‘Turner & Hooch’ and ‘Heels’ composer Jeff Cardoni’s aesthetic of doing the most with the least

Composer Jeff Cardoni, whose latest releases include the upcoming ‘Turner & Hooch’ legacy sequel series and wrestling drama ‘Heels’, explains why minimal scores can make music more meaningful

July 15, 2021 04:31 pm | Updated July 16, 2021 12:28 pm IST

A still from ‘Turner & Hooch’ season one, episode five, with Scott Turner (Josh Peck)

A still from ‘Turner & Hooch’ season one, episode five, with Scott Turner (Josh Peck)

There is no buddy-cop movie like Turner & Hooch . The 1989 hit film starring Tom Hanks as Detective Scott Turner, continues to retain its rich rewatch value. So when Disney announced a 2021 series of the same name starring Josh Peck, excitement followed. The series streams on Disney+Hotstar Premium with new episodes weekly from July 21.

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The sequel sees Turner’s son Scott Turner Jr (played by Josh Peck) working towards his goal of becoming a US Marshall. Following his father’s death, young Turner inherits drool-tastic Dogue De Bordeaux Hooch. What ensues are various crime-solving hijinx and plenty of emotional moments. Scoring for the series is Jeff Cardoni who, back in 2007, worked on Firehouse Dog the producer of which roped him in for Turner & Hooch .

Coming on board to a legacy series or film is saddled with plenty of expectations to invoke the same spirit of the original content. Over a video call from his Los Angeles home, Cardoni explains, “I’m an old sap and I love a hummable tune. If there was an iconic score attached to something, you have to somehow reference it. I admire when someone brings back that melody especially in the superhero genre because people love that little Easter Egg. I love the Batman scores by Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer. With Turner & Hooch , there wasn’t an original theme to latch onto, but there was a lot of 80s synths.”

American composer Jeff Cardoni

American composer Jeff Cardoni

In certain comedic scenes, however, he was keen to balance the score with silence through the episodes, explaining, “It is hard because I would choose to play something silent a lot, instead of choosing to comment on it in a comedic way. If there is too much music though, you can become numb to it, and it becomes very hard to tune it out. When there is silence, the music means more and gets your attention. My aesthetic is to do the most with the least, where one piano note can trigger all these things. I can’t say Turner & Hooch is particularly minimal ( laughs ).”

The series also features a Die Hard -esque episode. A huge fan of composer Michael Kamen, Cardoni suggested infusing some Die Hard into that episode’s score to the team, “and they were hesitant but I went and did that anyway ( laughs ), not melodically but stylistically because it is such a classic.”

Cardoni — whose work has featured in CSI:Miami , Training Day , LA’s Finest and other cop-dramas — is drawn to the dramatic. He has also scored for comedies such as The Kominsky Method , Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates and Young Sheldon . So the big conversation around Cardoni’s scoring was how to draw a line between intense scenes and the fact that there is a rumbustious dog in the mix. “I didn’t want to be too serious but I also didn’t want to get cheesy or cartoony. I played a little tune on the piano, reminiscent of Snoopy almost, and that actually ended up being the theme for the main title.”

Into the ring

Cardoni immediately lights up at the mention of Heels , the Starz wrestling drama starring Stephen Amell and Alexander Ludwig, which he has worked on. “I’m the most excited for this one out of what I have done in the last 10 years,” he chuckles, “and even if you don’t like wrestling, it is a great show. It has a very grounded feel and has been the most creatively fulfilling experience ever. I have seen the pilot — and I have seen a lot of pilots over the years, and this is the best I have seen; it is a work of art.”

A still from ‘Heels’ season one with Ace Spade (Alexander Ludwig) and Jack Spade (Stephen Amell)

A still from ‘Heels’ season one with Ace Spade (Alexander Ludwig) and Jack Spade (Stephen Amell)

Heels is set in a small Georgia town and follows two rival brothers — one a villain or ‘heel’ in the ring; the other a hero or ‘face’ as they grapple over their late father's wrestling promotion business while vying for national attention.

It was Cardoni’s years of experience playing guitar in various bands that led him to Heels . When he first read the script, he was keen to be on board. “I knew right away it had to be guitar but not twangy to make fun of the South, just clean electric guitar. There is a character in the series called Crystal (Kelli Burgland) and I stayed up all night to write the cue ‘Crystal Belongs In The Ring’, a little piano melody. That got me the job, and that tune organically ended up being the whole theme through the episodes,” says Cardoni proudly.

Heels also marked the first time Cardoni wrote music away from the picture; it was risky but it ended up working because he treated the score with the integrity of standalone music. Cardoni was also set on writing the title theme, so he ended up collaborating with Band Of Horses. The whole experience was no less than “a dream” for him.

“Writing dramatic music that isn’t cheesy is my favourite thing to do even though it is hard, and I think we have achieved that here. I’m proud of where I am right now but I am always looking for new collaborators and projects I believe in, whether it is a small indie film or something bigger.” Currently, Cardoni is in post-production for Baywatch: The Documentary and series Ghosts .

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