Hollywood composer with local roots scored the music for a documentary about the Philadelphia Eagles. It’s a touchdown.
At 30, Philly native Jackson Greenberg is an experienced music composer for TV and films. But his experience as a diehard Eagles fan helped him land a dream job.
Writing the musical score for Maybe Next Year, the exhilarating documentary about the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl championship season, “was like scoring a movie about my own life,” said Jackson Greenberg.
The 30-year-old composer, now based in Los Angeles, grew up in Center City and Gladwyne in an accomplished family of Philly sports fans. He learned early and often how a region’s collective hopes can crumble again and again, yet stubbornly endure. So in 2019, when a friend told him the producers of Maybe Next Year hadn’t yet hired a composer to score their film, “I just e-mailed them out of the blue,” said Greenberg.
“I told them, ‘I’m a diehard Eagles fan, here are my credits, and I would love to work on your movie.’”
Said Joe Plummer, who produced the film with Jenifer Westphal, the founder of Wavelength Productions: “We wanted the music to capture Philadelphia. After hearing ‘Green City,’ the first piece Jackson sent to us, Jen and I looked at each other and said, ‘He did it. He nailed it. This is exactly what we want.’”
“Green City” uses a harmonica to narrate the movie’s drive-by tour of fans’ homes, roadside businesses, and high-rises arrayed in what is often homemade Eagles finery. The entire score, which Greenberg delivered in six weeks, is soulful, celebratory, acoustic in spots, orchestral in others, and rich with riffs that stay in the ear.
The composer wrote all the music except the rootsy “What I Owe” by his friend Teddy Grossman. Another friend, Jon Natchez of the Philly rock band The War on Drugs, performed the wistful saxophone rendition of “Fly, Eagles, Fly” — despite having grown up a Patriots fan in Boston. (“When the Patriots started winning, it released us to be able to feel happiness for other fan bases,” he explained.)
“Scoring this movie was a dream job,” Greenberg said from his home in L.A., where he regularly hosts Eagles game-watch hangouts for fellow Philly expats like Grossman.
“The Eagles winning the Super Bowl was one of the best moments of my life. The hardest part of writing was having to go deep and try and translate that emotion into music.”
Greenberg’s score for Maybe Next Year enhances the film’s clear-eyed vision of Philadelphia and the unruly underdog sports culture about which fans have a ferocious and at times alarming pride. Director Kyle Thrash tells the story by focusing on the complicated lives of four super fans while offering glimpses of countless other citizens of Eagles nation at workplaces, bars, pizza joints, churches, and faded neighborhoods across the city. Jackson’s music rises and subsides around them, gaining momentum until the glorious moment when the Eagles beat the Patriots 41-33.
Maybe Next Year premiered at the Philadelphia Film Festival in 2019, but the pandemic canceled plans for a 2020 theatrical release. The film recently became available on streaming platforms as well as on DVD.
» READ MORE: ‘Maybe Next Year’: The Eagles fan documentary that became a surprise chronicle of the Super Bowl run
The son of a professional poker player who became a lawyer, and a classical violinist who earned her Ph.D. in child development, Greenberg has two sisters and grew up playing a variety of sports as well as multiple musical instruments. Marcy, his mother, got him started on cello lessons at 4 years old. Greenberg also credits his Manhattan grandfather, the late Al Greenberg, with introducing him to the Metropolitan Opera as well as to classic Hollywood film scores.
“Jackson always really immersed himself in what was happening on the screen,” Joel Greenberg, 63, said of his son, noting that Friends Central School faculty also recognized the young man’s talents.
Music teacher Carl Bradley and drama teacher Terry Guerin helped expand Greenberg’s musical horizons — Bradley, through jazz, and Guerin, by offering Greenberg an opportunity to write music for two school plays she was directing: Dracula and The Tempest.
“He was the kind of student who would play anything we needed,” said Bradley, who has taught at Friends Central for 30 years. “He had a gift for composition. He wrote several pieces for the jazz band that we performed.”
Said Guerin, recently retired from Central and active on the board of Philadelphia’s Pig Iron Theatre Company: “He wrote a suite of music for The Tempest, for a little chamber music ensemble, and it was just out of this world.”
Bradley agreed. “There was a moment in the music he wrote for The Tempest when I remember thinking that [film or theatrical scoring] was something he could do.”
The composer Randy Newman mentored Greenberg in the University of Southern California’s graduate program in film scoring. The composer of the music for the Toy Story movies and others, Newman called Greenberg “one of the best students [the graduate program] has ever had.” He noted that film composers must keep in mind they’re making music for someone else’s movie, not their own.
“You have to subordinate your ego,” the 77-year-old Newman said from L.A. “You want to enhance what’s going on up there [on the screen] emotionally. It’s not a cerebral thing.”
Greenberg, interviewed Nov. 19 during Angelo Cataldi’s 94WIP Sports Radio show, said he was “just trying to capture what the whole lifetime of pain of being an Eagles fan” means.
“The Eagles really are the religion of Philadelphia,” he said; hence, the heavenly chorale that graces the miraculous moment the city’s frenzied fans realize they’ve won.
Greenberg has had impressive film and TV music credits, including music for two Netflix series and the Oscar-nominated 2015 documentary Cartel Land. But writing the music for a movie about a sport and a city he loves was much more than a great gig.
“I’m just so happy to be part of this thing,” the composer said. “I would have been thrilled just to watch this movie.”