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The Adventure of The Last Theme Song and Chasing The Zimmer!

Updated: May 9

I have been an obsessive fan of the great Hans Zimmer and his music ever since I discovered him via his iconic score for the film "Inception" back in 2010. I had heard his work before that without knowing it ("The Lion King", for example) but I wasn't quite hip to the entire persona and musical pallet until I heard his composition "Dream is Collapsing." What-the-WHAT?! Hearing this piece was like being slapped in the face by a sonic angel who was screaming "You DIG?!"

Give this beastie a listen:

GREAT GOOGLY MOOGLY! ESPECIALLY when it slows down and seemingly ALL the bass trombonists who ever lived are playing at once! What-the-FREAKING-WHAT?! Upon hearing this, I was sold: hook, line, AND sinker. Let the Grail Quest BEGIN!

But WHO is Hans Zimmer?

The first thing I found was this tour seemingly shot on an iPhone camera by a fan (Ann?) I LOVE how informal it is and of course I was BLOWN away by all the goodies in this most magnificent of all man-caves. I really dug his attitude, his smile, his obvious dedication to all things creative. I was entranced!

"Hang on a second. I'm in Hollywood. I can have whatever I want built."

–Hans Zimmer

Well...yes you can have whatever you want built ...If you're Hans Zimmer. But I settled for what the good folks at UNT could afford. At that time (2011) I was the director of the University of North Texas legendary One O'Clock Lab Band. Jonesing for the Zimmerian multi-monitor workstation look, I got the school to purchase a state-of-the-art double monitor Mac extravaganza that helped me feel more Hansian. Two years prior in 2009 we had been nominated for two Grammys (Best Large Jazz Ensemble for our album "Lab 2009," and Best Original Instrumental Composition for my piece "Ice Nine." I was then in the marvelous and happy habit of writing something EPIC for this incredible band every year. I was in love with "Inception" and now I had the gear ...the stage was set for a most excellent adventure!

I decided to write a piece that would not only incorporate some "Zimmerisms" but would also channel some of the great TV theme songs that I enjoyed from back in the day. I chose "The Streets of San Fransisco" and "Mannix" as starting points, and of course decided to frame them in a death metal style :) (I gotta be me, Yo) I always loved Pat Williams' use of descending pyramid clusters and that GREAT 1970's funky clavinet groove on "Streets" as well as Lao Schifrin's swignin' 3/4 jazz waltz mixed with great horn punches on "Mannix." So those two elements were easy to grasp and utilize in my chart. But Hans' stuff? OY. That took some DOING!

I titled my piece "The Last Theme Song" as an homage to the great themes of the 1970s on television and a lament that in the early twentieth Century, TV themes had become shorter and less epic. Happily that has changed in this new golden era of streaming, but back was sad. So off I went coming up with themes and settings. When it came to the "Hans" section, I slowed everything down and began with a hint of James Bond (the 6:05 mark in the video below) As I built up this new section, it was a simple matter of quoting earlier themes, but I needed that KILLER Hans Zimmer moment. Well, it finally showed up at the 6:47 mark... but not without a struggle!

Here is what we tried before the final piece of the puzzle was in place:

–The great bass trombonists Matt Jefferson and Sean Casey played pedal notes, then overdubbed DOUBLE pedal notes an octave lower!! I think we ended up with an ARMY of Matts and Seans...but still no Hans Zimmer.

–We added an entire bank of low synth sounds...EPIC, but still no Hans Zimmer.

–We also added a huge section of synth upright double bass patches and samples. WAY cool, but STILL no Hans Zimmer

Our legendary audio engineer, the great Phil "Prince" Bulla and I did an "A and B comparison between our efforts and "Dream is Collapsing." SOMETHING was missing, but WHAT?

After a very long search, Prince Bulla FINALLY found it. He called me up right away and said exuberantly (and with much vigor) "I FOUND it man! The Hans Zimmer sound uses a synth patch sample called BIG ASS BASS DRUM!"

And, uh...WHAT?!

Turns out that he was RIGHT! That lovely bass drum sample that was felt more than heard, was just what we needed. Who knew? I guess Hans did. You can hear this wizardry all throughout from 6:47-7:16. Said "large hind quarters bass drum" happens on the down beats with the army of pedal notes from Matt and Sean. Along with this, special brass player kudos must also go to lead trombonist Kevin Hicks as he wails away on multiple high Ebs with my directive of "Make it sound like a HUGE section of French horns." (and he DID!) And then to top off everything dig my man Dan Foster on lead trumpet at the 7:10 point. DAYUMMMM! And of course, Scott Kruser's FACE MELTING guitar solo!! (Best guitar name EVER, BTW.) and Colin Campbell's tasty piano vignettes along with the powerhouse support of the rest of the rhythm section: Duran Ritz: drums, and Jacob Smith: bass. And the HORNS! OY!!!!! I STILL get chills when I hear all of this.

Mission accomplished and mischief managed.

I have to think that Maestro Zimmer would approve. To my knowledge, he hasn't heard it, but maybe someday....

And now that you know the REST of the story...enjoy this killer performance of a band full of future leaders in our industry as they sail forth and hold sonic court on "The Last Theme Song" (AKA "In Search of Hans Zimmer" :)

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