James Newton Howard (born June 9, 1951) is an American composer, conductor, and music producer. He has scored over 100 films and is the recipient of a Grammy Award, Emmy Award, and eight Academy Award nominations. His film scores include Pretty Woman (1990), Grand Canyon (1991), The Fugitive (1993), The Devil’s Advocate (1997), Dinosaur (2000), Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001), Treasure Planet (2002), King Kong (2005), Batman Begins (2005), Blood Diamond (2006), The Dark Knight (2008), The Bourne Legacy (2012), The Hunger Games series (2012–2015) and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018). He has collaborated with directors M. Night Shyamalan, having scored nine of his films since The Sixth Sense, Christopher Nolan, having collaborated with Hans Zimmer on The Dark Knight Trilogy excluding The Dark Knight Rises, Peter Jackson, composing the score for his 2005 remake of King Kong, and Francis Lawrence, having scored all of his films since I Am Legend.
Howard was born in Los Angeles. He is from a musical family; his grandmother was the Pittsburgh Symphony’s concertmaster and violinist during the 1930s and ’40s.
Howard began studying music as a child, taking classical piano lessons at the age of four. He went on to attend the Thacher School in Ojai, California and the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California with Reginald Stewart and Leon Fleischer. He then attended the University of Southern California, studying at the School of Music as a piano performance major, but dropped out after 6 weeks because “He wanted to do other things than practicing the piano.”
After Howard left college, he joined a short-lived rock band called Mama Lion. The band was led by Neil Merryweather (bass, backing vocals) and featured lead singer Lynn Carey, Coffi Hall on drums, and Rick Gaxiola on guitar. Mama Lion recorded two full-length albums. Members of Mama Lion also formed the band Heavy Cruiser with Merryweather now on lead vocals, recording two albums whose genre was closer to hard rock, bit also displayed psychedelic and progressive influences. He then worked for a couple of years as a session musician with artists including Diana Ross, Ringo Starr, and Harry Nilsson. In the early 70s, he described himself as being “dirt poor”, until his big break in 1975 when his manager got him an audition with Elton John. He joined John’s band and toured with them as keyboardist during the late 70s and early 80s. He was part of the band that played Central Park, New York, on September 13, 1980. Howard also arranged strings for several of John’s songs during this period including the hits “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” and “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word”, and played additional keyboards and synthesizers on studio albums including Rock of the Westies (1975), Blue Moves (1976), 21 at 33 (1980), and The Fox (1981).
In 1982, Howard was featured on Toto IV as the strings conductor and orchestrator for “I Won’t Hold You Back”, “Afraid of Love”, and “Lovers in the Night”. A year later, he released the live album James Newton Howard and Friends, which featured Toto’s David Paich (keyboards), Steve Porcaro (keyboards), Jeff Porcaro (drums), and Joe Porcaro (percussion).
In 1983, Howard was co-producer, musician (keyboards), and orchestrator of Riccardo Cocciante’s album Sincerità.
After briefly touring with Crosby, Stills and Nash, he took an opportunity brought to him by his manager to write a film score for a small-time movie. This career move would lead to his becoming a successful film music composer. During this early foray into film music, he did not entirely abandon his previous musical path and returned for a brief collaboration with Elton John on his Tour De Force of Australia in the fall of 1986. He conducted both his own and Paul Buckmaster’s arrangements during the second half of the set, which focused on orchestrated performances of selected songs from the Elton John catalog.
When delving into his family history, twenty-five years after the death of his father, Howard learned that his father was Jewish. Howard later became a practicing Reconstructionist Jew.