Saturday, May 23, 2020

"The Story of the Music for Peter Gunn" as told by Henry Mancini, Gene Lees and John Caps

© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“Edwards stated for the record that he felt Mancini's scores were responsible for at least 50 percent of the show's success. Then, as now, that is a huge claim: that a mere background score should shoulder its way forward to such an impact. It was the fluency, the conversational naturalness, of Mancini's themes alongside the craft, color, and sheer "rightness" of his arrangements that struck listeners most about the Peter Gunn music, especially once that record album was released.” 
- John Caps, Henry Mancini …. Reinventing Film Music

A recent discussion on the subject of Peter Gunn on a West Coast Jazz chat group brought to mind this chapter on the subject in Henry Mancini [with Gene Lees] Did They Mention The Music [Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1989] and the relevant excerpts on the subject which follow it from John Caps, Henry Mancini …. Reinventing Film Music [Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2012].

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 Loews 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.”

Chapter 8 PETER GUNN in Henry Mancini [with Gene Lees] Did They Mention The Music [Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1989] 

“The days of the music department at Universal were almost over; indeed the days of Universal itself, as an old-line movie studio, were about finished. Unlike those at Warner Bros., who were deeply involved in television, the executives at Universal lacked foresight. Theaters around the country were closing as more and more television sets went into American homes. By order of the Supreme Court, the studios were no longer allowed to own theaters and had been stripped of guaranteed distribution for their pictures. Staff musicians earned an average of $300 or $400 a week, a lot of money at that time, which made the big studio orchestras difficult to justify and sustain. One by one they were dismissed. Finally, Universal was up for sale, and MCA bought it in 1957 and in time turned it into the biggest television factory in the world. MCA acquired it for a ridiculously low figure, something like $11 million, for its entire catalog of films, its physical plant, and all that back-lot real estate.

The whole studio system, and with it the star system, was coming to an end. The new films were being made by independents. The ax fell, as we knew it would. When the Universal orchestra's contract expired, it was not renewed. Along with Herman Stein, David Tamkin, Frank Skinner, Nick Nuzzi, and the copyists, I was given my notice. Our friendly little family of musicians was broken up.

At the time, I was working on a picture with Jimmy Cagney, Never Steal Anything Small, the last film I did there. I was making $350 a week and, with three children to care for and mortgage payments, we counted on it. When I told Ginny I'd lost my job, she was concerned. In later years she has said that the experience taught her never to fear the future. "One door closes, another opens," she says.

I had worked with Blake Edwards on three pictures. One was This Happy Feeling, with Debbie Reynolds. Another was Mister Cory, with Tony Curtis; it was about a professional gambler and had rumblings of what was to become the TV series "Mr. Lucky." Blake had written the screenplay. I didn't write the score for that picture, but as often happened when they needed music in a pop vein, I had been brought in for some source cues. The third picture I worked on with him was The Perfect Furlough with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh.

Blake began visiting movie sets as a little boy. His stepfather, Jack McEdward, was a motion-picture production manager, and Blake's father, J. Gordon Edwards, was a silent-film director. Blake started in radio, creating the "Richard Diamond, Private Detective" series as a vehicle for Dick Powell and writing some scripts for it. He also wrote for "The Line-Up" and "Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar." Dick Powell, who by then, along with others, had founded Four Star Productions, helped Blake break into television as a director.

Blake had even done a little acting. There was no aspect of the industry and its crafts he didn't understand, and if Universal was unaware of the impending impact of television, Blake had no such lack of vision. He even foresaw how well detective shows would do in the new medium.

Most of us ate lunch on the lot, because the commissary was so good; the chefs were excellent. The barbershop and a little candy shop were in a building near the commissary. Both buildings are gone. The Black Tower, as they call it — the big glass MCA-Universal office building — stands there now.

Though I was out of a job, I still had my pass to the studio. I went in one day not to work but to get a haircut and have lunch. After getting the haircut, I went out into the sunlight and encountered Blake, Don Sharpe, who had been the producer of "I Love Lucy," and some other men. They had just ended a meeting at which they'd been planning a thirty-minute television show.


Blake and I are contemporaries; he was then thirty-eight and I was thirty-six. He saw me as one of the younger people, and he was looking for something new for television. It's possible that he would have called on me anyway, but I don't think so. I believe he did what he did that morning purely on impulse, and I have often wondered what would have happened to me if I hadn't needed a haircut.

I said, "Hello, Blake."

He said, "Hello, Hank. How's Ginny?" He'd known her since the days of the Mel-Tones, when he was part of that young Hollywood group. I told him she was well, and he asked me to send his regards.

Blake is about five foot ten. Some Indian blood is apparent in his chiseled features, with strong cheekbones and jawline. He watches his weight, and he has always been lean. He has a back problem and is sometimes in great pain. He is deliberate in his movements and always very direct, not circumspect, always knowing where he is going. He wore his hair on the short side in those days. He has a bizarre sense of black humor. I think because of it his wife, Julie Andrews, calls him Blackie. That style of humor is prevalent in his pictures.

We stood there chatting for a few minutes, then Blake said, "Hey, would you be interested in doing a TV show for me?"

Not exactly overwhelmed with offers, I said, "Yes. What's the name of it?"

He said, "It's called Peter Gunn.'':

I asked, "What is it, a western?"

He laughed and said, "You'll see." We made an appointment.

Blake had set up a production company, Spartan Productions, in partnership with Don Sharpe. Don was a golden boy in those days, a master. If he wanted to do something, he got at least to make a pilot. In those days, you didn't have to audition if you had a sponsor. And he already had a sponsor for "Peter Gunn," Procter & Gamble. He had a commitment from them, their ad agency, and NBC for thirteen weeks; as it turned out, we did thirty-three episodes that first year.


Blake had cast Lola Albright for the role of Edie, Peter Gunn's girlfriend. Edie was to be a singer. Blake asked me to go over to Lola's house and set up a song for the pilot. We decided on the Rube Bloom-Johnny Mercer song "Day In—Day Out." She sang nicely, with a beat and good pitch. In the story, the girl was supposed to be a jazz singer, with a soft approach to a song. A belter would have been inappropriate to the part; Lola was perfect. We recorded her doing that song before shooting started.

One of Blake's great assets is his sense of the visual, including such details as how people should look in a part. Blake had picked Craig Stevens for the role of Peter Gunn, but he wasn't satisfied with the way he looked. Craig had a very full head of hair, but Blake had him get the short, neat haircut that became such a part of the character — and part of Craig, who still wears his hair that way. Blake perceived the character of Peter Gunn as being very different from the old style of movie private eye — the Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe type, the ruffled figure with the beat-up fedora. Peter Gunn was always well dressed; you almost never saw him without a jacket and tie.

I remember how Blake used that in one episode. Gunn gets waylaid by a street gang, falls down, and gets mud on his jacket. It struck me forcibly, and if it did that to me, it was certainly going to hit the public. It was the only time Peter Gunn was ever mussed.

Blake and I immediately established a comfortable working relationship, yet we rarely had meetings, even then. In our thirty years together I can remember few actual meetings, and usually they had to do with concepts of songs, planned in advance, as for Victor/Victoria and Darling Lili. In the pictures I scored for Blake, I would always let him hear the theme, and from then until the recording dates he always left the music entirely to me.

The idea of using jazz in the "Gunn" score was never even discussed. It was implicit in the story. Peter Gunn hangs out in a jazz roadhouse called Mother's — the name was Blake's way of tweaking the noses of the censors —  where there is a five-piece jazz group. In the pilot, five or six minutes took place in Mother's. That's a long time, so it was obvious that jazz had to be used.

It was the time of so-called cool West Coast jazz, with Shelly Manne, the Candoli brothers, and Shorty Rogers, among others. And that was the sound that came to me, the walking bass and drums. The "Peter Gunn" title theme actually derives more from rock and roll than from jazz. I used guitar and piano in unison, playing what is known in music as an “ostinato” which means obstinate. It was sustained throughout the piece, giving it a sinister effect, with some frightened saxophone sounds and some shouting brass.

The piece has one chord throughout and a super-simple top line. It has been played through the years by school marching bands as well as rock bands throughout the world. The synth group The Art of Noise had a major hit with it in 1987. Never has so much been made of so little.

The music budget for each segment of "Peter Gunn" was $2,000. That was for me, copying, and musicians. Musically in situations like that you fall back on your string section. I didn't have any money to buy a string section, so I was happy that a small jazz group could be used. The original orchestra was four woodwinds, four trombones, one trumpet, and five rhythm. At the same time, so small a band made me find different ways of producing tension and suspense.


That's when I started using bass flutes. The instrument was virtually unused at the time, and still isn't used much. The reason is simple: it has little power and doesn't project. You can use it only with microphones; it's impractical for a symphony orchestra. The first time I recall hearing a bass flute in film was in Alex North's score for Death of a Salesman. I knew what the sound was, and as a flute player I'd seen a few of the instruments. 

A man in Los Angeles named Ogilvie made bass flutes. Harry Klee, one of my fine flute players, owned one. Some of the other players acquired them, and I used three at first in the "Peter Gunn" music and four when another one became available. It was probably the first time a section of bass flutes had ever been used. I used them for a dark effect, sometimes writing a fall — a descending figure — at the end of a note, which gave a kind of paranoid effect. That sound, along with the walking bass, became one of the trademarks of the "Peter Gunn" music. Another was the use of free improvisation under dramatic scenes.

Several of the musicians I used had been with me with Tex Beneke, including Roily Bundock, bass; Jack Sperling, drums; Jimmy Priddy, trombone; and Pete Candoli, trumpet. My favorite trombonist, Dick Nash, joined the band. 

We used to record once a week, on Wednesday nights. Later, when Roily and Jack went to work on staff on "The Tonight Show," I replaced them with Shelly Manne on drums and Red Mitchell on bass. John Williams played piano the first year. When he left to pursue a brilliant career as a film composer and conductor, he was replaced by Jimmy Rowles.


It was unusual enough for movie-score albums to be released. Certainly no one thought of putting the music of a dramatic television show out on record. And "Peter Gunn" hadn't even gone on the air yet. When the pilot was completed, Blake took it to NBC. One of the people who heard it there was Alan Livingston, who had a background in the record business. He called Si Rady at RCA Records and told him he thought the company should consider releasing the score on record. By now we were in production, and we had a lot more music. Si Rady pointed out to me that Shorty Rogers, who was under contract to RCA, had a guaranteed sale of eighty thousand albums, which was big for jazz. If Shorty would record the music, Si said, we might have that kind of sale. I was pleased by the idea, and Si said he'd set up a meeting with Shorty.

Blake was friendly with Ray Anthony, who had just had a hit with the "Dragnet" theme. In keeping with the record-company mentality, it seemed logical to the people at Capitol that Ray should do the next detective-show theme that came along, and the "Gunn" theme was taken to him. He liked it. I asked Ray if he wanted me to do an arrangement on it for him, which I did. He had a big hit on that one too.

I had lunch with Shorty, a small, compact man with dark hair and a trim van dyke beard. He is a genuinely sweet man, very pure — pure of body, of heart, and of mind. He had seen the pilot. And immediately he said to me, "Hank, I have no reason to record this. It has no connection with me. You wrote it, you arranged it, and you should record it. This music is yours."

I said, "But, Shorty, I'm not a recording artist. I'm just a film writer, nobody knows who I am. You have a name." But he was adamant, and at the end of lunch he repeated, "It's your baby, and you should do it."

So Shorty Rogers became another of the people who represented a turning point in my life. I don't know what would have happened to my career if Shorty had decided that day to make the record.

RCA finally chose to record the "Gunn" music under my name, though not with what I would describe as burning enthusiasm. The best I can say for their attitude toward the project is that it was perfunctory. They did two things, the first of which no record man in his right mind would ever do. They signed me for one album only, with no options. The second tip-off to their attitude was the number of pressings. Furthermore! they didn't put out a single until long after Ray Anthony had the hit on the main theme.


"Peter Gunn" went on the air in September 1958. RCA had pressed only eight thousand copies of the album and had printed only eight thousand covers. When you had a hot record, the pressing plant could gear up to turn them out immediately. The problem was the covers — they took longer. And suddenly all hell broke loose. Within a week they had sold those eight thousand albums. RCA used to have stock covers, with abstract designs on the front, that could go on any record. And so the second pressing of The Music from "Peter Gunn" came out in those stock covers. They were running around like madmen at RCA, trying to keep up with the demand.

The album promptly became number 1 on the Billboard chart and held that position for ten weeks. And even when it dropped back a bit, it stayed on the charts for a total of 117 weeks, more than two years. In all, it sold more than a million copies, which was unprecedented for a jazz album. Since it was released under my name instead of Shorty Rogers’, suddenly out of nowhere, I was a successful recording artist. Almost overnight "Peter Gunn" put me in the public eye.

We were living in Northridge [a suburb NE of Los Angeles] when the "Peter Gunn" album hit. It was a neighborhood where the kids could play on the street and ride their bikes. They all knew each other. "Peter Gunn" aired on Monday evenings, and since it was not a particularly violent show, some kids were allowed to watch it. Many of them in our neighborhood knew the music.

I had several cartons of the albums lying around the house. Aside from an initial few, record companies do not give you copies of your albums. I'd bought these from RCA, probably for something like a dollar each. One day I happened to look out the window and saw our twins, Monica and Felice, not yet eight, doing business on the curb, selling the albums to their little neighborhood friends for a quarter apiece.


Because RCA didn't have a contract with me, I was able to negotiate very good terms on a three-year contract. We went back into the studio and recorded More Music from "Peter Gunn."

The television show was itself a huge hit, and I could see at least a couple of years' work ahead of me. Things were swinging. Blake was preparing to move from television into movies. He was already talking of doing Breakfast at Tiffany's and told me he wanted me for the score, I was getting other film offers, and my price was going up. Still, all these things were futures; I couldn't be sure about them.

Ginny and I had often talked about taking a trip to Europe. About the time I started working on "Peter Gunn," she said, "I don't want to talk about 'some day' any more. I want to book it, now. Even if we have to book it a long way in advance. I think you're going to get very busy, and we may not have a chance to go later." So we booked the trip, a year in advance. We saved our money carefully and managed to build up our bank account to about $6,000. We planned to blow it all, going first class all the way. We flew to New York and went over on one of the last crossings of the Liberte.

We docked at Southampton and went from there to London, which Ginny had loved since the time she had worked there with Betty Hutton at the Palladium. From there we flew to Paris. We traveled for about six weeks through France, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Denmark, and Sweden.

It was during that trip that I had the first notion of what the recording artist VIP treatment was like. When we left, the album was number 1 on all the charts. It was out in all the countries we visited and a big success everywhere, and it had achieved this on its own; the show had not yet been seen on European television. So in every city, Ginny and I were met by RCA people. They didn't really know who I was, but they knew something was happening, and we were treated graciously. We went to Rome, where we stayed in a hotel we loved, and then spent a week at the Carlton Hotel in Cannes, where we had — in spite of the week in Las Vegas when we were married — what seemed like our real honeymoon. From there we went to Spain, and then Scandinavia, and flew hack on SAS.

When we got home, our bank account contained less than $5.

By then Ginny was very involved with charity work for SHARE, which stands for Share Happily and Reap Endlessly, They were preparing to do a benefit. I was at home one day while she was rehearsing at the Coconut Grove. When the mail arrived, I began to open it, worried as usual about bills and money. I suppose my eyes went wide. I drove immediately to the Coconut Grove to show this thing to her. She tells me she can still see it in her mind.

It was the first royalty check on the "Peter Gunn" album — $32,000.

I was pleased to learn that I had been nominated for an Emmy for my work on the "Peter Gunn" show. Among other nominees, I was up against a terrific musical show, the first Fred Astaire special, which was directed by my close friend Bud Yorkin. I had high hopes, but I lost. The winner was David Rose.

Soon after that, I learned that I had been nominated for four Grammys for The Music from "Peter Gunn,” including Album of the Year. This was to be the first year of awards presented by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS). The record business had long been a pillar of the American entertainment industry, and many people felt that recognition should be given to worthy artists.

NARAS evolved from an initial meeting of five distinguished recording executives — Paul Weston, Lloyd Dunn, Sunny Burke, Jesse Kaye, and Dennis Farnon. Through their efforts many other people became involved, and the Academy was born in 1957, with Paul Weston as its first president.
That first year the award ceremony was a far cry from the star-filled media event that it has become. There was a dinner at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, akin to a large family gathering. The spirits were high and the atmosphere warm.

I don't think any of us knew what a Grammy looked like, nor could we have guessed what it would come to mean. Ginny and I were having dessert when I heard my name called. It was a winner for Best Arrangement —The Music from "Peter Gunn. " I accepted. As we were having coffee I heard my name again, this time announced by Peggy Lee. It was for The Music from "Peter Gunn," Album of the Year. And it had won against impressive competition: Ella Fitzgerald's The Irving Berlin Songbook, Frank Sinatra's Come Fly with Me, Frank Sinatra's Only the Lonely, and Van Cliburn's Piano Concerto in B-flat Minor,, Op. 23, by Tchaikovsky.

Call me Mr. Lucky.” 


Chapter 4 BIG SCREEN, LITTLE SCREEN in John Caps, Henry Mancini …. Reinventing Film Music [Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2012].

"For baby boomer Americans of the late 1950s, television was taking the place of an evening at the movies. Young families liked the idea of dialing in two or three TV stations and choosing their own entertainment without having to drive into town. And thus it was decreed that television would become the new assembly line of prepackaged film and entertainment products, albeit in the new short form of the TV series. How ironic, then, that the studio that copied its product line so shamelessly from the mainstream studios — sci-fi tales after Twentieth Century Fox's success, musicals after MGM, cheap horror films after its own early classics — should now become influential on the programming that this new medium of television began to produce. The Universal formula, not only the quick shooting/producing/ scoring of established genre films, but also their whole roster of familiar characters and plots, would become standard fare for TV through the 1960s. Francis the Talking Mule would become TV's Mr. Ed, a sarcastic talking horse in a modern suburban setting. Ma and Pa Kettle would translate into various shows from The Beverly Hillbillies, with a hayseed entering big city life, and Green Acres, with city folks adapting to the farm. Universal's various creature features became The Outer Limits, with silly costumed monsters and pseudo-scientific plots (with orchestral scores by Mancini's accordion player on Driftwood and Dreams, Dominic Frontiere). The beach musicals became teen series like Dobie Gillis or teen-centered family shows like Father Knows Best or The Donna Reed Show. All of those Universal westerns encouraged long-running TV series like Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, and Wyatt Earp. And it is likely that Universal's toothy tot Tim Hovey, especially as seen in Everything But the Truth, inspired Jerry Mathers as the similarly earnest kid Beaver Cleaver in TV's Leave It to Beaver. Notice, too, the similarities between Mancini's Toy Tiger theme for Hovey in The Private War of Major Benson and Dave Kahn's musical theme for "The Beaver" on weekly TV (For another Universal movie theme from those days that is even more like "The Beaver," check Mancini's main title music to Kelly and Me). The Universal music factory may have been closing, but its influence lived on.

Even so, Mancini was out of a job. Ginny was still working as a freelance studio singer around Hollywood, but the pay, if generous, was not continuous. Meanwhile, at home were six-year-old twins and an eight-year-old son. On the table were contracts for Mancini to arrange and conduct record albums, including two discs of Sousa marches. His career seemed to be headed away from films. 

But as Mancini tells it, fate intervened. Although he was no longer a staff composer at Universal, he still retained his studio pass, with which he could enter the movie lot, use the cafeteria, mingle informally with producers, and, on one important occasion, visit the studio barber shop. There in mid-1958 he would meet, from Ginny's wider circle of friends, the aforementioned Blake Edwards, who had just come from a meeting at which plans were solidified for a new TV series slated for September at NBC. When Edwards asked Mancini if he would be interested in composing the music for the new show, to be called Peter Gunn, he had in mind Mancini's arranging and producing the club music that would be needed in the series, because one of the recurring settings of the show would be a small jazz cafe. Mancini had previously given him the kind of soft big band style needed for the soundtrack of 1957's Mister Cory at Universal and some dance arrangements on two other films, so the casual attitude of Edwards's offer here is understandable. 


At first, with the word Gunn in its title, Mancini thought the series sounded like a western, but it was quickly explained how Peter Gunn was going to be a slick, easygoing, cool-to-danger, intriguing-to-the-ladies, private investigator; that each episode in the series was going to be sharply and stylishly shot like a mini-movie; and that each script would be crisp and modern. Down with the world-weary Phillip Marlowe/Humphrey Bogart detective antihero of the 1940s or the playboy private eye of the 1950s like Edwards's own "Richard Diamond" on radio. Gunn was just cool, and the music in the club he frequented (to be known slyly as "Mother's") should be West Coast Cool jazz.

Edwards, too, has recalled that initial meeting on the Universal lot outside the barbershop and has said there were never any discussions about dramatic scoring for the series at that time. Mancini, on the other hand, was already thinking along the same lines as his work for Orson Welles on Touch of Evil, where the music that was emanating naturally from the film's setting could be exploited and dynamically manipulated into service as a dramatic score. Mancini intuited that he could write for the five or six players who might be pictured in a club scene and bring that music forward sometimes to take on the responsibilities of narrative scoring, with extensions, digressions, builds, and climaxes that matched the action on screen. He would use jazz in a storytelling capacity. 

Edwards started to like the idea, and Mancini proposed that every thirty-minute episode of Peter Gunn should begin with the same chromatic walking bass figure to cover the one-minute teaser in which some robbery, killing, or con was depicted to set up that night's show. A deal was struck; Mancini once again had a job.


After each week's teaser, animated graphic lettering introducing Peter Gunn’s star, Craig Stevens, was accompanied by the most aggressive and pounding theme music TV had ever heard—music that had both the sophistication of jazz and the harshness, the drive, the audacity of rock 'n' roll. The "Peter Gunn Theme" opens with a steady-stomping ostinato in E minor for bass guitar that could be in any rock band, but then low piano notes double it, giving a jazzy quality. The entire piece keeps repeating that one E-minor chord, bluntly but knowingly, never modulating. The theme is so intentionally primitive that it really is more of a rock fanfare, (four trombones, four trumpets, four horns, and sax solo, augmented with piano and bass), always with that perpetual pounding rhythm underneath, just ripe for some high-flying powerful trumpet or sax to solo above. And each phrase of that theme ends with a quick "fall" — that is, the players are instructed to slur the last note downward, an old blues player's gesture used throughout the "Peter Gunn Theme" that lent a further contemporary streetwise sense to the ensemble playing. At home as well as in the studio offices, people sat up and heads were turned.

The other innovation in the scoring of Peter Gunn besides its raucous jazz-rock opening music and the use of cool jazz as a scoring element was the notion of giving every single weekly episode its own tailor-made score, not relying at all on some cache of library music to be tracked in by some music editor. Mancini scored each particular story as though it were a short film and, even though he returned to a few established themes, scored each show separately: hard rock/jazz during a tough fight scene; then a rich ballad if, say, a swanky downtown woman came into the club; then a bright, humorous piccolo piece as, for instance, in the clever syncopated circus march he wrote for a novelty episode in which Gunn has to babysit a trained seal that has swallowed a gutful of smuggled diamonds. And using all of his experience at Universal, Mancini was able to apply the same tricks of the trade to scoring transitional moments between scenes or to underline Gunn's dry banter with clients, villains, or police — all still within the jazz idiom (or because true jazz includes long flights of improvisatory playing that these scores did not have, we should rightfully call the Peter Gunn music jazz-pop: basically melodic pop music but with jazz inflections and harmonies).

Over the course of the series' 114 episodes, Mancini found a way to adjust to the needs of each plot. Sometimes a walking bass line alone would serve to unite a whole crime sequence no matter what instrumental solo or ensemble was presented on top of that — sometimes an original Mancini melody would introduce a featured character and then return in various places when the character recurred. And, of course, as with the Universal film scores, sometimes only brief transitional music stings were needed as bridges between scenes or to make way for the inevitable break for a commercial.


Usually an ensemble of twelve players was all the show's weekly music budget of two thousand dollars could tolerate. Later, as music became more famous in the series, the ensemble was expanded to five saxes, four winds, four trombones, and two trumpets, with drums, piano, vibes, and guitar as sidemen. And because Mancini had become astute at both dramatic shorthand from the Universal days and band blends from the Tex Beneke days, and because his players in the Peter Gunn ensemble were each band soloists in their own right, the music they played had a quick kick and confidence that propelled each episode, making viewers uncharacteristically aware of the role of music in the drama and, meanwhile, making Gunn seem even cooler than he was. 

Those players included a number of guys with whom Mancini had worked, and even bunked, in the army: bassist Roily Bundock, who had encouraged Ginny to pursue the bashful Henry back in the day; drummer Jack Sperling; trumpeter Pete Candoli and his brother Conte; and the Nash brothers — Ted, with his mellifluous saxophone style, and Dick, the smoothest of trombones. 

On special occasions Mancini brought in the more subtly shaded and studied drum work of Shelly Mamie. But everyone had his own band experience from the war years. For instance, Pete Candoli had been a veteran of both the Woody Herman and Stan Kenton bands. Other Hollywood studio men were added quickly — Larry Bunker on vibes and pianist John Williams, who was already a veteran playing on many film score sessions in "old Hollywood" for
the likes of Alfred Newman and Adolph Deutsch (Some Like It Hot] and who, flashing forward twenty years, would eventually become the most famous film composer in the world.

Edwards stated for the record that he felt Mancini's scores were responsible for at least 50 percent of the show's success. Then, as now, that is a huge claim: that a mere background score should shoulder its way forward to such an impact. It was the fluency, the conversational naturalness, of Mancini's themes alongside the craft, color, and sheer "rightness" of his arrangements that struck listeners most about the Peter Gunn music, especially once that record album was released. 

On disc the music took on a new life of its own. "The Floater," a carefree major-key stroll, which actually includes a happy finger-snap in the rhythm section, and "Brief and Breezy," a minor-key club tune in the same meter, both seem to proceed as easily and organically as a prose sentence. On the record album, the walking bass line that opened each episode was built into a big band wailer called "Fallout!" and "Sorta Blue," the ultimate high-hat-cymbal haiku, was a nod to the beat generation whose A-minor theme spanned a primitive interval of the minor seventh and whose bridge a detached minor fourth — yet all harmonized to sound so natural. To find such music first in a television drama soundtrack and then in a state-of-the-art stereo home-listening album seemed like a great gift to listeners after what we have characterized as those musically dry 1950s.

The best example of this music, perhaps, is the melody that came to be known as "Dreamsville." It was actually written for the Peter Gunn record album that would be released after the success of the series, but it soon was being quoted in an assortment of different TV episodes to become part of the Gunn ethos: they used it as a kind of recurring theme for Pete and girlfriend Edie Hart as a couple. It had the sentiment of pop and the cool of jazz — sinuous, lithe, soulful, and intelligent at the same time, passing through sixteen chord changes in its dreamlike midsection alone, but mainly swaying back and forth between a luxurious Cmaj chord and Gmin with an added C. Predicting in its way the whole lovely lyrical revolution of the 1960s, it is Mancini's first great melody.


Music from Peter Gunn became the number one album in the country on Billboard magazine's charts and stayed there for 10 weeks, remaining charted for 117 weeks in all. It lost the Emmy Award for best TV scoring but wowed the recording industry Grammy Awards by earning Mancini two of his twenty lifetime Grammys — one for best arrangement and one for the most-coveted recognition, album of the year. More than a million copies would be sold, and the change in Mancini's world would be felt almost immediately. He later wrote about that period of unemployment between the demise of the Universal music department and the start of Peter Gunn. Even once the new show started, he was still struggling to make ends meet. He well remembered having only five dollars in the family bank account on the very day that his first royalty check for the Peter Gunn album (representing a number of accumulated months' album sales) arrived in the mail. He drove over to where Ginny was doing her charity work and showed her the check — for thirty-two thousand dollars!

Out from under the benevolent control of the Universal music factory and at least a little more insulated from the discouraging undefined disapproval of his father, Mancini could start to make his own music, even if it was in service of someone else's TV shows. Listening to his musical evolution, beginning here in television and soon expanding (back) to the big screen, we can sense a new air of independence, relief, color, and even forgiveness in Mancini's music to come, a change that, again, serendipitously seems to match the growing optimism and expressivity of the young audiences for whom he was writing, the baby boomer generation and their short-lived but long-lasting Kennedy era.”


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