A show like Amazon’s Bosch thrives on music as much as it does on storytelling. The series follows jazz-loving Detective Harry Bosch (Titus Welliver) through the mean streets of Los Angeles, but the show has went to great lengths to avoid scoring the series with the cliché noir music you might expect to accompany Harry as he solves his cases. Listen closely to the enigmatic sounds of Bosch in the recently released second season and know that you have composer Jesse Voccia to thank for the show’s stunning score.
While not an L.A. native, Voccia’s love for the city is infused in every scene of Bosch. The lifelong musician only ever wanted to do two things: create music and go to space, and in an odd way he has gotten to do both. In addition to his work on Bosch, Voccia has contributed music to Sex and the City, The Big C, and many movie campaigns, including The Martian’s. He describes being in the studio as being similar to being on a spaceship: “You have this big screen in front of you and you travel to all these different places and times.”
Voccia’s passion for all things music was apparent during his conversation with Seat42F, as was his devotion to Bosch. Read on to find out what Bosch scene Voccia is most proud of, why he sees a bit of himself in Harry, and much more.
When you are composing music for a show like Bosch, what is your starting point?
Voccia: A big starting point for the score was that Michael Connelly, the author of the books, was very determined to have the show filmed in LA. All of the shows I grew up watching like The Rockford Files and Perry Mason were all filmed in LA. Those iconic LA detectives were all around the city and you can see the history in the show. The fact that LA was a character in the show and all the places I knew so well around Hollywood, it talked to me and it said this is what it would sound like.
They wanted to capture the smells, the sounds, the feelings, and the pressure of living in this city which is very hot during the day and cools down at night. Harry, the main character, is very into the history of LA as well. He has done the research and he longs for what used to be there in a similar way that I do. In LA there is nothing older than 30 years because space is at a premium so if it is not 100% vital they tear it down and put something else up.
How did the books inspire you in terms of composing music for the television series?
Voccia: In the books, Harry Bosch is a big jazz aficionado. His character is completely the stereotypical jazz fan. He is the up late at night, too intelligent for his own good kind of guy. In the books, he mentions specific songs quite a bit to set the mood and I think to the audience that was one of the things people liked because he sort of painted with music quite a bit.
That was there already, this jazz axis that everything was spinning on, but they also didn’t want the score to be a jazz score. There was actually a mandate that came down from the decision makers at Amazon that there shouldn’t be any lonely cop saxophone scene. What I wanted to do was make more of an abstract, impressionistic sound like the echo of jazz. That is sort of my natural style of doing things anyway because when things are sharp and in focus in the foreground, they demand a lot of attention. The type of music I like in film and in television shows is the type that glues everything together. It doesn’t compete with the emotion of the story.
Do you watch the scenes first and then compose, or does the composition come first?
Voccia: I get a lot of inspiration from reading. Each season of the show is made out of two or three of the books. They kind of alter the timeline from the books to get multiple characters in there at the same time. I read the books first, and as I am reading, I’ve always had this thing where I can hear music as I am reading.
Connelly describes the feeling so much better in the books than you can in a script, so I do start with the literary foundation and then we have a meeting once the show is roughly assembled. Then we get together and watch it. They have already put music in it where the music will go and luckily for me, much of the music I have made in the last 20 years they have really loved for the show, so they have added it into the rough assembly to begin with. So it is already in my style and I don’t have to stretch too far to make something they are happy with.
We watch it and then we talk about what they want differently from what they have and what the meaning of the music should help reinforce. After four or five episodes, they understood they felt the same way as I felt about it and those meetings became much easier and much faster. They knew I was on their page, and they knew what they wanted, which is great.
What can fans expect from Season 2?
Voccia: Everyone has become more confident. The characters are richer and the relationships are more vibrant. The heart of the show is this connection they all have – doing police work is very difficult, it’s very demanding. It takes a special kind of person to look at the darkest part of our humanity. People do terrible things to each other, even homicide detectives.
The big difference between this season and last season I think you can tell from the trailer. Last season there was a serial murderer on the loose in LA, and the bulk of the show was them trying to figure out who he was and get him back into custody. This season it is much more conspiratorial in nature. There’s a murder that happens in the first couple of scenes of the show and the whole rest of the season is trying to unravel this conspiracy that created it.
There are actually a couple of different plots going on and it is interesting how they intertwine. It’s so great working on this show versus a traditional type of cop show because the whole season is based on one case, so the episodes are like chapters of a book instead of having to resolve every 45 minutes.
As a fan, what is your favorite part of Bosch?
Voccia: I feel so close to it because of the city. There are these shots that connect the scenes sometimes with the helicopters flying over the neighborhood or they go to see people in a house, and I’ve been on that street. The realism, I am really proud of that, and the atmosphere and the attention detail they put into it.
I can really connect to Harry’s character too. I’m not as old as Harry Bosch, but I can really relate to him. I am very curious about life before I came on the scene. Like, if I could live in the ’60s or I could have seen Jimi Hendrix and the Cream when that was all happening, I feel like I would have been pretty happy.
What is the most rewarding Bosch moment you’ve scored so far?
Voccia: Without giving anything away from the story, there is a scene that comes around on this season where I came up with something that I thought was going to be too heavy-handed and too much of an homage to Body Heat. When the guys heard it they were like, “Keep going with that! More! Make it more!” It’s this kind of languid, romantic black widow is drawing you into her web, Basic Instinct kind of vibe.
It was so much fun to be that character and create that feeling and develop it over the whole season. That type of music is seldom called for, and that was the first time I got to do something like that and it was really fun.
Do you have a favorite film score?
Voccia: Right now it is Chinatown. It is an LA thing again and it is inescapable. If it is on and I walk into the room I have to sit and watch the rest of it. The story and the performances are so great. The story behind the movie is unbelievable. Jerry Goldsmith was the age I am now when he did that score. He did it in about two weeks. Someone else had done it first and they had done a period correct kind of thing and it didn’t work, it kind of killed the whole thing. So they called Jerry in for a meeting and he kind of made up something on the spot in the meeting to tell them. It was so unique and so beautiful. The vitality and the urgency of that score really speaks to me. Art is one of those strange things where the story of where it comes from is almost more important than what it is.
Season 2 of Bosch is streaming now on Amazon Prime.