Director Fernando Trueba (left) worked with composer Michael Philip Mossman and engineer Jim Anderson (not pictured) on the Chico y Rita soundtrack at Avatar in New York. New York, NY—Chico y Rita, a movie jam-packed with music from start to finish, is nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Animated Feature Film category this year. The film features music composed and arranged by Michael Philip Mossman and engineered and mixed in 5.1 by Jim Anderson.
Chico y Rita is the only Spanishlanguage film nominated this year. The film, directed by Spaniards Javier Mariscal and Fernando Trueba, is the story of a singer and a pianist in Cuba beginning in the late 1940s, when American jazz musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie began to incorporate Afro-Cuban elements into their music.
Anderson, a professor at New York University, past president of the AES and a multiple Grammy winner, has worked with Trueba on record and film releases for nearly a decade. Mossman, a professor with the Aaron Copland School of Music faculty, has also recorded with Trueba, and appeared in two of his previous films. Some of the music in the film was remixed from Bebo de Cuba, a Grammy-winning record that Anderson and Trueba made in 2002 with Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés, long a resident of Sweden, whose life was an inspiration for the story. Now 94 years old, Valdés is one of the few survivors of the golden age of Cuban jazz.
As with any animated film, the gestation period was long. “We started working on this back in ’08,” reports Anderson. In addition to recordings by Valdés, the soundtrack also includes music scored by Mossman as well as a number of pieces recorded for the film in Havana. All of the new music cues were produced at Avatar in Manhattan. “We mixed everything in Studio B, and recorded in A and C,” reports Anderson, who worked alongside producer Nat Chediak.
“We even did source music,” says Anderson. “There’s a point where Chico has to sit in a club and is brought in to play [Stravinsky’s] Ebony Concerto. We had to recreate that, and the whole thing has to fall apart, so we had to create a little musical explosion.”
String sessions for Chico y Rita, with composer Michael Philip Mossman conducting, were recorded in Studio C at Avatar in New York. It fell to Mossman to create numerous special music cues and recreate the sounds and styles of the era, bringing in musicians to emulate jazz greats such as Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk while playing the part of Dizzy Gillespie himself. “The character, Chico, is always talking about Machito, Mario Bauza, Dizzy Gillespie—I played with all those guys. I recorded with Bebo; in fact, I played Bebo’s first concert [in the U.S.]. I’m looking at a historical movie thinking, I must be really old!” laughs the 55-year-old trumpet player.
“A lot of stuff had to be tailormade,” says Mossman, such as a version of “Love for Sale,” sung by Rita with strings. “There were a whole lot of things that [the directors] needed to make the movie move.”
Mossman says of Anderson, “Jim is a lot of fun to work with. He’s a recording historian, not just knowing who did what and when but how— and he’s so low-key about it.”
Much, if not all, of the film was initially filmed in Cuba as live action before being animated, leaving Anderson with a variety of media to which he had to mix. “There were times when the animation would drift away and we would see the live action, and we would match to that. We were going from new animation to pencil sketches to live action. We never really saw the finished film until we saw the premiere.”
Whether picture or sound drove the process depended on who was making the most progress, according to Anderson. “There were a lot of times when we were far ahead of the picture, and they would match the picture to what we had done. There were times when I had to imagine what kind of visual was going to happen, and create an atmosphere that was going to work in the picture. The sound guys back in Barcelona would take that as their cue, and turn that sonic idea into what they would do for the rest of the sound design.”
The audio post team in Spain did a great job, he says. “The sound design is really good. In the apartment, there’s the sound of a refrigerator humming, but it’s humming in the right key. They paid attention to so much detail.”
Mossman comments that he tells students interested in film scoring to not be bogged down by the nuts and bolts of music production. “It’s tempting for people in this business to sit by themselves in a room and work with technology, but it’s really important to build personal connections and history. That’s where the music is, and that’s what makes the music happen in film. Just get out of your house and play!”
Chico y Rita