Savoring his enormous success, receiving countless awards, attending sensational shows, putting on spectacular performances, throwing swingin' shindigs, rubbing elbows with the creme de la creme of the Hollywood élite ... such was the lush life of the swank and suave Henry Mancini. Like a cool, dry martini, shaken, not stirred, Mancini in many ways symbolized that lifestyle that today's swingers refer to as "Lounge."
Along with the works of Esquivel and Belafonte, Martin Denny and Eartha Kitt, no respectable bachelor(ette)'s record collection is complete without several selections from this Maestro of Movie Music. Indeed, the name Mancini itself conjures up strains of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" "Moon River," as well as the ever-popular "Peter Gunn" and "Pink Panther" themes. But for every Mancini smash hit, there exist many lesser-known but equally worthy numbers. MARTINIS WITH MANCINI shines a spotlight on some of those obscurities (most of which were previously unavailable on CD) including some of his lightest, liveliest and largely Latin compositions, providing the perfect soundtrack for mixing and mingling - with or without cocktails.
From his humble beginnings in West Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, to his rise to superstardom, Henry was helped along the way by some colorful and generous people. His father, Quinto Mancini, an Italian immigrant steelworker, was hard on his son, sometimes calling him an "ignorant Little hick." Nonetheless, he was musical. Mancini senior played the flute and gave his son his first instrument. the piccolo, Quinto also took the 11-year-old Henry to his first motion picture. Cecil B. De Mille's "The Crusades." The boy was stunned. It was not so much his eyes, but his ears that were impressed. At that moment, he knew what he wanted to do when he grew rip.
Then came local bandleader Max Adkins. The elegant and sophisticated Max, who Henry described as having "...as much pride in his Looks. his clothes and his demeanor as Duke Ellington taught young Hank the art of arranging while polishing his image. Max transformed the self-professed "slob in corduroy snickers" into a young gentleman, complete with his first 'hep' $14 suit! More importantly, Max also introduced young Hank to Benny Goodman, for whom he wrote his first arrangement. Due to Goodman's encouragement, Henry ended up at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York.
Mancini's ternure at Juilliard was cut short by a draft notice: a one-way ticket to World War II. Another significant character, a certain Glenn Miller, entered into Henry's life at about this time. During basic training, some of the guys from Miller's band got Hank an appointment with the revered bandleader. As a result, Henry served his country making music as a member of an Air Force band, and in several other posts. Though he never worked directly with Glenn Miller, he did end up in his post-war band (led by Tex Beneke). There he felt hard for singer Ginny O'Connor. The two married and headed straight for Tinseltown.
Typical Hollywood story: A chance bit of work on a short film got Hank a "real" job composing for Universal. His early arrangements and compositions can be heard in such classics as "It Came from Outer Space," "Tarantula" and even "The Creature From The Black Lagoon!" Later on his past connections made him the perfect choice for scoring both "The Glenn Miller Story" and "The Benny Goodman Story."
In the late '50s, television threatened to bankrupt the movie business and like so many others, Henry lost his job. Still, when it came to a haircut, Hank preferred the studio barber, as did Blake Edwards. It was there that the two ran into each other one very fateful day when Blake needed a composer for his new TV series, "Peter Gunn." Thus their famous and fruitful collaboration was born.
"Peter Gunn"'s jazzy score not only changed film/TV music forever, but it also transformed Mancini's life. By 1962, Time has crowned Mancini "King of the Trade," and by '64, Variety dubbed Hank "H'wood's Hottest Pic 'Track Artist, Grooving 1-Mil. LP Sales Yearly." As Roy Hemming put in his 1987 article, "(That) cool blast named Mancini ... did so much to put jazz rhythms and rocking beats into film scores in place of the warmed-over Rachmaninoff imitations that had been going up soundtracks for decades." The Maestro himself expressed it in simpler terms: "Things were swinging!"
Mancini had a core group of loyal musicians who worked with him on and off throughout the years. This writer was fortunate enough to talk to several of them about their memories of Hank, and they concurred that he was an extraordinary man: unique, generous and talented. Trumpeter Pete Condoli said the guys "...couldn't wait to get to the sessions to see what he'd come up with."
Everyone mentioned his singular sense of humor. According to Dick Nash (trumpet, flugelhorn), on rate occasions he'd join the musicians for a nightcap after a recording session, but he'd never stay long. "I have to excuse myself." he'd say with a sarcastic grin, "I have an empire to take care of." Guitarist Bob Baine remembers a cocktail party where an artist presented Henry with a painting of a sunset and a compliment: "When I paint, I listen to the radio, so I always seem to be painting to your music." Hank replied with a smirk. "The sun never sets on Mancini."
Mancini, perhaps remembering the people who had encouraged his own career, made it a point to let each musician shine, and much of the richness in these tracks comes from their improvised solos - a lasting tribute to the trusting relationship between Henry and his guys.
"It's a Barnum & Bailey World" was Mancini's Mantra, according to his wife, Ginny, son Chris and daughters Monica and Felice. Their stories illustrate the joie de vivre of this musical genius. They claim the only thing Henry loved more than a good party was a great party trick. He mastered tying a cherry stem in a knot with his tongue, then taught it to the entire family. In fact, on one slow cruise to Honolulu, he had the whole ship doing it!
Henry and Ginny (dressed like Mary Tyler-Moore with the pedal pushers and flip) were part of the original jet set, traveling to Rio with Jacques Brel one month, to Rome with Peter Sellers the next. (Mancini and Sellers reportedly did a silly impromptu ballet together on the Spanish Steps.) Once in Japan, while a lounge singer was fumbling through "Moon River," Henry cracked, "Oh, god...he's killing me softly with my song."
When Henry threw a party, he threw it far and wide. The famous Mancini shindigs were frequented by such personalities as Sammy Davis, Jr., Doris Day, Mel Torme, Sean Connery and Jimmy Stewart. At the piano you could find André Previn, Michel Legrand, George Shearing... or even Paul Newman! Quincy Jones was always there "playing pool with the girls." It was a veritable "who's who" of the entertainment world.
One famous fete featured percussion instruments - everyone was given one upon their arrival and when Lalo Schiffrin sat down at the piano the crowd went wild! They mambo'd, rhumba'd, samba'd and cha-cha'd. That famous "Breakfast at Tiffany's" party scene doesn't even come close. Late arrivals were forced to dance outside - no one could hear the doorbell! Similar parties took place on their winter trips to Vail, Colorado, where pots and pans stood in for maracas and bongos.
But these were not Hollywood Libertines. Mancini was a man of moderation. He occasionally smoked a cigar during a recording session, but would put it out inmediately when asked. At the racetrack, he'd split a $5 bet. When it came to booze, he liked good wine, scotch and grappa. His favorite cocktail was a Moscow Mule ginger beer, vodka and lime in a special copper mug. Truth be told, he didn't drink martinis, but Mrs. Mancini still likes hers up, with a twist.
Through these tracks definitively stand up on their own, several of them represent cinematic genius that are well worth the wait at the video store. Classy cocktail parties, wacky wingdings and sensational shindings; beautiful women and dashing men, fabulous fashion and foreign intrigue - you'll find them all in any one of the celluloid selections from which these cuts have been culled. Fortunately for us, Mancini believed that, "If a writer feels that a comedy sequence can be enhanced, for instance, by the use of twist music or source bossa nova rhythms or anything else, why not?" This was Henry's greatest gift, the "Mancini Touch."
A critic from International Musician wonderfully captured the essence of Mancini's musical magic in 1961. "It bears colors and a feeling that he alone can produce time after time with constant freshness. The rhythms may vary, but they always pulse. The instrumentation too varies, but the bright colors he captures always come through in every setting. His is music as sophisticated as Manhattan's East Side, as smooth as TV's private eyes, and as much jazz as his composing gift and his sidemen can make it."
But more to the point, Audrey Hepburn called him "the hippest of cats."
- Janet Grey
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