Interview by John Wisniewski
John Wisniewski: When did you begin composing music, Jack?
Jack Curtis Dubowsky: I began composing music as a teenager. (That I can remember!)
JW: Are there any composers that inspire you?
JCD: Many composers inspire me. Recently I completed a new piece, “Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Henry Purcell,” for tuba and piano. That piece is directly inspired by one of my favorite composers. I love baroque music, but all kinds of music, really. Recently songwriter Pete Shelley (of Buzzcocks fame) passed away, and he was a big inspiration as well, so my colleague, bassist Jeff L. Schwartz, and I quickly made a video in homage to Pete’s genius. (Check out the unusual five-bar phrases in the chorus!)
I tend to be inspired by many different composers, all for different reasons, depending on what I am listening to or what I am working on at any given moment.
JW: When composing a film soundtrack, do you view rushes from the film?
JCD: Do I view rushes, also called dailies, straight from production? No. I haven’t. In some cases that I’m aware of, composers have watched some dailies, especially if a director wants original music on set or in the cutting room. But typically, for me at least, at the point when I am being considered for a film, I might get to see a rough cut with temp music. I’d rather start the actual work to a fine cut or a locked picture, so you are not chasing as many picture changes. I just scored the documentary Stephen Arnold: Heavenly Bodies, and I was not brought on until picture lock. So that was nice. No picture changes.
JW: Are there any unrealized projects that you hope to present?
JCD: Many! The Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble (http://destijlmusic.com/jcde/) is regularly looking for new films, production partners, and venues. In February 2019 we are presenting live score events to F. W. Murnau’s 1927 classic film, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans.
Long Beach CA: The Art link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/valentins-day-screening-at-the-art-theatre-dinner-at-lolas-tickets-54561473837
Santa Ana, CA: The Frida link: http://thefridacinema.org/event/sunrise-live-score/
I have an enormous interest in opera, ballet, and dramatic works, and I’d love to talk to any groups who have the means and interest to stage something.
A major project I am working on now is my second book, under contract to Routledge. It’s an academic monograph entitled, Easy Listening and Film Scoring: 1953-1978. This book considers midcentury cultural movements, business environments, technologies, and production practices and how they influenced music and film, as well as the many musicians and composers who worked in both easy listening and film scoring.
JW: Do you listen to pop or rock music?
JCD: I do, both. I mentioned Pete Shelley above, so he’s one example. I began my career in the recording industry in the 1980s. I am particularly proud of having produced Glen Meadmore’s watershed album, Hot Horny & Born Again. It still really holds up today, and Glen is still performing and touring.
I’ll be presenting this year at the 2019 Pop Conference at the MoPOP Museum in Seattle. The theme of this year’s conference is Music, Death and Afterlife; I will be presenting on “Death Ditty and Disco: AIDS and Death in Bronski Beat’s ‘I Feel Love’”. You may remember that track as an 80s dance floor hit, or from Bronski’s first album, The Age of Consent, produced by Mike Thorne.
JW: Are there any films and film scores that you like?
JCD: Of course, many! I wrote a chapter, “Team America: World Police: Duplicitous Voices of the Socio-Political Spy Musical” for the anthology, Contemporary Musical Film, on Edinburgh University Press. My chapter looks at how Team America, in adopting conventions from the backstage musical, also adopts historical Hollywood racisms.
My first book, Intersecting Film, Music, and Queerness (2016 Palgrave Macmillan), looks at many films and scores. In particular, there’s a chapter on Virgil Thomson’s Pulizer Prize winning score for Robert Flaherty’s Louisiana Story. This is a remarkable score that many people today aren’t familiar with, although they should be! There is a concert suite that has been recorded, but I feel the music is really best showcased as a film score with the film itself.
JW: What lies in the future for you?
JCD: I just completed five piano miniatures for the #45Miniatures Project, and I’m looking forward to those being performed in the fall of 2019. This noble project was organized by pianist Nick Phillips at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire.
I’m also looking forward to finishing my second book, the release of Steven Arnold: Heavenly Bodies, the Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble’s live score events of Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, and to my conference presentations this year at SCMS and MoPOP.
About Jack Curtis Dubowsky
Jack Curtis Dubowsky is a prolific composer, author, filmmaker, and educator. Dubowsky composes choral, instrumental, and orchestral concert music. His research publications include articles on film music and popular music. He has worked in film and media as a composer, director, producer, and sound editor.
Dubowsky’s choral music has been performed internationally by groups including San Francisco Choral Artists, Desert Voices, Resounding Harmony, Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco, Oakland/East Bay Gay Men’s Chorus, Mount Eden Chorus, University of San Francisco Chamber Singers, and Lick-Wilmerding High School Chorus. Dubowsky’s major work Harvey Milk: A Cantata has been performed by university, high school, and community choruses. The text, entirely by Milk, is culled from well-known speeches as well as unpublished rare documents, researched and sourced with the cooperation of the Estate of Harvey Milk and the Harvey Milk Archives / Scott Smith Collection of the San Francisco Public Library. Other major vocal works by Dubowsky include the socio-political chamber opera Halloween in the Castro, and Quaker Peace Testimony.
Dubowsky’s orchestral music has been performed by the Chicago Modern Orchestra Project, Cadillac Symphony Orchestra, and the Castro Valley Chamber Orchestra. Major works include an oratory with orchestra, Eisenhower Farewell Address. Dubowsky’s chamber music has been performed by Classical Revolution, Paradigm Brass, Keisuke Nakagoshi, and Stephanie Lynne Smith. Dubowsky has received grants from Meet the Composer, Zellerbach Family Fund, Friends of San Francisco Public Library, Queer Cultural Center, National Queer Arts Festival, Grants for the Arts/Hotel Tax Fund, San Francisco Arts Commission, San Francisco Foundation, and the American Composers Forum. Dubowsky’s sheet music is available through JW Pepper, Sheet Music Plus and Theodore Front Musical Literature.
Dubowsky performs with his signature Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble, combining acoustic instruments, electronic hardware, composed material, and structured improvisation. The Ensemble has released three albums, toured extensively in the United States, and has presented programs of live music to silent and experimental films. The Ensemble can be heard on Pandora and Spotify.
Dubowsky has scored feature films including Redwoods, Rock Haven, That Man Peter Berlin, and I Always Said Yes. Dubowsky provided additional music for Bruce LaBruce’s LA Zombie and Hustler White. Dubowsky worked in Pixar’s in-house music department, and has screen credit on Monsters Inc. and Toy Story 2. Dubowsky produced recordings by Glen Meadmore, the Virgin Whore Complex, and others. His award-winning “Mr Jones” parody is a highlight of the acclaimed Momus album Stars Forever.
Dubowsky’s feature documentary film, Submerged Queer Spaces, a study of architecture and urban archaeology, premiered at the 2012 Frameline36 San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival. Dubowsky’s short films have screened at the British Film Institute and film festivals worldwide.
Dubowsky is author of the scholarly monograph Intersecting Film, Music, and Queerness published by Palgrave Macmillan. Dubowsky has published articles and presented conference papers on various intersections of cinema, animation, music, and sexuality. Dubowsky is author of one U.S. patent. Dubowsky serves on the editorial board of The Soundtrack, published by Intellect Press. Dubowsky is a fellow of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.