Justin Hurwitz is an American music composer and TV writer. A three-time 'Golden Globe' winner, he is best known for his long-time collaboration with his friend, film director Damien Chazelle. The two have collaborated on four projects to date, of which Hurwitz has won three 'Golden Globes,' two 'Academy Awards,' and a 'BAFTA' award for his original scores in 'La La Land' and 'First Man.' Hurwitz and Chazelle have known each other since their days in 'Harvard University.' They performed for a band back then, which, however, was a brief stint. Hurwitz made his debut as a music composer with Chazelle’s first film, 'Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench' (2009), which ultimately led them to their following projects. Hurwitz is known for his jazz compositions. In addition to composing music, Hurwitz has written episodes for two popular sitcoms.
Childhood & Early Life
Justin Gabriel Hurwitz was born on January 22, 1985, in California, to Gail and Ken Hurwitz. He has a sister named Hanna.
Hurwitz joined a premier conservatory in Wisconsin after his family moved to Fox Point, a Milwaukee suburb, in 1998. There, he attended 'Nicolet High School.'
Hurwitz was just 6 when he began playing the piano, and by the age of 10 years, he had begun composing music. He grew up studying classical music and followed John Williams's compositions in his teenage years.
Hurwitz’s uncle, Ron, once presented him an Oscar Peterson record, which was his introduction to jazz music.
While at the 'Wisconsin Conservatory of Music,' Hurwitz got acquainted with pianist Stefanie Jacob. Upon his graduation in 2003, Hurwitz joined 'Harvard University,' where he was a member of the 'Harvard Lampoon,' the university’s undergraduate humor publication. Following this, he developed an interest in comedy, which was later showcased through his TV projects.
At 'Harvard University,' Hurwitz shared a room with director Damien Chazelle. Their mutual love for jazz brought them closer. The two were part of 'Chester French,' a Brit-pop-inspired five-piece band that was established in 2003 at 'Harvard.' Hurwitz was the lead pianist and percussionist of the band, while Chazelle was the drummer. However, they eventually lost interest in the band and quit. Hurwitz and Chazelle then started focusing on movies.
Back then, Hurwitz aspired to become a film composer, while Chazelle wanted to be a film director. They later worked together and collaborated on a student film titled 'Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench.' Upon graduation from 'Harvard,' Hurwitz and Chazelle moved to Los Angeles, where Hurwitz began writing for sitcoms.
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Hurwitz composed the original music for Chazelle’s directorial debut, the 2009 indie black-and-white romantic musical film ‘Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench.' 'Milan Records' released the film’s album through digital download on March 24, 2017.
He is the writer of ‘The Falcon and the D'ohman' (2011), the premiere episode of the twenty-third season of the 'Fox' animated sitcom 'The Simpsons.' He also wrote seven episodes for the 'FX' (later 'FXX') sitcom 'The League.'
The success of 'Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench' brought Hurwitz and Chazelle the funds for their following collaboration. The music composer and film director duo then released the drama 'Whiplash,' which premiered at the 2014 'Sundance Film Festival.’
The soundtrack of the film consisted of 24 tracks, including original jazz pieces, original underscore parts, and classic jazz. The label 'Varèse Sarabande' released the album on October 7, 2014. 'Whiplash' earned Hurwitz a 'Grammy' nomination in the 'Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media' category.
Hurwitz and Chazelle’s next collaboration was the romantic comedy musical drama 'La La Land.' The film hit the theaters in 2016 and turned out to be the duo’s biggest hit to date. 'La La Land' garnered him a host of awards, including two 'Academy Awards' (‘Original Score’ and ‘Original Song’) and two 'Golden Globe' awards (‘Original Score’ and ‘Original Song’). He also won two ‘Grammy’ awards for his work in the film and a 'Grammy' nomination for the track 'City of Stars' (in the 'Best Song' category). Additionally, the track ‘Audition’ (‘The Fools Who Dream’) received an ‘Academy Award’ nomination for the 'Best Original Song.’
Hurwitz also received a 'BAFTA' for 'La La Land.' The track 'Another Day of Sun' was nominated for the ‘Grammy’ for the 'Best Arrangement, Instrumental, and Vocals.'
In 2018, Hurwitz composed the score for the biographical film 'First Man,' which was about astronaut Neil Armstrong. Based on James R. Hansen’s book 'First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong,' the film was directed by Chazelle. Hurwitz got a 'Golden Globe' for the film. He also won honors and nominations from associations such as the 'Atlanta Film Critics Circle,' the 'Capri Hollywood International Film Festival,' the 'Critics' Choice Movie,' the 'Georgia Film Critics Association,' the 'Satellite,' the 'Hawaii Film Critics Society,' the 'Atlanta Film Critics Circle,' the 'Chicago Film Critics Association,' the 'Columbus Film Critics Association,' the 'Denver Film Critics Society,' and the 'Houston Film Critics Society.'
The score of 'First Man' used a 94-piece orchestra that included instruments such as the electronic theremin, the Moog synthesizer, and vintage sound-altering machines, including Leslie speakers and an ‘Echoplex.’ Hurwitz had created piano demos even before the principal photography began.
Hurwitz got a theremin and learned to play it for the original score of the film, which was heavily praised by critics. Music lovers highly appreciated the balance of softer melodic passages fused with powerful themes that the score contained. The music was released through 'Back Lot Music' on October 12, 2018.
Family & Personal Life
Hurwitz’s mother, Gail, was a professional ballet dancer who later became a registered nurse. His father is a writer. Gail and Ken got married in 1983 in a Los Angeles Sephardic temple. Hurwitz’s is a Jewish family.
His sister, Hanna, is an accomplished classical violinist. Many of Hurwitz’s family members on his mother’s side, who had migrated from Lebanon, now live in Israel.
Hurwitz’s favorite film of all time is 'The Umbrellas of Cherbourg' (1964). He claims to have watched it every time it released in the theaters.