When Spike Lee decided to score his basketball drama He Got Game with the music of Aaron Copland, it was an unusually bold move, even for an unusually bold director. Copland's music has always been associated with the American heartland. Just take a look at the track titles on the soundtrack: "The Open Prairie," "Appalachian Spring," "John Henry," "Lincoln Portrait," "Hoe-Down." Yes, Copland was a film composer, but for movies about rural or small-town white folks, like Of Mice and Men and Our Town. He Got Game is a movie about African-American basketball players growing up in the Coney Island projects. Of course, Lee is not the first person to connect Copland's music with sports. "Fanfare for the Common Man" has become as much of a sportscast cliché as "I Believe I Can Fly" and Randy Newman's music for The Natural. In fact, Newman was clearly influenced by Copland, as plenty of other film composers for sports films have been as well. James Horner lifted chunks of Copland's "Grover's Corners" for his classic Field of Dreams score. Lee wanted to make the point that basketball is as quintessentially American as cowboys, Lincoln, and Copland himself. The opening sequence of the movie shows Americans shooting hoops across the country -- in the 'hood, in the 'burbs, in the Kansas cornfields. Lee's gamble pays off in that it gives He Got Game a sense of universality, underlining the essential humanity of its characters and their experience. But one can't help feeling that the music seems a little out of place. Yes, basketball is played all over America, and, yes, it is a distinctly American game. But it's connected to an entirely different stream of Americana. Copland is slow, grand, patient. Those adjectives describe baseball. By contrast, basketball is fast, confrontational, freewheeling. It seems more compatible with equally American genres like jazz, rock, or R&B.
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AllMusic Review by Evan Cater