Friday, January 6, 2012

Manne on Gunn


© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“Manne’s men do the Peter Gunn music with a kind of tough-guy cartoon expression, but this was a great combo anyway and Candoli and Geller seldom knew how to be boring.”
- Richard Cook & Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

Traditionally, Monday nights were a “dark night” for gigging musicians.

There were exceptions, of course.  One example that comes to mind is the Terry Gibbs Dream Band which was made up of studio musicians who played local gigs around Hollywood with Terry’s band on Monday nights.

Probably the most famous, let alone most enduring, Monday off-night gig was the one involving New York City studio musicians and the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra at the Village Vanguard, a tradition which continues to this very day.

But for me and many other musicians, one benefit of being off on Mondays was that for a few years, we all got to catch Peter Gunn when it premiered from 9:00 to 9:30 on Monday nights, on NBC-TV.

It starred Craig Stevens as Peter Gunn and also starred Lola Albright as his girl, Edie Hart; Herschel Bernardi as Lt. Jacoby; Hope Emerson as Mother, at whose nightclub Edie sings. The program was created and directed by Blake Edwards who, in a stroke of genius, tapped Henry Mancini as its Musical Director. The Executive Producer was Gordon Oliver, the sponsor was Bristol-Myers and filming was done at Universal-International Studios in Hollywood [when it was still had a “back lot” and before it developed a theme park on it].

The bonanza of Jazz-on-Television the program launched is described in the following excerpt from Lester Koenig’s insert notes to Shelly Manne & His Men Play Peter Gunn [Contemporary S 75-60/OJCCD 946-2]:


Peter Gunn is an adult mystery with a different kind of hero: a private eye who is literate, suave, well-groomed, and—digs jazz. The weekly show hit the NBC-TV network September 22,1958, and zoomed to a success which is, in part, the result of its jazz score, composed and arranged by Henry Mancini, known as Hank to the leading jazz stars in the Los Angeles area who have played for his soundtracks. Since November 1958, Shelly Manne and Victor Feldman have been regular mem­bers of the band which records the show's score. When Shelly became enthused about the idea of recording an album of Mancini originals from Peter Gunn, he invited Feldman to appear with him as a guest star.

Aside from its own considerable merits, the fact that a jazz score has created so much attention is a reflection of the staying power of the new marriage of jazz and TV, a nuptial which seems to have eclipsed the short-lived, annulled wedding of jazz and poetry. Jazz has taken an increasing part in the everyday living of the nation, and a summation of jazz in 1958 reveals, as leading critic Leonard Feather points out in the February 1959 issue of Playboy

‘... Jazz — both modern and traditional—filled video screens... CBS' hour-long show, The Sound of Jazz... the first Timex all-star jazz show, emceed by Steve Allen, was seen on NBC... a unique effort to offer it on an educational level was undertaken when NBC launched a 13-week series, The Subject Is Jazz... Bobby Troup's Stars of Jazz was projected to the full ABC network,.. Disc jockey Art Ford kicked off his own weekly show on New York's Channel 13. In Chicago, WBBM-TV presented Jazz in the Round... CBS launched a-five-nights-a-week-series, Jazz is My Beat.’

Other examples come to mind. In September a Westinghouse spectacular featured Benny Goodman, Andre Previn, Shelly Manne, and Red Mitchell. Previn also made a guest appearance on the Steve Allen show. And jazz as part of the score for dramatic pictures and TV shows made a tremendous impact when Walter Wanger engaged Johnny Mandel to write a jazz score for I Want to Live (which featured Shelly Manne); when Revue Productions' Stan Wilson used a jazz group for the score of the weekly M Squad; and when Spartan Productions engaged Hank Mancini as Musical Director for Peter Gunn.”

Pete Rugolo’s Jazz scores for Thriller and Richard Diamond, Elmer Bernstein’s for Johnny Staccato and Lalo Schifrin’s for Mannix would also come into focus, but as Jazz fans everywhere know, this abundance of TV Jazz scores would wane and be pretty much gone by the close of the decade of the 1960’s.


Les Koenig, who owned Contemporary Records, took great care to create a studio atmosphere which took into consideration these factors:

“For jazz musicians to be free to express themselves, and to make personal statements, they need the kind of relaxed atmosphere not commonly found in recording studios. The average record date takes only three hours. But, like a barbecue fire which always seems to be glowing at its best after you've removed the steaks, jazz record dates usually begin to develop a 'feeling' just as the three-hour time limit is up.

At Contemporary we've tried to break this time barrier by scheduling sessions of at least six or nine hours. In the case of Peter Gunn we took four three-hour sessions and as a result an exceptionally close rapport was achieved; each musician felt free to contribute his ideas and suggestions came so thick and fast Shelly was often in the position of a moderator at a heated Town Hall session.

That The Men were able to approach each of Mancini's pieces with a fresh, spontaneous, and valid conception is a tribute to their outstanding talents, as well as to the vitality of Mancini's provocative new jazz themes.”

—LESTER KOENIG January 1959

These notes appeared on the original album liner.

Orrin Keepnews made these comments about Shelly Manne & His Men Play Peter Gunn [Contemporary S 75-60/OJCCD 946-2] when it was released as a CD:

“For the most part, television music was a vast jazz wasteland before the Peter Gunn series debuted in the fall of 1958. The show's score both made a name for composer Henry Mancini and changed the sound of televised drama. It was inevitable that Shelly Manne, Hollywood studio mainstay and a proven champion at jazz interpreta­tions of Broadway shows, would give Mancini's music a more expansive blowing treatment, and the resulting album reminds us that there was more to Peter Gunn than its dramatic theme and the classic ballad "Dreamsville." Fans of Manne's Men should note that the album was taped during the brief tenure of alto saxophonist Herb Geller, and that it makes winning use of the vibes and marimba of added starter Victor Feldman, whose piano would shortly be heard to superb advantage on the band's Blackhawk recordings (OJCs 656-660).”

We've selected Goofin' at The Coffee House by Shelly and The Men and coupled it with a montage on "beatniks" as our video tribute to Peter Gunn TV series and its era.