Theme Music from "The James Dean Story"

Chet Baker / Bud Shank

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Theme Music from "The James Dean Story" Review

by Lindsay Planer

West coast cool purveyors Chet Baker (trumpet) and Bud Shank team up to provide the incidental soundtrack to The James Dean Story (1958). Granted, the biopic was presumably made to cash in on the actor's untimely demise, but movie buffs also recognize it as one of director Robert Altman's earliest features. The score was written by Leith Stevens, who had previously worked on Private Hell 36 (1954), The Wild One (1954), and the Oscar-winning sci-fi classic Destination Moon (1950). Those credentials may have gotten Stevens the gig, but his contributions remain somewhat of a double-edged sword. Neither Baker, Shank, nor any of the other post-bop luminaries in the makeshift ensemble are able to transcend or expound upon the arguably limiting melodies, such as the hopelessly dated and unintentionally kitschy "Hollywood." That shouldn't suggest that this title is a complete washout, thanks in part to another Tinsel Town-related maestro, Johnny Mandel, whose moody, exploratory "The Search" and understated noir of "Success and Then What?" stand as exemplary. One of Stevens' more affective selections is the ballad "Let Me Be Loved." Perhaps by design, it is noticeably reminiscent of Baker's unofficial theme song, "My Funny Valentine," and is easily the most poignant performance on the platter. Otherwise, the vast majority of the material is little more than ersatz-cool filler, bearing little distinction. From a historical perspective, this seems almost criminal, especially in light of the inordinate talent corralled for the project. Potential consumers and Baker enthusiasts should note that the 1958 Pacific Jazz long player did not include the rare vocal version of "Let Me Be Loved."

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