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Sunday, May 24th, 2020

Composer Terry Plumeri

Honoring Composer, Conductor, Musician Terry Plumeri

By Dave Campfield

Once in a while, you meet someone who opens your eyes to the breadth of true artistry. That person for me was composer Terry Plumeri.

Though he wasn’t a household name, Terry was a composer of several classical and jazz albums as well as over fifty motion picture scores. In his early days, he worked as a bassist with the likes of Roberta Flack, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, and even Frank Sinatra. But how I got to know him is a story in and of itself.

It was the nineties. My friend Chris Bradley had starred in a straight-to-VHS mob thriller named Killer Instinct. I hunted for the title, searching every video store in a five-mile perimeter surrounding my alma mater, the College of Santa Fe. I leaped over creaks, evaded angry prairie dogs and hipsters galore before ultimately discovering the movie on a shelf at Blockbuster Video. Bradley (as Mad Dog Coll) stood proudly on the glossy cover, brandishing a Tommy gun and a debonair gaze. I rushed back to my dorm, popped the movie in a friend’s player, and set my eyes on the Menahem Golan B-movie masterwork.

An early effort from future Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kamiński, Killer Instinct showcased slick visuals, a heartfelt performance from Bradley, and a lush, majestic orchestral score. It was a score that impressed me so much I decided to look into its largely unknown composer.

Facebook had yet to become our favorite way to stalk people, so I simply looked up his phone number. I introduced myself as an aspiring filmmaker and told him how much I thought of his work. He didn’t hang up. He treated this stranger on other the line like a friend. We talked for quite some time that night and remained in touch in the years that followed.

Terry easily had the talent of an A-lister. Yet, as often is the case, talent’s only one part of the equation. Years earlier, he’d scored One False Move (Siskel & Ebert’s favorite film of 1991) for director Carl Franklin. Franklin was impressed and offered Terry a chance to compose his big budget follow up, Devil With a Blue Dress starring Denzel Washington. Armed with a clarinet and a synthesizer, Terry created a haunting demo piece. Unfortunately, the studio instead offered the job to industry veteran Elmer Bernstein. Listen to Terry’s demo [link no longer available] compared to Bernstein’s big budget incarnation. It simply lacks the haunting quality and impact of what Terry created without a dime. And Bernstein was one of the greats. To think of what this opportunity could’ve meant for Terry saddens me deeply.

Upon a visit to my home state of New York, Terry had invited me for a tour of his old stomping grounds. Walking through the corridors of Juilliard, we talked life and music. One of our stops was a library where columns of sheet music practically disappeared from view on the towering walls. I was able to peer into a world I was never purview to. Students of all races, united in a love of music, studying and working together. There was serenity to it all, as there was with Terry himself. He was a man with genuine warmth and kindness. A warmth that can be heard in so much of his work.

Terry Plumeri in Memorium
Terry Plumeri, November 28, 1944 – March 31, 2016

Composer, Conductor, Musician

When I asked if he ever had interest in pop music, Terry had an unexpected response. He told me to imagine being a painter and only being allowed to use two colors. To him, that’s how he felt how writing pop songs was like. Classical allowed him use of a full spectrum of colors musically. He composed often with the Moscow Philharmonic, typically flying there himself with his pilot license.

Watch Terry Plumeri and the Moscow Philharmonic in Concert – Windflower

He broadened my appreciation and understanding of music and its use in film. I had planned on assembling a collection of stock tracks to underscore my debut feature, Dark Chamber. It was Terry who convinced me otherwise. As he put it, a score benefits a movie the most when it fits like a glove, has a cohesive spine and theme. Otherwise, the scenes would likely feel disconnected. Taking his advice I assembled a small team of musicians who elevated the movie far beyond than otherwise would’ve played.

As of 2015, Terry had grown disillusioned with Hollywood and relocated to a rental home in a secluded area of southern Florida where he returned to teaching. We’d spoken just weeks ago, and were planning to do an episode of my upcoming podcast “Production Hell” together. He often told me how he loved spending time surrounded by nature and the open water. And it was amid this serene setting that his Florida home was broken into by burglars on the morning of March 31, 2016.

Terry was found murdered, the victim of severe upper body trauma. Having traveled the world many times over, Terry passed on not all that far from the town he was born in. I’m honored that I’d gotten to know him. It’s my hope that his remarkable body of work continues to live on far beyond the limitations of this mortal coil.

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10 comments on Honoring Composer, Conductor, Musician Terry Plumeri

  1. On my commute home today, I had our local classical public radio station on softly. At one point the piece being played caught my attention. It was not the usual fare, and it was lovely and poignant. It’s not often I’ll later check the online playlist, but I did and it was Windflower. I’m now listening to Blue in Green. What a beautiful human! Sad to know he’s gone, but glad to get to know of him.

  2. Terry would play occasional Thursdays in a small bar in Gainesville in the past year, and I was fortunate enough to catch him there twice. Sitting on a stool 5 feet away from him I was well aware I was in the presence of a master of his instrument. Such a horrible end to a life which brought so much to so many. Condolences to all who knew him.

  3. Terry was a student of my Dad’s (Bob Price) at Chamberlain High School. My sister Bebe was in the band with him. I remember him as the only string bass player to ever play in the band. His real passion of music was just beginning at that time. My Dad first introduced him to Tchaikovsky. He became passionate about his music and performed most all of his works with the Moscow symphony orchestra with his passion, which was later reflected in his own music.

    About 7 years ago, I made contact with him again when my wife, Cindy and I went to Sarasota on a Sunday to hear him play at a Bistro with a small Jazz combo. I was stunned at how accomplished he had become as a jazz artist. I knew that he had recorded with Roberta Flack, Herbie Hancock and many other jazz and soul artists. After that, he sent us a couple of his CDs. They were amazing. He even credited my Dad on the cover as being his inspiration as an educator that led him to his pursuit of a musical career.

    We stayed in touch with him, and had him over for dinner a couple of times, and sadly, had recently tried to arrange another get together with him. Cindy communicated with him often and his messages were always very heartfelt. He will be sorely missed by us and so many others, but his music will live on forever. God Bless.

  4. I was also blessed to “talk” with Terry through e-mail and he was beautuful, wise, kind person with big heart, musical talent and undersatanding for other people.
    He even listened and comment on my crazy composition.
    I really miss you Terry.

  5. Great article, thank you. Terry was probably the most interesting and loving person I have every known. In the late 60’s I was fortunate to have a brief affair with him. In that 6 month period he taught me more about the simple, but important things in life, than anyone I have every know. Thru the years he often found me and we would see each other briefly, or just talk. Since November of 2015 we were talking dailyl. Regrettfully we didn’t see each other. His music will be loved and listened to forever. If you knew him as a person, you will cherish that even more.

  6. Hi David, Thank you so much for this beautifully written article of my father and his music. I hope that his music will live on, through his students and those who loved his music. I appreciate your time and energy in helping to memorialize his brilliant talents.

    Two things, I am unaware of him ever flying himself to Russia as a pilot. Also, while we do know that there was forced entry, we do not know that it was from burglars nor do we know when this happened on the 31st. Feel free to contact me if you have further questions.

  7. I loved his score for Mad Dog Coll, but I’m listening to the link you provided to Windflower right now and it’s breaking my heart. I knew that he had been kind and a mentor to you, but I’m happy to know more of the scope. Thank you so much for writing this, Dave.

    I am distraught at the thought that the men who killed him thought they were just killing some old man, rather than the person who created this piece of music, and so much beautiful music.

    I am glad to have been at least tangentially associated with him artistically.

  8. Thank you for the article on Terry. We knew him briefly during our 5 years in Florida. One night I got to gig with him at a little bistro in Gainesville. Of course, hardly anyone was there because of a sporting event that evening. But I’ll never forget singing with him while he bowed that bass of his. One of those life moments you never forget. A very sincere and deep feeling man. He came to our house a few times for moral support when his wife was in the hospital nearby. We got to know this lovely man. He taught me to ” learn your intervals”!! So very sad he had this kind of end to his life. Some Folks like him need a better world than we have made here. Nancy Hamilton

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