Georgia Hollywood Review March 2020


Music Meets Imagination The Journey of Film Composer VLEEV By Ca ro l Bada r acco Padge t t

W hen Atlanta-based composer Vincent Levy Bryant sits down with a director to start the process of scoring music for a film, he kicks off the conversation something like this: “What do you hear for this scene? Don’t worry about music acumen, just tell me what you’re hearing. Is it a banjo, a simple piano? What do you hear?” Bryant, known professionally as VLEEV (vee-lee-vee), is a second- generation professional pianist and SESAC composer—SESAC being an invitation- only performing rights organization that represents the world’s top songwriters, composers, and music publishers. And when he asks a director to tell him what kind of music they imagine to help tell their film’s story, he does so because it’s a process he discovered as a child. Bound to his home in Jamaica, N.Y. with acute nephritis at age 11, the debilitating kidney condition caused Bryant to miss his entire 5th grade year of school and spend his days at home with a tutor. Many days, his parents away at work and his two brothers at school, Bryant would turn on the TV, cut off the sound, sit at the piano, and watch the screen. And then he’d begin to play—making his music tell the story of what he saw unfolding before him. The music didn’t stop either when his family returned home in the evening. His

Under Gill’s tutelage, Bryant set up the first electronic music studio at Savannah State. And during this time, he realized something he’d always intui- tively known. “All my life music is the only thing that I know is from inside of me,” he says. “It comes through me, like a channel. It’s like interpreting the feeling in the air. It has its own emotional pitch and I just have to get out of the way.” Another important mentor Bryant credits in his career is singer-songwriter, guitarist, and record producer Curtis Mayfield. “I got a huge break in 1984 playing keyboard with Curtis. We went on a world tour … England, Holland, Japan,” he says. “He was like a second father to me.” Over time, Bryant learned his way around a film set through a friend. “And that’s when I tied these experiences of mine all together—sound, sound design, and music for film.” Bryant also took a production course to better understand the mechanics of a film. He learned how his music could help filmmakers tell their stories. Today, he has a diverse team of professionals who work alongside him, an “all-woman film team and a group of music guys.” He is managed and represented by Tracy Goble of 10,000 Hours Music in Atlanta. Bryant’s film composition projects to date include film short Pray for Her

Photo by Richie Arpino

Vincent Levy Bryant

father, a pianist, managed Bryant and his brothers’ band, with one brother a drummer, the other a bass player. Film, too, was one of Bryant’s great loves as a boy. “My mom was a registered nurse, and she was so worried that I’d missed the whole 5th grade, she enrolled me in a film club at Jamaica Queens Branch Library. And I absolutely fell in love with The Red Balloon (a drama/ fantasy short film about a boy in the streets of Paris who becomes captivated by a seemingly sentient balloon and follows it all over the city).” By the time Bryant turned 13, his family moved to Beaufort, S.C., the home state of his father, who was also a TV and radio repairman. Because of his dad’s job, Bryant had access to all kinds of musical equipment—

amps, drums, and other gear. And here his love for musical experimentation grew. “I’d get schematics and work in my dad’s shop, building systems and ap’s, and setting things on fire,” he remembers. Eventually, Bryant enrolled in Savannah State University in Savannah, Ga., the oldest public historically black university in the state. And there he met his first music mentor, conductor Samuel Gill, M.A., director of Savannah State’s Marching Tigers. “I was studying electrical engineering and not music theory, but he encouraged me to compose,” Bryant says. “He said that hardly anyone of color was doing it. But he told me, ‘You can do it.’”

(2011), film short Last Words with director Byron Conrad Erwin (2012), TV series Music & Murder (2017), Pastor Troy’s film Down 2 Come Up (2018), and film Coming of Age (C.O.A), currently in production. Looking forward, Bryant, now 60, says, “With scoring film, I want to put filmmakers and their films front and center, and then we all get to go along on this amazing journey.”

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