Thursday, April 23, 2015

Shelly Manne and His Men Play Peter Gunn

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


The following posting is brimming with nostalgia.

It begins with my fondness for anything and everything to do with Henry “Hank” Mancini’s music for the Peter Gunn TV show which premiered on September 22, 1958.

The show was broadcast in 38 half-hour episodes from 9:00 to 9:30 PM Monday nights on NBC-TV from 1958-1961.

It starred Craig Stevens as private investigator Peter Gunn, Lola Albright as his girl, Edie Hart,  Herschel Bernardi as Lt. Jacoby and Hope Emerson as Mother, at whose nightclub Edie sings. The program was created and  directed by Blake Edwards. Henry Mancini was its Musical Director. The Executive Producer was Gordon Oliver; the sponsor was Bristol-Myers; and filming was done at Universal-International Studios in Hollywood.

Aside from the actual soundtrack from the series which Hank recorded for RCA, I’ve always particularly enjoyed the version of the music that drummer Shelly Manne recorded for Lester Koenig’s Contemporary Records - Shelly Manne and His Men Play Peter Gunn [C-7560; OJCCD 946-2].

The salubrious working relationship that Lester had with Shelly resulted in a number of sterling Contemporary recordings by Manne’s quintet on Koenig’s label. The mutual respect that the two had for one another was something to behold.

Lester had always wanted to own and operate his own Jazz label and Shelly had always wanted his bands to have a “home base” where they were free to record their interpretations of Jazz [this desire for a “home base” also manifested itself in Shelly’s opening his own Jazz club in Hollywood, CA in 1960 - The Manne Hole].

Looks like they both got their wishes thanks to the affinity they had for one another’s quests.

Lester Koenig offers more information about how this recording came about in the following insert notes.

And talk about nostalgia - be sure and check out the events that Lester describes following his statement that “Jazz has taken an increasing part in the everyday living of the nation, ….”

Would that it were so some 60+ years later!


“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).

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.


Although Hank Mancini is only 34, he has almost twenty years of experience behind him — so that when the opportunity arrived to compose the Gunn scores with no "upstairs" interference, he was technically equipped. He was born in Cleveland, raised in West Aliquippa, Pennsylvania (near Pittsburgh); his father was a flutist and Hank studied flute from the time he was eight. As a teenager he studied arranging with Max Atkins who led the pit band in the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh. Atkins was a friend of Benny Goodman, and gave BG one of Hank's arrangements. BG liked it, sent for him (those were the days when Benny created mass hysteria at the New York Paramount Theater), and commissioned several arrangements. But, at seventeen, Hank felt he wasn't really ready, and spent the next year studying at Juilliard. The war interrupted that; Hank was in the Army, and saw service overseas. On his return he joined Tex Beneke's band for a year as pianist and arranger. In 1947 he came to Hollywood, where it took him five years before he came close to his goal of writing for films. "I was starving," he recalls, "until one day I got a call from UI [Universal-International] for an Abbott and Costello picture — about two weeks work. I stayed six years—and composed for everything from A&C Orson Welles' A Touch of Evil." Among his many credits are The Benny Goodman Story, and The Glenn Miller Story. He also scored Voice in the Mirror and other dramatic pictures.

By the time Hank was called to do Peter Gunn, he was ready. For years he had felt jazz would be tremendously effective in film scoring, but never had the opportunity to try it. With Peter Gunn he had freedom to go all out, and the program's instant popularity proved his point.

In Shelly Manne, Mancini has an ideal interpreter for the Peter Gunn music. In recent years Manne's talent has matured, and developed so that today he is recognized as the most melodic and inventive of drummers, as well as one of the great swinging drummers of jazz history. For the past three years he has won first place in all three major jazz popularity polls — Playboy, Down Beat, and Metronome.

When Shelly and Mancini discussed the recording of this album, Mancini urged him to feel free to use the compositions as points of departure for creating personal jazz performances.

The album was done at one all night session which began at 6 Monday evening January 19th, with "Peter Gunn," and finished at 7:30 the next morning with "Fallout." Improvisation with six men is not easy. It takes musicians who are experienced and skilled, as well as great jazz players.”

The following video features Shelly’s group stretching out on Brief and Breezy.


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