Composer Justin Hurwitz became best known for his work with college friend and film director Damien Chazelle, most notably for the La La Land score. Raised in California, Hurwitz came from an artistic family; his sister played the violin and both his parents worked in the arts — his mother was a ballerina and his father a writer. He began playing the piano at the age of six. By the time he was ten, he was composing his own music. In the eighth grade, he and his family moved to Fox Point, Wisconsin, where he attended Nicolet High School. While there, the budding composer also studied at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music in Milwaukee with pianist Stefanie Jacob. After graduating in 2003, he continued his education at Harvard University.
While his early years were primarily spent studying classical music — he had an appreciation for John Williams' scores — when he was a teenager, his Uncle Ron introduced him to jazz by giving him an Oscar Peterson record. This early taste of jazz music would be the foundation of his impending friendship and collaborations with Damien Chazelle, whom he met at Harvard. The two became fast friends, playing together around Boston in the Brit-pop-inspired band Chester French (with Chazelle on drums and Hurwitz on electric piano), and later they became roommates. Their friendship and shared passion for music led to a number of collaborations. The first was Chazelle's debut feature, the jazz musical Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, for which Hurwitz composed the music.
Alongside his burgeoning career as a composer, he was also creating a sideline in writing for shows like The Simpsons and The League. In 2014, the film Whiplash was released. The movie, again directed by Chazelle, was about an ambitious jazz student, and Hurwitz's score earned him a Grammy Nomination for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media. The duo's next collaboration was the romantic musical comedy-drama La La Land. Released in late 2016, it was the pair's biggest hit to date and garnered a host of awards, including Academy Awards for Hurwitz's score and Best Original Song for "City of Stars." In 2018, he composed the score for Chazelle's film First Man, a biopic about astronaut Neil Armstrong. ~ Bekki Bemrose