Jason Frederick: Inside the world of Suffolk-based film and TV composer
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
We all enjoy a good film: fast-action adventure, a thriller, a modern romance, the latest James Bond movie or even a creepy, haunting horror screening.
The stunts, the stars, the sets and the direction may impress us, but behind every great movie is a great score.
Some pieces of music become classics, others adding a subtle dimension to a storyline, or helping to heighten the tension and drama.
It is this facet of film production that has been a lifetime’s joy and work for Jason Frederick. Born and raised in Canada, before leaving to study in America with some of the great exponents of the art, he moved to the UK with his British-born wife Angie Tillet just over a decade ago to eventually settle in Suffolk, where he continues to compose themes for TV and cinema, and enjoy country living.
Jason, now 51, was keyboard player and guitarist in indie band The Walk before developing his passion for film composition. The group enjoyed success with airplay on college radio, released three albums after signing for MCA Universal, and toured regularly, before he moved to America when he was 25 to formally study film score at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
“I was very fortunate to study with some of my favourite film composers,” he said. “I was basically in love with the idea of film music from the time I was 9-10 years old. I had seen James Bond movies on television and had it in my mind that was something that I wanted to do.”
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The move to America gave him the opportunity to learn from some of the great film and TV composers, who were Professors at the university and his tutors: Elmer Bernstein (Ghostbusters, To Kill a Mocking Bird and The Great Escape); and Joe Harnell, who wrote music to The Incredible Hulk and The Bionic Woman.
“These were some of the TV favourites I grew up watching, it was fantastic,” he said.
Dalmatians and Disney
After graduating in the late 90s, he worked in Los Angeles and wrote for several films and TV programmes including a number of Disney productions, with a highlight being his work for the films 101 Dalmatians II and Big Momma’s House
“It was a really nice variety of stuff and extremely satisfying,” said Jason. "Being able to write some music for 101 Dalmatians II, the sequel of the original cartoon, has a lot of wonderful memories for me. I was living in Los Angeles at the time but we came over to London to record it; the music was lovely and the orchestra was fantastic.”
The film also featured a song from Will Young, where Jason sang backing vocals.
In 2010, he and Angie, who is from the UK, decided to move to England and settled in Colchester because of its proximity to London.
“After a couple of years, we travelled around the area and saw the wonderful places you can visit on day trips and was taken with Hadleigh, so we made the move into Suffolk and we have been very happy there ever since.”
Music first entered his life when his father Bob Frederick, who is of Ukrainian/Romanian heritage, gave him ‘the family’ accordion.
“I was handed his accordion when I was about five years old,” he recalled. “I grew up in the town of Sudbury in Canada, which as a population of about 150,000 people. When I was about 10 there must have been 600 children who just played the accordion, it was a very popular thing to do when I was a child in Canada.
“So, I played my dad’s accordion which he got from his dad, and I still have it. It was my first instrument that got me into music, but it was watching movies on cable TV that really sparked my interest in trying to figure out how to create music from a very young age. In the band, I played guitar and keyboards and was one of the songwriters.”
He continues to write from home in the UK, but still has an agent in Los Angeles and is working on various projects. That has seen him recently complete an orchestral album for EMI Publishing Worldwide, writing film scores, and performing live.
His live shows have a distinctive format. Billed as “The Classic Horror Experience”, they feature his original piece of music, that are performed against the backdrop of classic horror films, literally over the last century from silent classics to more recent thrillers.
“With my live shows, people get to see a film and hear me play extracts of my music in front of it, and it can be a little bit different every time,” he said.
Favourites include playing scores to the original silent horror movie Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde with John Barrymore from 1920, which he is a big fan of, and also the 1932 horror classic White Zombie with Bela Lugosi. Added for this year is music played to a screening of the 1959 crime-mystery thriller The Bat starring Vincent Prince.
“I am a big fan,” he continued. “I love a good classic era film score, particularly horror film scores.”
Inspiration and influence
Several of Jason's inspirations and influences, and the composers he admires most, compose for that specific genre.
Beyond his writing, he has conducted research and expanded his interest in this area by seeking out the composers who worked on some of these classic films, interviewed them about their work, and even produce mini documentaries about them.
Among them are Howard Blake, who is perhaps best known for the Christmas favourite The Snowman, but also wrote “a wonderful score” for Amityville 3D; and multi-BAFTA winner Christopher Gunning, famous for his music for Agatha Christie’s Poirot, and who also wrote a score for a Hammer Film Productions movie called Hands of the Ripper.
“I also talked to John Scott, John Cameron and Michael J. Lewis about some of the wonderful scores that they have worked on for horror films,” he said. “That has been a real pleasure to do because I am still a fan of this period and, in my opinion, they have not been asked enough about the music they have written, so it has been nice to sit down and get to know them a little and see their scores.”
As for future plans, Jason aims to continue to write for TV and films as opportunities arise. He is currently working with animator Rob Pratt from Los Angeles on a series of animated adventures.
But often, opportunities arise out of the blue.
“Sometimes you will hear of something coming down the road months away and then it never happens,” he said. “At other times you will get a phone call and with someone saying we need something by the end of next week. I have even done adverts where people have said we will get you the advert first thing in the morning and we need something at the end of business that day, but there is always a way to get that done.
“Sometimes you create music because you absolutely have to; I have been lucky, I’ve never had a problem with writer’s block or blank page syndrome. I generally come up with ideas pretty easily and quickly and for 20 years now I seem to retain the ability to do that.”
However, Jason acknowledges that as the film score writer, he comes to projects late in the day.
“Even if you are completely inspired and firing on all cylinders, you generally come to a project at the end,” explained Jason. “Somebody else has lived with it for a year or maybe longer by the time they get it to you so they are going to be a lot more intimately familiar with what they want from the project.
“You want to write the best music you can but also need to find a way to satisfy the vision of the director or the producer, so a lot of times, it is just revising and having to fine tune little moments of what you have come up with until the creator you are working with feels the same thing.”
There are often revisions as parts of a film are edited and the music, consequently, has to be tweaked to synchronise with the film.
“You have to find a way to make it seem like it is seamless for the people who are actually watching it,” he said.
The aspect he enjoys most about his job is the opportunity to work in different formats; from rhythm sections, electronics and musicians in a full orchestra.
“Whenever I get to work with an orchestra, that is the thing that I enjoy the most after all these years. This past year, I have had the opportunity to write an album of what was supposed to sound like classic 50s and 60s horror films, kind of what would hear from a Hammer film, but it was all original work and was recorded by an orchestra in Hungary, which was wonderful.”
Horror film themes remain his enduring influence.
“One of the things that were among my early influences and made me want to write music were the James Bond themes, animated films and Warner Bros and Disney cartoons. But the scores to the classic horror films is definitely one of the main things that influenced me.”
Having moved to Hadleigh, Jason and Angie have an enduring love for the Suffolk lifestyle and surrounding countryside.
“It took me a while to appreciate what I really love about living in rural Suffolk,” he recalled. “We went around different places visiting charming towns and seeing what they have to offer, but Hadleigh is one of the most all-round balanced places that we have ever been to.
“It is big enough to allow you to live in a town but then so close to the countryside, and close to the wonderful walks and other villages in and around Suffolk. Suffolk is such a great place to travel around in and explore and we feel we are at the heart of it. It is a lovely relaxed rural place but also big enough to offer you everything you want.
“I have a studio at home but as I spend so much time working inside in a room - because there is no other way to do it at the moment - I try to get out as much as I can.
“That means going on rambles to discover new little corners of Suffolk we have not seen before.”
See Jason Frederick perform his “live-to-picture original film score” concept of White Zombie at Southwold Arts Centre on April 1 and The Fisher Theatre, Bungay, on October 27, and to The Bat, starring Vincent Price at Colchester Arts Centre, on October 30. For more information visit jasonfrederick.co.uk and classichorrorexperience.com