Tag Archives: Brian Keane

“Another Lime Jimmy”: Honoring Walton Amey

The sudden death last summer of Walton Amey — a multi-talented musician and athlete, and a 1971 Staples High School graduate — stunned his many friends and admirers. He was 69.

Grammy-winning musician and producer Brian Keane, writes:

I lost my dear friend Walton Amey while we were vacationing at our mutual friend and former bandmate Stephen Schneider’s beach house on Fire Island.

Walt was an amazingly talented, engaging and entertaining person. He was an accomplished actor, singer, comedian and athlete. He was a rugged non-conformist who refused the high expectations and restrictions of traditional societal values.

Walton Amey, in the 1971 Staples High yearbook.

Walt viewed life as a playground — one with which he was constantly engaged, always thinking of ways for people to have fun, get involved, be entertained, enjoy being ridiculous.

Walt was a showman. Being engaged in a show that delighted even one other person truly made him happy.

Stephen Schneider wrote a wonderful song in tribute called “Another Lime Jimmy.” He performed it at Walt’s touching (and sort of wild) celebration of life on the shores of Lake Onondaga in Syracuse this past summer. The song is both hilarious and heartbreaking. Very catchy too.

I produced the song with Stephen performing it, using people from various bands and theatrical productions that Walton performed with over the years.

I’m sure we didn’t get to everyone who would have wanted to contribute. But as Walt often said, “what’s good is good.”

The most valuable thing about Thanksgiving is the appreciation of gratitude. So this seemed like an appropriate way to say thanks this year.

I hope that, even if you never knew Walton Amey, watching the video will give you some sense of that joy, fun, and spontaneity with which he approached life.

“06880” agrees. Click below, for the best 6 minutes of your day.

(From graduates to current students — and those not yet there — “06880′ brings you news of Staples High. Please click here to support your hyper-local blog.) 

It’s Only Rock & Roll: Reunion Band Smokes

If they want music, most high school reunion organizers hire a DJ.

Staples High School’s Class of 1970 has Smoke.

That’s the house band — made up of ’70 grads Mark Smollin, Chuck Boisseau, Steve Wall,  Pete Morgen, Marc Bailin and Jeff Dowd (’71) — who played at their past few reunions.

Their 50th was delayed by COVID for 2 years. But Smoke planned to get together for their final gig this past weekend, when the Class of ’70 (coincidentally, most of whom are now 70 years old) gathered at the Norwalk Inn.

As always, they came in a few days early to rehearse. But COVID is not yet over. The virus infected the band. They had to cancel.

It was a bitter disappointment, for them and their many classmates/friends/ fans/groupies.

But the Class of ’71 rode to the rescue.

They’ve got their own reunion band — called (go figure) The Reunion Band. (They also played a legendary Levitt Pavilion show, in 2019.)

The Reunion Band rocked the packed Levitt Pavilion in 2019, at a memorial concert for former member Charlie Karp. Comprised entirely of graduates of Staples High School’s Class of 1971, its members have played and recorded with — among many others — Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Miles, Van Morrison, Smokey Robinson and Orleans. (Photo copyright Ted Horowitz)

When Smoke went up in ashes, Smollin asked Reunion Band front man/multiple Emmy winner Brian Keane for help.

There were many reasons not to: Brian’s looming movie scoring deadlines, his son coming to visit, no time to rehearse. And his partner and fellow band member, Bonnie Housner Erickson, was in the midst of planning her own (delayed) reunion.

But quickly, Brian and Bonnie said: Let’s put on a show!

It did not matter that the last time the Reunion Band played together was that Levitt gig. They’re pros.

They contacted 3 other Reunion Band members: Rob and Julie McClenathan, and Dave Barton. They could not get Michael Mugrage (previously scheduled engagement) and Bill Sims (in Vermont).

But they added some high-powered, non-’71 musicians: Leigh Sobel (SHS ’68, lead singer of famed Mandrake Root); David Giardina (SHS ’70), Tim DeHuff (SHS ’72), and non-Stapleites Tony  Aiardo and Arti Dixson.

Bonnie says, “Our collective belief of never turning down a comrade in need, coupled with our decades-long backgrounds as music and theater producers won out. It was ‘all hands on deck,’ making this happen for our friends.”

With no rehearsal — but plenty of professional chops — the Reunion Band rocked the Norwalk Inn. They played the music everyone loved (and that Smoke would have played). The Class of 1970 partied like it was 1999.

The Reunion Band at the Norwalk Inn. From left: Tony Aiardo, Tim DeHuff, Bonnie Erickson, Julie and Rob McClenathan, Leigh Sobel, Arti Dixson, Brian Keane. Not pictured: David Barton, David Giardina. (Photo courtesy of Mary Gai)

“The unexpected plus for me was that I saw so many people I hadn’t seen in years,” Brian says.

“When you go to reunions you only see those from your own class, but in reality we go to school with, and interact socially with, classmates a year or two younger and older too.

“I really felt badly for Smoke. I had played in school with many members. I knew how much they wanted to be there.”

As for the Reunion Band: They’re getting ready for their next gig. They play at their own reunion — the Class of ’71 — on October 1.

This time, they’ll even have a few days to rehearse.

BONUS TRACK: You don’t have to be a member of the Class of ’71 to enjoy this kick-ass reunion website (click here — then click “Flashback” from the dropdown menu).

And who designed it? The Reunion Band’s own Bonnie Erickson.

(Hat tip: Fred Cantor)

(“06880” appreciates donations from members of any high school class — anywhere. Please click here to help.)

Remembering Walton Amey

Walton Amey — a multi-talented musician and athlete, and a 1971 Staples High School graduate — died suddenly on Sunday. He was 69.

His longtime friend, Grammy-winning musician and producer Brian Keane, writes:

Some friends in life are so close, for so long, that they become part of your own history. Walton Amey is such a friend for me.

Walton Amey, in the 1971 Staples High yearbook.

He was a top athlete, captain of the Coleytown Junior High football team where we played together, a talented singer in the elite Staples Orphenians (we sang together in a church choir too).

We made mischief together, partied together, played in the same rock ‘n’ roll band, and served on community projects together. Walton was also a theatrical star in Staples Players.

After high school, Walt attended college in Ithaca, New York with me, David Barton and Linda Satin (all from our Staples class). Walt and I were roommates as freshmen.

In Ithaca he and I played music professionally in coffeehouses and bars with our good friend Stephen Schneider. We were joined by our high school band drummer David Barton. We wrote and recorded some memorable original songs together. Walton was an engaging entertainer, and the life of any party.

After Stephen, David and I left in 1975 Walt brought in the guitarist from our high school band, Jeff Dowd, and had a very popular band called Desperado. They made several records together, before Jeff left to begin an opera career in Germany.

One of the band’s records. Walton hangs 2nd from right.

Walt continued playing music around upstate New York. He taught ballroom dancing at Cornell, developed a fondness for tennis, and lived a reclusive life in rural upstate New York for a time.

In 1993 one of our musicians threw a surprise 40th birthday party for former dormmates and band members in New York City. That morphed into an annual event, then into a yearly weekend gathering on Fire Island.

It was a Big Chill weekend: no spouses. We became like another family to each other over the years. Walton and Elizabeth Schenck started a wonderful relationship 14 years ago. They lived together in Syracuse, where Elizabeth practices as a public defender attorney.

I saw Walt and Elizabeth every year at the Fire Island reunions. Starting in 2020, my partner Bonnie (who was in theatrical productions with Walton at Staples) and I started meeting Walt, Elizabeth and a few others on 4th of July weekends.

The 2018 reunion. Walton Amey is standing, 2nd from right; Brian Keane is sitting, far left.

We gathered once again this year. We played games on the beach, watched fireworks, had great dinners, drank, played guitars and sang songs we had written, songs of our youth, and all kinds of fun songs in between.

We told jokes, shared stories, and had a wonderful time. Walton, Stephen and I watched Wimbledon past midnight, after everyone else went to bed. Walton made us sing 3-part harmonies to some Crosby, Stills & Nash tunes, which we obliged him to get him to go to bed. Walton was in his bliss.

Some time after we went to bed at 1 a.m., Walton got back up. We don’t know what happened, but he was discovered at the bottom of the stairs at 2:15.

EMS arrived 10 strong right away, and worked on him from 2:30, even getting a pulse back. But he lost that pulse on the way to the hospital.

The night before, we watched a spectacular sunset from the deck of the beach house. I had remarked how lucky we were to be alive to witness this. Walt agreed, and expressed his gratitude too.

Walton Amey and Elizabeth Scheck at Fire Island, the night before he died.

When we got confirmation that Walton had died, we knew we had lost an important part of our own lives. Our life histories had been so intertwined. We spent the rest of the day in a combination of shock, grief, and “producer mode” dealing with things.

On the morning of July 4th, we gave Walton the tribute he had told Elizabeth he wanted: a New Orleans-style funeral procession. Stephen and I led the way to the ferry. We played “When the Saints Go Marching In” on ukuleles. The rest of our group sang along, walking in the sand with umbrellas.

At first it was hard to keep from choking up. Then it transformed into something more joyful. A couple of people looked at us oddly, but we kept going. We all felt better by the time we got  to the ferry. The crowd there appreciated it, too.

Walton couldn’t have asked for a better death than having spent the weekend doing exactly what he loved, with people he loved, and who loved him, in one of his favorite places on earth — then having it all end unexpectedly, and rather instantly as far as I can tell.

Though many of us will feel pain, and the loss of Walton in our lives, we grieve for that which has been our heart’s delight. Walt made us all rich in life experience, for simply sharing part of this glorious ride called life with him. He was part of what made our lives fun. Personal grief is mixed with a deep sense of gratitude for that.

Walt is survived by his sister Meg Amey Smith of Des Moines, Iowa; his significant other, Elizabeth Schenck of Syracuse, New York, and the many of us who loved him and became like family with him.

No services have been determined at this time.

Billy Seidman’s Songs

It takes a certain talent — and mindset, and genius — to be a heralded songwriter. Think Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Bob Dylan or Lennon/McCartney.

But the music world is full of songwriters we’ve never heard of.

Like Billy Seidman. He’s been on the staff at RCA Music and other publishing companies, in New York and Nashville. He’s an adjunct professor of songwriting at NYU, and the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. He consults for Berklee NYC/The Power Station.

Billy Seidman

Seidman’s songs have been recorded and performed by Oscar, Grammy, Emmy, Golden Globe and Tony-winning artists like Irene Cara, Vicki Sue Robinson, Evelyn “Champagne” King and Kevin Kline. He’s a studio musician too, and toured with Ashford and Simpson.

Now the Westport native wants to teach you how to write songs like him. And like Berlin, Porter, Dylan and Lennon/McCartney.

Seidman recently introduced The Song Arts Academy. The Zoom course challenges students to “beat your songwriting heroes — write your best song in 4 weeks!”

This month drew 15 songwriters of varying backgrounds, levels and ages, from around the country. A summer “tune-up workshop” is coming soon.

Seidman hopes to find a space in Westport to offer an in-person course.

He knows this town well. In addition to going to school here before moving to New York, he’s friends with Grammy and Emmy-winning composer/producer/ Staples High graduate Brian Keane, plus Staples grad/former Remains front man/country singer-songwriter Barry Tashian and his songwriting son Daniel. Seidman was part of the now-legendary 2019 tribute to guitarist Charlie Karp that rocked the Levitt Pavilion.

(He was also a member of The Jades, a junior high dance band. Fellow members included Karp, Fred Reynolds, and Bob Jackson — “when his brother Chip let him borrow an amplifier.”)

Meanwhile, Seidman has written a book. “The Elements of Song Craft: The Contemporary Songwriter’s Usage Guide to Writing Songs That Last” promises to do for songwriters “what Strunk and White’s ‘The Elements of Style’ did for English language students and writers.”

Of course, there are differences between writing a story, and writing a song. In the latter, Seidman notes, “you only have 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 minutes total, and just 5 to 15 seconds to grab the listener’s attention. You have to get a lot done, fast.”

You have to do it in two ways, too: the music itself, and the lyrics.

Hope, loss, regret, joy — those emotions (and many more) are the starting points for Seidman’s deep dive into how to craft a good song.

How deep? Consider “love.” Seidman breaks it down into song categories like devotional love, new love, disillusionment love, unrequired love, makeup, breakup, coming to terms with love, coming of age, empowerment, optimism … to name a few.

He’s similarly deep when talking about harmony, melody and chord structure.

This is not for the faint of heart. But neither is trying to write a song like “Can’t Be Really Gone,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” or “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

“Some people have a supernatural gift” for songwriting, Seidman says. But everyone — no mater how talented or average — can develop that skill.

“I have a method that works,” Seidman says confidently. “People who work with me look at songs differently. I help them connect with themes, so they connect with their audience. I’m like Johnny Appleseed.”

Sounds like a great hook for your next song.

Inspiration for a new song?

Roundup: Planning & Zoning, Local To Market, Margot Bruce ….


Earlier this week, “06880” noted the full agenda of the Planning & Zoning Commission’s Regulation Revision Subcommittee meeting.

Yesterday, the group discussed a proposed amendment to preserve mature trees on private property. It received both positive and negative feedback. The text amendment will be re-drafted, for further discussion at a future subcommittee meeting.

Proposals that would permit 2nd floor retail, as well as stores over 10,000 square feet, downtown will be considered at next Thursday’s work session, to be brought as a P&Z-sponsored text amendment at a future meeting.

A proposal to allow non-team activities — for instance, guided hikes, painting classes and yoga — at Baron’s South will also be considered at next Thursday’s work session, to be brought to a future public hearing as a P&Z-sponsored text amendment.

Discussions will continue on a Planning & Zoning Commission tree proposal.


Local to Market — the food-and-more store featuring (duh) all local goods, at the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza — has a constantly changing array of items.

But they’re always on the lookout for more.

Which is where we all come in.

Next Tuesday (January 11, 4 to 5 p.m.), they’re sponsoring a “think tank.” Everyone is invited to hear about procurement, ask questions, suggest ideas, and meet fellow food lovers.

Want two more reasons to go? There’s also a wine tasting from Stappa Vineyards. And you’ll get 15% off if you shop during the event.

What else would you like to see on the shelves?


Westport, get ready for your star turn.

Tomorrow (Friday, January 7; 9 pm on New York’s Channel 13; check listings for other PBS stations) marks the first of 3 “Stars on Stage from Westport Country Playhouse” specials.

Gavin Creel stars in the inaugural broadcast, taped during 2 shows in September, and produced by our own Andrew “Live from Lincoln Center” Wilk.

Pre-press has been excellent. The Los Angeles Times called it a “Pick of the Week,”

But see for yourself (below). Then mark your calendars for the next 2 Fridays: Shoshana Bean on the 14th, Brandon Victor Dixon the 21st.


Want to see another world premiere?

2011 Staples High School graduate Margot Bruce’s short film, “Harbor,” debuts at the Westport Library next Wednesday (January 12, 7 p.m.). She’ll be there, and hosts a conversation afterward. Click here to register.

“Harbor” offers a modern twist on selkie stories from Celtic, Gaelic, and Norse folklore.

While at Staples, Margot swam and played water polo, and was a member of the band, orchestra and chorus. She discovered a passion for filmmaking at Fairfield University, and graduated from the College of Wooster with a BA in English. She recently completed an MFA in cinema at San Francisco State University.

Margot Bruce


Suzanne Bauman — the pioneering female documentary filmmaker who lived near Old Mill Beach from 1976-1991 — died on January 2, from complications of cancer. She was 76 years old.

She and her husband Jim Burroughs gave noted 1971 Staples High School graduate Brian Keane his start in film scoring.

Suzanne was editor and co-producer of the Academy Award-nominated “Against Wind and Tide: A Cuban Odyssey” (1981). She and Jim produced the film while living in Westport. It was the first one scored by then-27-year old Keane.

She produced, directed and wrote more than 80 films, both documentary and drama.

Suzanne took crews all over the world, and worked with — among others — John Kenneth Galbraith, Norman Mailer, the Sixth Earl of Carnarvon, Diana Vreeland, astronaut Edgar Mitchell, Neil de Grasse Tyson, Anna Wintour, Gianni Versace, Tina Brown,  Jane Alexander, David Rockefeller, Fidel Castro, Ted Kennedy, Annie Liebowitz, Gloria Steinem, Cybill Shepherd, Raul Julia, Stacy Keach, Martin Sheen and Sir Ian McKellen.

She was supervising producer/director of “The Writing Code,” a landmark series for PBS on the invention, history, art and craft of writing, from ancient times to the internet.

“Water Wars” won the award for best documentary feature at the 2014 Universe Multicultural Film Festival.  Her feature documentary “Shadow of Afghanistan” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam. “Jackie Behind the Myth,” a two-hour documentary special on Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, was People Magazine’s Pick of the Week, premiered on PBS nationwide and aired in more than 30 countries.

Suzanne is survived son Ryan, and step-children Rain, Shannon, Shane and Doah Burroughs.

For more information on Suzanne’s life, click here and here.

Suzanne Bauman


Today’s “Westport … Naturally” Earthplace photo has been hanging around the “06880” files for a while. But a good mushroom never gets old.

(Photo/Peter Gold)


And finally, as we mark the 1-year anniversary of the storming of the US Capitol, we continue to hear — from some quarters —

Roundup: Brian Keane, TAILS, “Annie” …


What do Muddy Waters, James Cotton, James Montgomery and Brian Keane have in common?

The 3 famed blues musician — and the Grammy and Emmy Award-winning composer/producer/1971 Staples High School graduate — will be inducted into the New England Music Hall of Fame. The ceremony is Saturday (November 27) in Mystic.

Keane has scored hundreds of films and television shows. His music has been hailed as “indelible and breathtaking” by the Los Angeles Times, “piercingly beautiful” by the New York Times, and “masterful” by Newsweek. He has been called a “musician’s musician” by Downbeat, a “composer’s composer” by the Hollywood Reporter, and “one of the most impressive musicians of the decade” by Billboard.

(To learn more about Brian Keane, click here. For more on the New England Music Hall of Fame, click here. Hat tip: Fred Cantor)

Brian Keane


Happy 20th anniversary, TAILS!

The Westport group — which protects local cats from homelessness, while supporting felines in 9 area towns through spaying and neutering, with dozens of volunteers — earned tax-exempt status in November 2001.

TAILS — whose formal name is The Alliance In Limiting Strays — helps both dogs and cats. But they focus on where they see the most need: feral cats. One pair can easily turn into 40 cats in 2 years.

To learn more, click here or here; email info@tailsct.org; call 203-222-1992, or search Instagram: @tails_spay_neuter.


Among the many yard signs promoting political candidates earlier this month, one of the most memorable urged “Write in Alma for Board of Education.”

Hers — and all the others — are gone. But a new sign has cropped up, plugging someone else by her first name only. It too starts with “A”:

(Photo/Matt Murray)

Matt Murray — who spotted this sign — says, with tongue (hopefully) in cheek: “I don’t know what office she’s running for, or what her political affiliation is, but I think she may have missed the timing for elections.”


“Westport … Naturally” usually features outdoor shots. Naturally.

But this indoor-and-out image is too good to pass up!

(Photo/Wendy Levy)


And finally … Philip Margo, an original member of the Tokens — best known for the mega-hit “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” — died earlier this month in Los Angeles, after suffering a stroke. He was 79.

The Tokens had other hits too. Click here for the intriguing back story of his, and his group’s, careers.

Roundup: Home Buyers, Save The Sound, Merritt Parkway …


Is it true that every new Westport home buyer comes from Manhattan or Brooklyn?

No. It only seems that way.

According to Coldwell Banker realtor Judy Michaelis, 38% of Westport buyers in the 6 months between January 1 and June 30, 2021 came from … Westport.

Whether trading up, downsizing or moving closer to the beach or woods, nearly 4 in 10 new homeowners are actually still our neighbors.

The next biggest chunk — 17% — came from (yes) New York City.

That was followed by “other states” (15%), Stamford (10%), Norwalk and other Connecticut towns (8% each), New York state (3%) and Wilton (1%).

Wherever you’re from: Welcome to our town, 06880. And also to our “06880” blog.

Many New York City apartment dwellers come to Westport seeking more space.


Save the Sound’s annual Connecticut Cleanup begins at the end of August, and runs through October.

It’s the largest volunteer effort of its kind in Connecticut. Last year, 1,495 volunteers took 7,498 pounds of trash out of 133 miles of coasts and streams.

This year, Save the Sound is adding a crowdsourcing effort to discover new cleanup sites. Westport is one of 15 communities already on the list for an event.

Click here to register, and for more information.


Brian Keane is headed to the New England Music Hall of Fame.

The Emmy Award-winning film documentary composer — also a professional guitarist, film producer and Staples High School Class of 1971 graduate — joins a glittering case of 2021 inductees. They include the late Muddy Waters and his son, Mud Morganfield; blues greats James Cotton, James Montgomery and Duke Robillard, and John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band.

Connecticut Magazine features Keane this month. Click here for the full story. (Hat tip: Fred Cantor)

Brian Keane


For the past couple of years, the state Department of Transportation has been removing trees, bushes and buffering hills from the northbound side of Merritt Parkway Exit 41, near the Westport Weston Family Y.

Now they’re putting stuff back. It won’t look the same as it did before.

But it won’t look the way it did recently, either.

(Photo/Bob Mitchell)


Speaking of nature: The Westport Garden Club’s #FridayFlowers arrangements are always gorgeous. This week they had competition, though — they had to look good in a place that’s already beautiful.

They do.

Check out the photo below, from one of Westport’s hidden jewels: the Wadsworth Arboretum. The arrangement comes courtesy of Dottie Fincher and Susan Nettesheim.

(Photo/Susan Nettesheim)


Local to Market — the new artisan food-and-crafts store in the old Remarkable Book Shop — hosts a farm stand on their patio from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today (Saturday, July 31).

They feature Silverman’s Farm and Shaggy Coos farm. There’s fresh veggies including corn and peaches, fresh milk, and 2 local artists: pottery by Anna Aron and woodturnings by Dick Stein. A portion of all sales goes to charity.

In addition, Local to Market is looking for a store manager and sales associate. It’s a great chance to be part of the resurgence of Main Street — and help all kinds of local folks get to market (duh).

Email info@localtomarket.com for details.

The Local to Market patio opened recently, across from Cold Fusion.


Also downtown this afternoon: Jack Eigen will be selling his ice cream (featured recently on “06880”) in front of New England Hemp Farm, in Brooks Corner.

There’s a connection: Colin Bannon, the hemp store owner, is Jack’s Staples High School lacrosse coach.

Just one more way in which Westport coaches go the extra mile for their players.

Jack Eigen, making ice cream.


After Thursday’s rain, a couple of deer appeared at Lori Lustig’s house. This one didn’t know whether to be scared of — or play with — their dog “Ollie.”

And vice versa.

Just one more example of “Westport … Naturally.”

(Photo/Lori Lustig)


And finally … sure, Brian Keane earned fame (and Emmys) scoring music for documentary films.

But he’s also an accomplished jazz guitarist. He’s played with greats like Larry Coryell. Click below, to a enjoy a classic tune.

Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. We Shall Overcome!

1971 Staples High School graduate Brian Keane has composed the music for hundreds of films and television shows, produced over 100 albums, and earned Grammys, Emmys and Peabodys. He’s worked closely with Ric Burns on most of his groundbreaking documentaries.

Brian did not write the music for his holiday video this year. He just plays guitar on 2 familiar songs.

But this is one of his most powerful works ever. It reminds us how tragic 2020 was.

And how much hope we still have, as a new year beckons.

(Click below. But have your Kleenex handy.)

Brian Keane: “Driving While Black”

Driving While Black — a 2-hour documentary — premieres nationally on PBS tonight (Tuesday, October 13, 9 p.m. EDT).

The film explores the history of race-based restrictions on mobility in the US, including slavery, segregation, the very real dangers of traveling in many parts of the country, the construction of highways through politically powerless black neighborhoods, and the current dangers of “driving while black.”

The Ric Burns project was fast-tracked after the deaths of George Floyd and Jacob Blake this summer.


Working at that furious pace was Brian Keane. The 1971 Staples High School graduate scored the music.

Keane — an Emmy-winning composer with 20 nominations — has worked on most of Burns’ films. He’s also adept with music from many cultures, having scored the only Academy Award-winning Chinese documentary ever (“The Blood of Yingzhou District”).

Keane is noted too for his work with Turkish music and Omar Faruk Tekbilek (he sold out Carnegie Hall in 2018, and similar venues worldwide). He also scored Grammy-winning Irish music with the Chieftains, and produced Linda Ronstadt singing Mexican tunes.

Just as important for Driving While Black, Keane scored the music to Henry Hampton’s films.

He was America’s first major Black documentarian. his 1980’s multi-part television show “Eyes on the Prize” is a classic.

In the 1980s and early ’90s, there were few minorities in television production. Hampton used his fame to hire top documentary professionals — mostly white — to mentor inexperienced Black men and women who wanted to learn the craft.

Keane was one of those mentors.

Brian Keane

Though the Driving While Black budget was small — and the turnaround time quick — Keane was eager to participate. The chance to influence millions of viewers, the timing and the subject’s importance all resonated.

Most of the musicians working with him were Black, and old friends. Singer Janice Dempsey told him, “music has no color.” As he worked, and talked, he realized that — without exception — his Black friends and the film’s musical collaborators have been affected by institutional racism.

Because of the rich history of black music in America — gospel, blues, jazz,  R&B, hip hop — and because many of his musician friends had been out of work due to COVID, Keane decided to use PBS’ limited  budget to hire great musicians.

He forwent his usual fee, opting to make “a soundtrack that would raise awareness further, but would also be compelling musically.”

The main theme took a 1947 Alan Lomax recording of Black prisoners singing while working in a chain gang. Keane set it to African and hip hop beats, scoring it with modern urban jazz elements, a viola de gamba to connect to colonial times, sound design, and tension atmospheres.

He says, “It gets across the point the film tries to convey: Racism has been part of America throughout its history, and still very much is today too.”

It includes Blues Hall of Famer Joe Louis Walker, jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut, Grammy-winning trumpeter Randy Brecker, gospel artist Ada Dyer, and emerging socially conscious artists like Kyla Imani and Jermaine Love Songz.

Marion Meadows performs too. His cousin was shot 27 times and killed by police last year. The video of the incident was lost.

But this would not be an “06880” story without more local connections. Former resident play on the soundtrack too: Dan Barrett (cello) and Murali Coryell (electric guitar).

(Click here to download Brian Keane’s “Driving While Black” soundtrack.)

Brian Keane Scores Oliver Sacks

Just as Oliver Sacks was finishing his autobiography, he learned he had 6 months to live.

The world-renowned neurologist — and author of books like Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat — had terminal cancer. He invited Ric Burns to document his thoughts, and interview colleagues.

Paul Allen backed the film. “Oliver Sacks: His Own Life” is a story of discovery, fascination, incredible human compassion, quirky humor, heartbreak, and the wonders of being alive.

It debuted as a hit at Telluride, sold out the New York Film Festival, and will air on PBS’ “American Masters.” It opens September 23 via streaming, and in art house theaters.

The documentary’s soundtrack was composed and created by Brian Keane. The 1971 Staples High School graduate has composed the music for hundreds of films and television shows, produced over 100 albums, and earned Grammys, Emmys and Peabodys.

Brian Keane and Ric Burns, at work on “Oliver Sacks: His Own Life.”

Sacks was a complicated subject to compose music for. It was a challenge to find the best ways to make the film move viewers — and move the story along.

“Oliver was quirky, but very serious,” Keane says. “He was intellectual, but extremely compassionate. His patients were strange by outward appearance, but human beings trapped in a tunnel of their maladies, viewing a glimpse of light from a distance that Oliver was at work trying to connect for them.

“Oliver was deeply troubled himself, yet uniquely gifted. There is a deep sense of wonder, and fascination with life itself and with our existence, in this story. Oliver was asking ‘who are we?,’ yet this is also a story of a man who had 6 months to live.”

Sacks was also a classical pianist and music lover. At one point in the film Keane left him playing his own, slightly out-of-tune piano. Keane used the piano as Oliver’s voice, often with a live chamber orchestra for emotional intensity.

In the 1980s, Keane produced 4 records of Tibetan Bells with Henry Wolff and Nancy Hennings, and 1 with Grateful Dead percussionist Mickey Hart.

He thought the bells’ strange, wavelike qualities would give a scientific-like feeling of a different mind, looking at different types of conditions. They too became part of the score.

Brian Keane

“We needed pioneering electronics to devise sounds of inside-the-brain scientific discovery as well,” Keane explains. He and longtime engineer Jeff Frez-Albrecht explored their electronic creation devices to form a palette of other-worldly custom electronic sounds for the film.

Oliver was a wild child of the ’60s, so Keane included some rock ‘n’ roll — much like he played as a guitarist in Charlie Karp’s Reunion Band.

Keane scored the main theme as a waltz, for a sense of quirkiness. The melody is simple, full of wonder. It’s accompanied by the Tibetan Bells, to give a deeper sense of cutting-edge discovery, and is supported by a chamber orchestra.

The other main theme was “compassionate,” Keane says. It opens with a single note, then widens the intervals to large leaps, amplifying the emotional empathy.

Elsewhere, he says, the score simply needed to connect what was being said or felt to a deeper meaning. That’s exemplified in the credit music: a simple piano figure with chamber orchestra, and bowed metal creating eerie sounds in “a heartbreakingly beautiful, wistfully ethereal and poignant way.”

Intrigued? Click here to listen to the score. Click below, for the official trailer.

Then mark your calendar for September 23, and the release of the fascinating (and musically compelling) “Oliver Sacks: His Own Life.”