Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Henry Mancini – “Making Yourself As You Go”

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

“If modern jazz becomes indelibly linked with manslaughter, murder, mayhem, wise­cracking private eyes and droll policemen, the brunt of the responsibility must be borne by composer Henry Mancini. Be­cause of him the point is rapidly being reached where no self-respecting killer would consider pulling the trigger without a suitable jazz background.

Seriously, Henry Mancini has become a pacesetter. Immediately after the first episode of the TV series "Peter Gunn," Mancini's modern jazz background score became a topic of general conversation. The Music from Peter Gunn, his first RCA Victor album (LPM/LSP-1956), rocketed into the nation's number one best-selling spot with the muzzle velocity of a police positive. Various recordings of the main theme music became top single records.

With all this excitement, it was inevitable that others should follow Mancini's lead. TV detectives now swash, buckle and make love to the strains of modern jazz.”
- Bill Olofson, liner notes to More Music From Peter Gunn [RCA LPM-2040]

Had it not been for a chance meeting with producer-director Blake Edwards, I daresay that Henry Mancini may not have had the opportunity to fulfill his lifelong dream of writing music for the movies.

There was no television when the dream first took shape in Henry’s mind after his father took him to see Cecil B. DeMille’s movie version of The Crusades.

The year was 1935. Henry was eleven-years old.

In the 23-years between that fateful day at the Lowe’s Penn Theater in Pittsburg, PA  and bumping into Blake as he was coming out of the Universal Studios barber shop in North Hollywood, CA, Henry Mancini had become a masterful composer-arranger. He did so with a minimum of formal education; essentially by learning through doing.

As the late, writer Ray Bradbury once put it: “You make yourself as you go.”

After serving as a rifleman in World War II,  Mancini married and, at his wife Ginny’s suggestion, he relocated to southern California to pursue his dream.  Once there, he landed a job in the music department at Universal Pictures.

Henry did every job imaginable at Universal’s music room from copying scores to writing incidental music to even writing scores for forgettable-at-the-time-later-to-become-cult-classic-“B”-films like The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Henry, too, might have been forgotten if he hadn’t been for the advent of television as a popular form of entertainment in the 1950s.

And, a rendezvous with obscurity might have loomed even larger for Henry had he not run into Blake Edwards, an old acquaintance, that fateful day in 1958 on the Universal back lot.

What’s the old adage: “I’d rather be lucky than good[?]”

Henry Mancini was a couple of years younger than Blake at the time of there chance meeting [36 and 38, respectively].

The studio system that maintained staff orchestras and staff composer-arrangers was coming to an end and Mancini has just lost his job. He had a wife and three children to support.

As they were parting company, Blake asked Henry if he would be interested in doing a TV show with him.

“Sure,” said Mancini, “what’s the name of it?”

Edwards said “It’s called Peter Gunn.”

Mancini asked: “What is it, a Western?”

Edwards, replied: “You’ll see.”

The rest is history.

Starring Craig Stevens as the stylish private-eye, Peter Gunn was to become one of the most successful series in that genre.

Thanks to Mancini’s genius, it would also lead to major changes in how music was written for television and the movies.

For Peter Gunn, Henry Mancini wrote the first full score in television history.

Both Blake Edwards and Henry Mancini went on to have illustrious television and movie careers that resulted in fame and fortune, distinction and awards, and the comforts of a satisfying and stylish life.

But for me,  the epitome Henry Mancini’s composing and arranging always began and ended with his exciting and energetic work on the music for Peter Gunn.

The Jazz pulse with which he infused the music for that TV series has influenced and informed my Jazz consciousness for over fifty years.

One of my great treats in life is to return to this music and savor its timeless brilliance.

Much of the music that Mancini wrote for Peter Gunn features small group Jazz, but Blue Steel, which is from the second album – More Music for Peter Gunn – is composed for a full big band, one that certainly roars on this track.

Led by a trumpet section of Conrad Gozzo [lead], Pete Candoli [soloist], Frank Beach and Graham Young – can you imagine?! – and an orchestra that also includes five trombones, four French Horns, four woodwinds and four rhythm, Blue Steel is a veritable explosion in sound.

Hank’s music always seems to bubble with enthusiasm and humor; its bright, bouncy and bops along.

Blue Steel is only 3:39 minutes in length and yet it is brimming over with compositional devices – vamps, interludes and riffs that launch the soloists; half-step modulations and dynamics that are constantly building in the background until Hank rushes the band effervescently to the foreground; glissandos that probe and punctuate the arrangement; a throbbing walking bass that starts and stops to heighten suspense; vibes-guitar-piano playing mice-running-along-the-piano-keys figures to create a furtive sonority; flute “choirs” interspersed with vibes and then with a piano solo; a trumpet solo that soars over bass trombone pedal tones and ascending, and then, descending French Horns [see if you can catch Pete Candoli’s reference to Your Getting to Be a Habit With Me in his solo].

And just when you think the band is going to explode, Hank brings in a fanfare played by the orchestra in unison with Conrad Gozzo screaming out three, high note blasts to close the piece with a rush of orchestral adrenalin.

This is the music of a master orchestrator at work. Few arrangers have ever called upon a greater palette of colors in their arrangements. Mancini music always seem to have a mysterious gift of melody to it which provides him with a strong, inner core to build his scores upon.