The Jazz Side of Henry Mancini, Part Two

The Jazz Side of Henry Mancini, Part Two

Written by Rudy Radelic

We left off our last survey of the jazz side of Henry Mancini (Issue 135) in New York City, fresh off the Breakfast at Tiffany’s soundtrack. That album was recorded in 1961, a mere two years after the first Peter Gunn album was released. If it seems like I’m pulling from a lot of albums from a span of two years, you’re correct.

To put this into perspective, in his autobiography Did They Mention the Music?, Mancini mentions that his early recording contract with RCA Victor required three albums per year.  Let’s think about this for a moment. His first two albums were based on scores for the Peter Gunn television series, plus he recorded an instrumental album called The Mancini Touch. This made for three albums’ worth of music.

However, the way the music was produced adds more to the process. Mancini first penned the tunes at his piano. For the television (and later film) soundtracks, he had to write arrangements and record them for the television or film studio. For his RCA albums, he wrote his album arrangements, which were based on the arrangements for the TV series or film, but adapted them so they could be listened to as finished pieces on a record. In addition, he had to be selective in what he chose to record for a music album. As he mentions in his autobiography:

“A problem arose from those scores. The albums were made up of the most melodic material from the films. A lot of the dramatic music – which is what I really loved to do and really thought I had a feeling for – was left out. Days of Wine and Roses and Charade had a lot of dramatic music that was never released on record. For the albums, I used the source music that was the common denominator for my record-buying audience. And there was pressure from the record company: they didn’t want to know about dramatic music.”

So, in essence, one set of music for a soundtrack meant two sets of arrangements. If you consider that he might also record a music album in the same year, that is almost the equivalent of writing for five separate projects, per year. This would continue through the 1960s, and the quality of his output during this time is mind-boggling, considering the volume of his volume of work!

A brief aside – if you are interested in Mancini’s recordings from the film soundtrack, see if you can locate the Intrada CDs. These are the actual recordings used on the films, not the revised arrangements and recordings that made their way to the albums.  It is interesting to hear how the music was arranged for the films, and to also hear the performances sounding perhaps a little less polished than their album versions. These also include many of the dramatic musical cues used in the films that were never committed to an album. There aren’t many, but the films Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Days of Wine and Roses (which had no soundtrack album of its own), Charade and Hatari! all have Intrada editions.

Now, back to the music. Our last installment featured a big band blowout, and the soundtrack to Hatari! also offers a dose of the same with “Big Band Bwana.” Plenty of good soloing throughout.


1962 also gave us a Blake Edwards thriller (!) named Experiment in Terror. The B-side of the album features some wonderfully tense moments of music from the film, where the A-side is more standard fare, including “Kelly’s Tune,” which features a mellow Basie-esque big band arrangement, the guitar plunking along in the background à la Freddie Green.


1963 would prove to be another big year for Mancini, with two outstanding soundtracks, the first of which is Charade. The main title theme makes its appearance three times on the record, in three vastly different arrangements. During the ’50s and ’60s, Latin American rhythms were popular – everything from the cha-cha to the mambo worked their way into pop music, and Mancini took the rhythm and mixed it with a big band arrangement to create “Mambo Parisienne,” bringing Cuba to Paris. That sax solo is by none other than Plas Johnson, who would loom really large on the next soundtrack…


That next soundtrack being The Pink Panther. The theme to this film would not only become one of Hank’s most recognizable, but the credits to the film featured the cartoon Pink Panther, courtesy of Friz Freleng (of Warner Bros. fame), which would go on to become its own cartoon series. This album was recorded only two months after Charade, yet released in 1964. Plas Johnson’s melody in the title tune, and his soloing, place this tune squarely in big band territory, despite the brief appearance of the orchestra midway through the tune.

The Twist was another popular (dance) craze at the time. The album Experiment in Terror had no less than three twists, and yet another found its way to The Pink Panther soundtrack. This time, “The Tiber Twist.” Plas Johnson once again knocks it out of the park.


In a hat trick for 1963, the non-soundtrack album Uniquely Mancini arguably features some of his best and most dynamic big band arrangements. The unique thing about this album are the arrangements – there are many familiar tunes on this album, but Hank approaches some of them in ways we hadn’t yet imagined. His cover of the popular tune “Night Train” slows that train way down, propelling it at first with ominous bass flutes and bass trombones, followed by vivid splashes of brass coloring and punctuated with another fine solo by Plas Johnson.


How about some Booker T. Jones? Mancini puts a big band spin on it, with some unique brass section arranging midway through the tune.


The album has a few originals, but the major standout here is “Banzai Pipeline,” perhaps his best big band recording.  It has a swinging, swaggering beat that won’t quit, sharp brass lines throughout, a smoking Plas Johnson solo, and plenty of augmented chords to keep you in suspense through the end.


In the next installment, we’ll visit another 1960s album with some jazz treasures on it, and investigate a few recordings from the 1970s.

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