August 26, 2020

L.A. Studio Legends #4: Ralph Grierson

Legendary pianist and keyboardist recollects his impressive career as a studio musician performing in thousands of Hollywood film scores and his many collaborations with John Williams from 1969 until 2001, including his unforgettable playing on Jaws and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

Very few musicians can compare to the versatile and incredibly prolific career of Ralph Grierson. A legend among studio musicians, Grierson has graced a great number of performances and recordings (including thousands of film soundtracks) thanks to his talent on a wide variety of keyboard instruments, from traditional piano and harpsichord to the most advanced synthesizers, playing across genres and styles including classical music, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, contemporary and avant-garde.

Born near Vancouver, Canada, Grierson began studying music since a very young age. In 1968 he settled in Los Angeles, establishing parallel careers as a studio musician for TV and film (playing all the electronic keyboard instruments and also piano, organ, and harpsichord) and as an interpreter of contemporary music. With Michael Tilson Thomas he made the first recording of Stravinsky's own four-hand piano reduction of The Rite of Spring

Grierson also appeared on a handful of Grammy-nominated albums: Palm Leaf Rag, and the follow-up album, Magnetic Rag, both with the Southland Stingers (a group formed by some of the finest Hollywood studio musicians conducted by) and both containing music by Scott Joplin; and ‘S Wonderful, a collection of George Gershwin’s tunes for piano duet performed together with Artie Kane (a legendary studio musician himself who often performed for John Williams).

He first worked with John Williams on The Reivers (1969), a score that would then became the Maestro’s first Academy Award nomination as Best Original Score—and the work that would pick the attention of a then-very young up-and-coming director named Steven Spielberg. From that moment, Grierson worked on almost every John Williams score recorded in Los Angeles until 2001, a total number of 46 scores. He can be heard playing in iconic scores such as Jaws and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial—he’s the pianist on the unforgettable piano solo heard in the film’s end credits.

rierson performed piano, synthesizer and keyboards in many other classic scores by the Maestro including The Cowboys, The Towering Inferno, Family Plot, 1941, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Witches of Eastwick, The Accidental Tourist, Always, Stanley and Iris, Home Alone, just to name a few (often performing in a keyboard section that included other legendary talents such as Artie Kane, Mike Lang, Clare Fischer, Chet Swiatkowski and Ian Underwood).

Over the course of his 30+ years career as studio musician, Grierson performed on literally thousands of film and television scores, playing for every top Hollywood film composers and includes some of cinema’s biggest hits such as E.T., Titanic, Jurassic Park, Back to the Future, The Matrix. Ralph also appeared as the piano soloist (both on screen and on the soundtrack recording) in the segment of "Rhapsody in Blue" by George Gershwin in Disney’s Fantasia 2000

n this wide-ranging, in-depth candid conversation, Ralph talks about his incredible life and career as studio musician in Hollywood and his collaborations with John Williams on many film scores as pianist and keyboardist, recalling his work on Jaws and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Ralph also recalls some of his other career’s highlights, including his work with the late James Horner and his soloist work for Disney’s Fantasia 2000. He also opens up about the career-altering injury he faced in 2002 and how his life changed since then. 

For more information and the list of musical excerpts featured in the episode visit https://thelegacyofjohnwilliams.com/2020/08/26/ralph-grierson-podcast/

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