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Rocky composer performs with Phoenix Symphony

Remember the training scene in “Rocky” where Sylvester Stallone chin-ups and chest-presses his way through the powerful horn lines of “Gonna Fly Now”? If so, then you’re familiar with the work of Bill Conti — Hollywood conductor and composer extraordinaire.

Conti, who has an Oscar and five Emmys to his name, wrote the scores for a variety of films, among them “Rocky,” “For Your Eyes Only,” “The Karate Kid,” and “The Thomas Crowne Affair,” along with dozens of television and commerical themes, including “Life Styles of the Rich and Famous,” “Turning Point,” “Cagney and Lacey” and “Good Morning America.”

The 67-year-old composer, who was also the musical director for 19 Academy Awards productions, performs this weekend from his catalog of hits, along with highlights from the Oscars, with the Phoenix Symphony.

He recently chatted with GetOut from his home in Hollywood about writing “Gonna Fly Now,” life inside the movie biz, and what he’ll be performing this weekend.

Q: When you wrote ‘Gonna Fly Now,’ did you have any idea you were making history?

BC: Absolutely not! The (movie) project — it came out in 1976 — was all under a million dollars. No one had any delusions that it was going to be a hit. The song didn’t even get written as a song. I didn’t sit down one day and say, here comes a song. I sat down every day and did 30 seconds.

In the tenth reel there was a training montage. The director said, ‘Give me a minute and thirty seconds.’ His directive (was), ‘We’ve got to have the people feeling that there was hope that (Rocky) can win.’

I did a minute and a half. The director said, ‘Can you give me 30 seconds more?’ He kept doing that until it was three minutes.

I wasn’t (in the U.S.) for the opening. I went off to do another movie in Germany. When ‘Rocky’ came out, my wife told me, ‘Remember that fight movie you did? I think it’s really doing well.’ It made my career.

Q: You did a lot of composing for television, setting a record at one time for nine shows on the air simulatenously that featured your music. What was your process? Would you read the script first and write from that?

BC: Generally, with all music writing for features and television, you could be diplomatic and polite and read the script, but you don’t need to. If you read the pilots of some of those soaps, (they’re) incomprehensible, but when they came together, (viewers) really cared about the to-ing and frow-ing of these people.

With ‘Cagney and Lacey,’ Barney Rosenzweig was the producer. He said, ‘Bill, remember two things: We follow comedy, and I want to hold the audience, and I don’t want to advertise that it’s a cop show.’ I didn’t read (the script) or see it. I just remembered it followed a comedy and didn’t advertise that it was a cop show.

If I came up with what I thought would be right for it, without considering the guy who’s paying the bills, my job wouldn’t be done properly. A film composer never tries to break new ground; he tries to be a part of the team that puts (everything) together.

Q: Are you working on any writing projects now?

BC: I have a commission for the San Diego Symphony and an IMAX movie about the great blue whale.

Q: What would you say to young composers, arrangers and artists who feel like they have something to say but don’t feel like anyone’s listening?

BC: There’s an explosion of unknown people getting the music out — enjoying it and communicating music to someone else with YouTube and iTunes. If you want to do it as a profession, that’s different — that’s night and day. As a profession, I would err on the side of knowing the kind of music you want to do well.

You have to treat it as a religion, (though people) don’t know what faith means (anymore). If you don’t have faith in yourself, you’ll get discouraged and go away. It’s like when religious people doubt. It’s OK to doubt. But if it stops you, it’s not OK. If you’re afraid of being afraid, that’s not OK. If you go forward, you’re OK. A young person could develop (that). If you don’t have the confidence in your craft, work at it to get better. Belief is practice. Every time you fall down, turn off the negative feeling.

Q: What will people hear at the concert this weekend?

BC: I want to give people an insight to the music that happens at the Academy Awards that they don’t (usually) hear. I did the show 19 times. The way I do it, it’s a lot of music. There’s an overture; I always play an overture. I’ll (also) tell some stories (about the Oscars).


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