COMMENT - Buddy Baker and George Bruns - Disney's Underscore Geniuses
by B.J. Major
Anyone who has followed Disney music
knows these two names; they are legion in the field. Together,
they provided music for Disney feature-length films, tv shows, Disney
park promotional films and park attractions. Their styles are
sometimes close in sound; other times, you can easily tell them apart.
George Bruns was at the Disney studio first and is perhaps most
famously known for composing the top hit "The Ballad of Davy
Crockett". Among his work is also the song "Yo Ho (A Pirate's
Life for Me)" (which he co-wrote with X. Atencio), used in the Disney
theme park attraction Pirates of the Caribbean. But he did so much more, writing a lot of the underscore for The Mickey Mouse Club tv show, and adapting the classical Sleeping Beauty for Walt's animated feature in the late 50s, among writing other underscores (Robin Hood, The Aristocats, The Sword in the Stone). But my favorite of all is the underscore he wrote for Disney's The Jungle Book.
This underscore is just packed with mood music that really does sound
like the jungle, with its beat, bass flute and lush strings
throughout. I could listen to it forever and never tire of
it. Ironically, one of the first pieces used in the film was
written before the rest of the underscore, a piece used in the 1964-65
New York World's Fair called "Serengeti Serenade". It definitely
set the tone and mood for what was to come in the 1966 Jungle Book
film. George was also an accomplished brass player (trombone and
tuba) and is seen playing trombone on camera in the "Back Stage Party"
episode of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color. George arranged and conducted the music for Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room, and conducted The Country Bear Jamboree soundtrack as well. For the World's Fair in New York, he also wrote the underscore for Ford's Magic Skyway.
At the time George Bruns was the studio's main composer, some
assistance was definitely needed with the workload. George and
Buddy Baker knew each other professionally and George contacted Buddy
about coming to work for the Disney studio. In Buddy's words, he
went to assist "for two and a half weeks and wound up staying 28
years." Buddy's work for the studio is so memorable on so many
levels. For Disney park attractions, he was responsible for the
underscoring of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln (which also premiered at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair) and later on for Walt Disney World, The Hall of Presidents. Other park attractions to which he contributed underscores and/or arrangements were It's A Small World, Adventure thru Inner Space, Carousel of Progress and America Sings. The famous theme of The Haunted Mansion,
"Grim Grinning Ghosts" was written by Buddy and X. Atencio.
Buddy was also the musical director for EPCOT Center. He arranged
a wonderful medley of classical French themes to make a magnificent
soundtrack for the French pavilion's movie, Impressions of France. Buddy also wrote much of the underscore for many episodes of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color. One of my very favorite Buddy Baker works is the underscore he wrote for the 1972 promo film The Magic of Walt Disney World
which few people seem to have seen and even fewer remember today.
But I remember it very well and the music for this film just jumped out
at me and took me along for the ride on the monorail and gave me a
guided tour of the Magic Kingdom, hotels, campground, and even some
thrilling water skiing.
What is probably the most memorable for me personally (and another
favorite, very high on my list) is the work both George Bruns and Buddy
Baker did which wound up being used in Walt Disney's final tv
appearance; the one where he talks about "the Florida project" (a/k/a
The EPCOT film) in late 1966. These individual pieces of
underscore music were mostly written for other projects (most noteably
The World's Fair in 1964 and Disneyland tv episodes), but putting them
all together as the background for the narration of Walt's dream for
the future was nothing short of genius - and really adds to the
presentation in a most meaningful way. Here is one place where
it's hard to tell where George ends and Buddy begins. Or vice
versa! Their themes weave almost interchangeably with each other
and compliment each other perfectly. There is something about
these pieces of music that just screams "future", "optimism", "hope"
and "great living". It's a future I so wanted to be a part
of! The individual pieces of music I am referring to are
titled: Mysteries of the Atom
(Baker), The Skydome Spectacular (Baker), Medallion City (Baker/Sherman
Brothers), Progress City (Baker/Sherman Brothers), Progressland
Spectacular (Baker/Sherman Brothers), Mirror Maze (Baker/Sherman
Brothers), Join the Swing (Bruns), Nation on Wheels (Bruns), World of
Tomorrow (Bruns), Disneyland '61 (Bruns).
I would have liked to thank these two
musicians in person for all their many contributions to Disney music -
but since they have passed on, I'll have to do it here. Thank
you, George and Buddy, for some of the most enjoyable and inspirational
music that I have had the privilege to listen to in my life.