newest film, “Sully”, starring Tom Hanks. The film follows the life of Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger after he successfully glided his plane along the Hudson River saving the lives of all one hundred and fifty five people on board. A story as incredible as Sully’s deserves an equally as amazing soundtrack – and Christian Jacob did not disappoint.
I was recently able to speak with Christian Jacob to find out more about his life, music, and what his experience was like scoring the music for “Sully”.
Christian Jacob Interview
TAMMY: I was reading that you began playing the piano by age four and became interested in jazz when you are around nine/ten. What artists from that time in your life continue to inspire your work today?
CHRISTIAN JACOB: In terms of inspiration; I know I could listen to my original musical heroes forever and get a smile on my face every time, but in reality, I am not actively listening to those artists anymore, I feel though that I am carrying them with me in my own playing. Their influences (Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, etc.) have been so strong in my youth that they helped define my musical world. I had a phase of silence where I would not listen to music at all, trying to get away from too much outside influence, and was interested in composing or arranging out of silence. Lately I have been listening again and have been attracted to the new young groups and artists like: Jacob Collier, Snarky Puppy.
TAMMY: You no doubt stay very busy. What drives you and keeps you motivated as an artist?
CHRISTIAN JACOB: I have been very lucky in my musical carrier because I have been able to work in so many different musical universes. Starting as a classical pianist, changing into a Jazz pianist, arranging for all sorts of bands, including symphonic orchestras, touring the world with iconic big bands like Maynard Ferguson and Bill Holman, being part of a collaborative group like the Tierney Sutton Band, leading one like the Christian Jacob Trio, being MD for a Broadway legend like Betty Buckley and lately MD for an American icon like Jack Jones. I had also scored an animation series called Zentrix, that introduced me to the world of underscore music. So to answer your question, I would say that variety has kept my eyes and ears wide open throughout the years, always keeping me on my toes, and inspiring me to bring something personal into everything I touch.
TAMMY: You’ve recently composed the music for Clint Eastwood’s latest film “Sully” starring Tom Hanks. How were you initially approached to do the music for this film? And what about the story really drew you in artistically and made you want to provide the score?
CHRISTIAN JACOB: It turns out that Clint Eastwood has been a fan of our band “The Tierney Sutton Band” for a while. We’ve been touring and recording for more than 20 years with a lot of emphasis on the arrangements. The band members are Tierney Sutton, Trey Henry, Kevin Axt, Ray Brinker and myself. Individually, they are some of the most talented artists I have ever worked with. Last May, Clint asked if Tierney and I would meet him at Warner Brother Studios. We thought we were just going to meet with him but it turned out to be a screening of the film with all the producers and editors. While watching the film, Tierney and I were delighted to hear parts of our band’s CDs and parts of my solo recording Beautiful Jazz placed in the temp music. At the end of the screening, Clint looked at us and said, “So what comes next?” That’s how we found out that he wanted us to create new music for his film. Right away, I perceived Sully’s personality, a musical theme idea jumped in my head 2 or 3 minutes into the movie; by the end, that idea had somehow solidified and I knew it was just a matter of working on it once I was alone. Anyway, I notified Clint at the end of the screening and he told me he had a theme in mind as well, so he invited me to meet with him the next day so we could share our ideas. Clint had worked on a beautiful theme, and hearing mine, he said: “I am glad we are on the same page”. He said that I didn’t have to use his theme at all, but there was something there, and I wanted to develop it. I was so honored by his trust in my abilities and the freedom he was giving me to create.
TAMMY: The music for “Sully” is so beautiful from the little that I have been able to hear so far. What were the creators looking for specifically in regards to the music for this film?
CHRISTIAN JACOB: Clint was very involved in the making of this music. He made clear right away that he didn’t want a standard, usual type of film music. He was interested in the artistic approach that the Tierney Sutton Band could bring to the movie; he was interested in the cooperative involvement of every performer. And he was very interested in having an improvised approach while watching the screen. He was still often steering us in the right direction with comments like: I’d like more space; I like voice in a low register, etc. Once the main cues were recorded, I orchestrated some of them to add more depth.
TAMMY: As someone who is used to arranging your own music and now having done music for a film what are some of the challenges that you faced when while writing music for specific character themes, scenes, etc as opposed to being able to “free write”?
CHRISTIAN JACOB: While I write original music for my own projects, in Jazz, you mostly arrange other people’s music. I try to make my arrangements both fit the personality of the artist I am arranging for and also get it to a point where I feel I have created something beautiful. In the case of Sully, we had the theme from Clint and I had written 3 other themes which as this point only consisted of melody and harmony. Our approach in the studio was to work as a team and arrange on the fly while watching the screen. Clint was with us all the way. I should point out that we were in this studio only 72 hours after being asked to score the film. Later on, I added strings to some of those improvised cues and wrote a handful of additional orchestral cues that I felt were needed.
TAMMY: What sort of research or preparation was needed before you began writing the music for “Sully”?
CHRISTIAN JACOB: Because we only had 72 hours’ notice, the preparation happened within 3 days. During those 3 days, I basically didn’t sleep and worked on the 3 main themes, while also spotting the film with the entire band to decide where we felt music would enhance the film.
TAMMY: I have no doubts that the full body of work in “Sully” is incredible but what song sticks out for you as being one that you are particularly proud of?
CHRISTIAN JACOB: After hearing Clint’s theme, I started working on it by harmonizing it and really fell in love with the melody. A beautiful scene to me is during the rescue, when the music lifts you from inside the action to a watchful state; I thought Clint’s theme was perfect there. Something that means a lot to me personally and I am very proud of, is the orchestral Suite I wrote for Sully. It recapitulates all the themes of the movie and features every member of the band. It was intended for the end credits, but we ended up only using part of it. Of course, the whole 10 minute Suite will be on the soundtrack album.
TAMMY: What do you have coming up that you are excited to share with your fans?
CHRISTIAN JACOB: Right when I was asked to do this film, I had just started working on the concept for my next trio recording and I was in the middle of arranging a new show for Betty Buckley. So, currently, I am back to working on those projects, as well as promoting our band’s new recording “The Sting Variations” which I am very excited about. The CD was produced by our bassist Trey Henry and will be released the same day as “Sully”.
To find out more about Christian Jacob and his news and latest projects you can visit his website at christianjacob.com