Composer Henry Mancini (1924 - 1994) practically wrote the soundtrack to the cocktail culture of the late fifties and early sixties. The witty, moody themes he created for films and TV ( Mr. Lucky , Hatari! , Experiment in Terror , Charade , A Shot In The Dark , The Pink Panther , The Thorn Birds and Newhart ) often stayed with television viewers well after the shows he scored faded from their memory. During his two decades with RCA Records, Mancini's suave music was even fashioned into dance-band fodder for the adult crowd. So, true as it is, Mancini's music was as lounge as it gets.
But Mr. Mancini's mix-and-mingle musicianship tended to overshadow his jazz sensibilities. Mancini the composer started his musical career writing arrangements for Benny Goodman in the 1940s. He then single-handedly introduced jazz to television audiences in 1958 with his innovative music to Peter Gunn. Mancini frequently recorded in jazz contexts too ( The Blues And The Beat, the excellent Combo! and Mancini 67 ). Moreover, Mancini always employed L.A.'s best jazzmen for studio and soundtrack recordings, keeping them well fed while enabling them to keep their "serious jazz" credentials in check playing Hollywood's clubs at night.
Jazz has always loved Mancini too. Countless covers of "Days of Wine and Roses," "Dreamsville" and "Moon River" were immortalized by jazz legends over the years. In this past year alone, full-disc jazz tributes to Mancini were released by Dave Grusin, James Moody, Joe Locke and the Oranj Symphonette.
Martinis With Mancini is a shrewdly conceived collection that contains plenty of value for jazz listeners. West Coast legends featured here include Art Pepper, Pete Candoli, Paul Horn, Plas "The Pink Panther" Johnson, Victor Feldman, Jimmy Rowles, Laurindo Almeida and Shelly Manne. This hour-long selection ofmood jazzwisely avoids Mancini's often campy vocal material and favors that brief period (1958-1967) which yielded the composer's biggest hits and, ironically, his most significantly jazz-informed music.
This compilation also smartly avoids such overplayed 'hits' as "The Pink Panther," "Baby Elephant Walk" and "Days Of Wine And Roses." This allows the listener to hear the quality of Mancini's conceptions. His compositions are almost always clever; but the delicate and evocative intricacy with which he scores each of these tunes should give rise to his stature as a gifted arranger as well.
So often Mancini simply states a well-devised theme. Then, in under three and a half minutes, he elicits stately, economical improvisation from his talented soloists. The overall flavor is lightly Latin and Mancini spices each dish with a variety of well-programmed percussion touches. Highlights include the groove of the catchy "Your Father's Feathers;" the swinging "Everybody Blow!," featuring Larry Bunker's vibes, Bob Bain's guitar and Dick Nash's trombone (and beautiful alto work from either Art Pepper or Ted Nash's); the hard cooking "Odd Ball," which alternates excellent spots for vibes, trumpet and flute; the Shearing-goes-Latin of "Brief and Breezy,"also featuring Larry Bunker's vibes, Bob Bain's guitar and John ( Star Wars ) Williams's piano.
All in all, this is a remarkably well-chosen collection of Mr. Mancini's music, lovingly compiled by Janet Grey (though I personally would have included the haunting "Lujohn" from Mr. Lucky Goes Latin and added every single song from Combo! as a bonus disc!). And given the near-decade span of time and the variety of recordings these tunes were culled from, Martinis With Mancini really is considerably cohesive too. It makes a fine choice for sparkling background music and an engaging listen for jazz lovers who like hearing talented musicians exploring the moodier side of Latin jazz. It makes an ideal introduction to Henry Mancini's music too.
Tracks:"Brief and Breezy" from Peter Gunn (9/4/58); "Odd Ball" from More Music From Peter Gunn (3/5/59); "Bijou" from The Mancini Touch (8/10/59); "Lightly Latin" from Mr. Lucky (12/17/59); "The Beat" from The Blues And The Beat (2/29/60); "The Old College Try Cha Cha" from High Time (6/12/60); "Playboy's Theme" and "Everybody Blow!" from Combo! (6/14-21/60); "Raindrops in Rio," "Mr. Lucky (Goes Latin)" and "No-Cal Sugar Loaf" from Mr. Lucky Goes Latin (1/10-12/61); "Moon River Cha Cha" and "Loose Caboose" from Breakfast At Tiffany's (4/20/61); "Your Father's Feathers" from Hatari! (12/5/61); "Mambo Parisienne" and "Megeve" from Charade (7/2/63); "Something For Sellers" and "It Had Better Be Tonight (Instrumental)" from The Pink Panther (9/16/63); "Something Loose" and "The Chaser" from Two For The Road (2/14/67).
Collective Personnel Includes:Pete Candoli, Conrad Gozzo, Frank Beach, Graham Young: trumpet; Dick Nash, Milt Bernhardt, Jimmy Priddy, John Halliburton, Karl DeKarske, Hoyt Bohannon, Sinclair Lott: trombone; Vincent DeRosa, John Cave, Richard Perissi, John Graas,Herman Lebow, George Price: french horn; Paul Horn, Gene Cipriano, Wilbur Schwartz, Harry Klee: woodwinds; Art Pepper: clarinet, alto sax; Plas Johnson: tenor sax; Ted Nash: alto sax; Ronnie Lang: baritone sax; Larry Bunker, Victor Feldman: vibes; John Williams, Jimmy Rowles: piano; Bobby Hammock: organ; Bob Bain, Laurindo Almeida: guitar; Rolly Bundock, Joe Mondragon: bass; Jack Sperling, Shelly Manne: drums; Ramon Riviera, Frank Flynn, Larry Bunker, Milt Holland: percussion.