James Newton Howard is one of the most prominent film score composers, known for orchestrally oriented scores, with a selection ranging from relationship dramas to romantic comedies to large-scale action pictures. He was born to a family with a musical background: his grandmother had been concertmaster (or leader, in British parlance) of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. She began giving James piano lessons on her piano when he was four. Though he was classically trained, he listened to rock and roll during his teen-aged years and remains a fan of popular music as well.
James entered the University of Southern California School of Music, then transferred to the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, where his teachers included pianist Leon Fleischer, Reginald Stewart, and master orchestrator Marty Paich. In later years, Howard often employed Paich as conductor on his film scores. Marty Paich's son David was a popular keyboardist and songwriter who later went on to fame with the band Toto, which got James closer to the rock scene in L.A. James, who was boxing grocery products for a living at the time, readily accepted an invitation to audition for a band named Mama Lion that needed a keyboard player.
The band was not particularly successful, but it was enough to get Howard's talents recognized in the professional music world, particularly by ace record producer Richard Perry. Howard worked as a keyboard and synthesizer player on sessions with, among other artists, Carly Simon, Ringo Starr, Diana Ross, Harry Nilsson, and Melissa Manchester. In 1975, Elton John invited Howard to join his band, beginning with that year's album, Rock of the Westies, then joined John's tour of that year. Howard has worked with John as both their schedules permitted ever since. Meanwhile, Howard's career blossomed both as a session or touring player and as a composer/arranger/orchestrator and record producer. He has written or arranged songs for Barbra Streisand, Bob Seger, Rod Stewart, Rickie Lee Jones, Cher, Randy Newman, Chaka Khan, Toto, Earth, Wind & Fire, Glenn Frey, and Olivia Newton-John.
He wrote his first solo film score in 1985, Head Office. Since then he has been continuously in demand on Hollywood sound stages, writing six or seven scores a year. He jokes "Until you become a film composer, you don't know what the word 'productive' means."
He has written over 70 movie scores, including Glengarry Glen Ross, Wyatt Earp, Waterworld, The Fugitive (Academy Award nomination), Space Jam (an ASCAP Award winner), Grand Canyon, Pretty Woman, My Best Friend's Wedding, Guilty by Suspicion, Major League, King Ralph, Flatliners, Falling Down, Prince of Tides (Academy Award nomination), Some Girls, Promised Land, Alive, Primal Fear (ASCAP Award), Dinosaur, Runaway Bride, Mumford, Junior, The Sixth Sense, The Postman, A Perfect Murder, Snow Falling in Cedars, One Fine Day (Grammy nomination), Batman Begins, The Hunger Games, and The Bourne Legacy. He has been twice nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song ("For the First Time" from One Fine Day and for "Look what Love has Done" from Junior).
In addition, he wrote the themes for the television series The Sentinel and E.R. (winning an Emmy award and an ASCAP Award). His music is particularly admired for its seamless blending of popular and classical music elements.