‘Perry Mason’ composer Terence Blanchard: ‘It was a huge honor’ to remix this iconic theme

HBO’s “Perry Mason” reboot ain’t your dad’s “Perry Mason” and neither is the score — an intoxicating mix of retro jazz and modern synth by Terence Blanchard. But that was not anything close to the temp music on the initial footage he was sent.

“They sent me a trailer too with a big band arrangement on it and when I looked at it and listened to it, I went, ‘I understand why you used big band, but I think in this case the big band track sounds dated compared to what we’re looking at onscreen,'” Blanchard tells Gold Derby at our Meet the Experts: TV Composers panel (watch above). “I told [director and executive producer Tim Van Patten] what we should try to do is go for an amalgamation of old and new things, and he was really into it. I told him I need to sit in my studio and just mess around with some of these ideas at first. I sent him some things, but it wasn’t really until I got that full first episode that it really just started to come together for me because I could see everything, feel the pace of the show and look at the performances of the actors.

“I told Tim and I still tell him this to this day — I said, ‘This project is the first project that I’ve ever worked on where everything was on the screen,'” he continues. “There was no need for me to push any kind of emotional content or go in the opposite direction and pull back.”

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One scene in particular in the pilot unlocked that musical epiphany for Blanchard: when Perry (Matthew Rhys) is riding in a milk truck to his home. “That rickety thing kind of set the tone. It was like, ‘OK, there needs to be some kind of really raw element, rhythmically, to the score,’” Blanchard says. “So I found this little metallic thing that I put an arpeggiator on it and it created something that Tim really dug.”

The two-time Oscar nominee also composed different end credits tracks for all eight episodes of the first season. The fifth episode features Perry, a private investigator, becoming the defense attorney most people know him as, so Blanchard put his own contemporary spin on the theme of the original “Perry Mason” series for that end credits track. He had avoided referencing it until the transformation, so to speak, for Perry was complete.

“What I did was to take bits of the final arrangement that I had come up with for the theme and take all the thematic material out of it. And actually, I’ll clue you in to a little secret. There’s actually two versions, but we only used one so far,” he reveals. “That theme was an iconic theme so to get to do an arrangement of it was a huge honor. … I just felt blessed to be part of the entire thing. That was the one I enjoyed the most.”

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