Composer John Forte's personal highs and lows give soul to "Brooklyn DA" theme

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"Brooklyn DA" composer John Forte

(CBS News) Composer, writer and documentarian John Forte brings the essence of Brooklyn to everything he does, including the new theme music for the CBS documentary series "Brooklyn DA."

Forte created "Brooklyn Now," the theme song for "Brooklyn DA" and has developed a collection of original works that will be featured throughout the new, six-part documentary series, which follows the career prosecutors of the Kings County District Attorney's Office and the cases they handle.

"Whether I'm singing a ballad with just an acoustic guitar or whether I'm conducting an orchestra, the broad range of my musical essences come from Brownsville," Forte says.

Forte's personal story is as eclectic and gritty as the borough he hails from. And it was exactly that feeling that the team behind "Brooklyn DA" wanted to convey with the music for the series.

"One of the things we needed was a theme song," says Patti Aronofsky, a Brooklyn native who is also the series creator and senior supervising producer. She searched for existing music using Brooklyn as a theme, but nothing quite felt right - until she landed on Forte's composition for the NBA's Brooklyn Nets.

Below: Forte talks about composing music for "Brooklyn DA"

In a twist of fate, series Senior Executive Producer Susan Zirinsky had met Forte a year earlier at the Tribeca Film Festival and they had struck up a friendship.

To Zirinsky and Aronofsky, having Forte create music for "Brooklyn DA" made perfect sense. Likewise, Forte immediately got the concept for the documentary series, which factors in the borough of Brooklyn as a key element of the storytelling.

"Part of what drew us to Forte and his music was his own life experiences - powerful, authentic and real," says Zirinsky. "He is the soul of Brooklyn."

"'Brooklyn Now' reminds me of growing up in Brooklyn," Aronofsky says of Forte's song. "The song stays with you."

Now on iTunes: Music written by John Forte for "Brooklyn DA"

The lyrics to "Brooklyn Now" pull from Forte's life story, where he acknowledges some of the highs and lows he's experienced.

Forte grew up in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn and he went on to study violin at the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. From there he attended New York University as a music business major.

His career path took a turn in the early 1990s when, while working as a development executive at a record label, he was introduced to Lauryn Hill, who was a founding member of The Fugees, along with Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel. He began working closely with the ground-breaking group and co-wrote and produced two songs on The Fugees' 1996 Grammy-winning album, "The Score." He then went on to release his own solo album, "Poly Sci."

Below: Hear "Brooklyn Now" in the show's opening sequence

After his initial creative success, continued financial success eluded him, Forte says he "foolishly" got involved distributing drugs. He was caught, convicted and sent to prison for 14 years for possession with the intent to distribute. Legendary singer Carly Simon, who met Forte through her son, Ben Taylor, argued that Forte didn't get a fair trial and his sentence was too stiff. Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) also made a plea for Forte's clemency. In 2008, President George Bush commuted Forte's sentence.

"I had a lot of time to become spiritually, mentally, and even physically proactive," Forte says of his time in jail. "No one was going to take better care of me inside than me. And that was...a double underlined lesson."

We he was released from prison, Forte immediately went back to work making music and documentaries, all influenced by his experiences growing up and with a renewed effort to make up for the mistake that sent him to jail.

In 2010, Forte's music was incorporated into the Sundance Film Festival. He scored all of the opening festival trailers and had created the song featured at the end of the film "Night Catches Us." And, with his Exeter schoolmate, Christophe Charlier, Forte's created a production company, Le Castle, to manage his multi-media projects.

The music for "Brooklyn DA" is his latest work.

Forte says he hopes people who watch "Brooklyn DA" see the depth and complexity of the borough.

"At the very heart of these stories we have triumph, we have adversity, we have joy," Forte says of "Brooklyn DA." "I see life unfolding and us being blessed enough to have a glimpse into these stories on a very personal level."

Lyrics: Brooklyn Now" by John Forte

Aronofsky says Forte has captured the feel of the series in his work, and the music is a key part of the production. "All of the music is so fresh, and so new," she says.

"We all have our own stories," Forte says. "And if I can pay tribute to our own individual essences and what we bring to the table then I think I've served this series well. I think I've served Brooklyn well. And that's my hope."

Below: the official theme song for the Brooklyn Nets by John Forte