A Hollywood composer’s ‘Trek’ back home to the Northwest

STANWOOD — You’ve likely heard Ron Jones’ music if you’ve been anywhere near a TV in the past 20 years.

Jones, who has a recording studio near Stanwood, composed musical scores for “Family Guy” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” A product of the Northwest, Jones is an award-winning conductor and composer of music for film, TV and video games.

Jones will conduct some of his other-worldly compositions for “Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage,” a Nov. 1 concert by the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The event celebrates 50 years of Star Trek on TV and in film — 700 TV shows and 12 movies — and kicks off a series of similar concerts to be staged for Trekkies around the world.

Jones, 61, and his wife Laree wanted to move closer to family (his dad lives on Camano Island) and begin retirement, so about a year ago they bought a 22-acre homestead in north Snohomish County.

There he established a recording studio in what was the former owner’s 3,000-square-foot garage. The studio also houses a soundstage and provides storage for hundreds of boxes of Ron’s 40,000 original musical scores.

Ron and Laree (who plays 12 musical instruments and has been a big part of Ron’s career) are making it known around region that their SkyMuse studios are open to professional and student musicians as well as budding recording engineers.

The future for career musicians includes studio session work for movies and more, Ron said. Live concert music is undervalued and electronic music is here to stay, but no synthesizer can imitate the sound of a good band or orchestra.

“And music students need to know that,” he said.

SkyMuse is about music production, but it’s also a place where creativity and collaboration is encouraged.

Laree and Ron plan to treat their visiting musicians “like royalty,” and so are building a treehouse-style guest quarters on their property.

Eventually the Joneses may have to charge for studio time and bunking at their guest house, but for now it’s offered free, for the love of music, the theme running through Ron’s life.

Jones, who spent part of his childhood and a few post-college years in Snohomish County, developed his love of composition, arranging and conducting as a part of the Oregon Crusades Drum and Bugle Corps. He studied at with LeRoy Anderson at Clackamas Community College and went on to the University of Oregon and Seattle Pacific University.

As a young man, Jones was inspired by composer John Williams’ work on “Star Wars” and Don Ellis’s score for “The French Connection.”

“But nobody in Seattle was scoring for film, so it forced me to move to L.A. I wanted to pursue the dream of writing music that elevates a movie and touches the hearts of the audience,” he said. “It was going to be just for a year. We stayed for 38.”

When the couple first arrived in Los Angeles so that Ron could attend the famous Dick Grove music school, he worked all night copying music in order to make a living. One of the accounts for the copy office was Hanna-Barbera Productions cartoons.

“I was analyzing this stuff as I as was copying it and even circling parts that I thought were wrong,” he said. “So I’d take the music over to the studio myself so I could get in and listen. One day I got the music director in the hall and told him that I could do this music. Eventually, I was handed some cassette tapes for some cartoon, along with some storyboards and the commission to ‘just do it.’ In two days.”

Scoring music for the screen was all about solving problems for producers, Ron said. “I’m no smarter or any more musical than anyone else, but I have ability to figure things out. And Laree helped me. She was my proofreader.”

Soon Jones was cranking out millions of notes each week.

There was a time not long ago when on most Saturday mornings, one could switch the TV channel from ABC to NBC to CBS and hear a Jones composition or arrangement for a cartoon (Smurfs, Snorks, Scooby-Doo). And he worked with composers Mike Post and Pete Carpenter on many of their TV shows.

Jones wrote for Disney’s “Duck Tales,” Nickleodeon’s “Fairly OddParents” and Fox’s “Family Guy” and “American Dad!” One of his most enjoyable but stressful assignments was when he was composing for comedian Seth McFarlane, the producer, screenwriter, actor, director, singer and creator of “Family Guy.”

A “savant,” as Jones calls him, McFarlane expected a lot and often gave Jones unreasonably tight deadlines to deal with. As a singer, McFarlane likes to perform old show tunes with Jones’ Influence Jazz Orchestra, something he plans to do again Nov. 15 in Santa Monica.

“I believe Seth thought about the music while he was writing his shows. We felt appreciated. I was allowed to hire 75 musicians for my orchestra and a 30-voice choir because of Seth. But after awhile it became too much. I was at odds with the Hollywood grind.”

In Stanwood, the Joneses want to kick back on their beautiful property and help others keep alive the art of scoring for film, Laree said. “Because what’s going to happen when guys like Ron are gone? Why teach kids to be obsolete? We want to create a wildlife preserve where composers can run free.”

In his heyday in Hollywood, Jones established the internationally known Los Angeles Ravel Orchestral Study Group, which would take a piece such as Maurice Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloe” and pull apart the orchestration in order to uncover Ravel’s compositional process.

“At one point 96 musicians were attending the study group,” Laree said. “It was like church.”

The educational effort by the Joneses continues.

“We’re not old school here at SkyMuse; we have all the latest digital equipment,” Ron said. “We just want a community of musicians who want to keep the craft going.”

On a recent Friday afternoon, a group of musicians crowded into one of the recording rooms at the studio.

Jazz pianist and composer Alex Guilbert of Seattle first met Ron when he was called to the studio to give Jones some technical help.

“We hit it off and I brought some of my friends along to do a recording,” Guilbert said. “It’s awesome. They are wonderful people and we have felt so welcome.”

The concert in London today will feature all of the great Star Trek music.

“Once in a while screenwriters and filmmakers come up with a story that really lends itself to a more emotional score. There where some moments that really moved me and brought out the best in my creative scoring.”

In “Star Trek: The Next Generation” included an episode — a favorite of Ron’s — where the character Tasha Yar dies while on a mission to a distant planet. It includes a seven-minute funeral scene in which Tasha speaks via hologram, expressing how much she loves and appreciates the Enterprise crew.

“Several in the orchestra were moved to the point of tears because it was so heavy. I really love human stories and ones where everything comes down to a simple, yet powerful feeling. That is the job of film music, to be the emotional vehicle to the visuals. I love that stuff.”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @galefiege.

SkyMuse Studios

To make inquiries about SkyMuse Studios, email Ron Jones’ sister Sondra at sondra.sottile@gmail.com.

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