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Mancini Magic: An Interview with Ginny Mancini


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All too many of these young people have studied music all their lives, but they
Henry Mancini (1924-1994) was much more than one of the greatest songwriters of all time. He was—and will always be—a "sphere of influence." His music—from "Moon River" to "Days of Wine and Roses," "The Pink Panther," "Charade," and "Peter Gunn"—formed the backdrop for the lives and entertainment of several generations of Americans and the wide world beyond. His composing and arranging for the cinema and television became the "gold standard" for similar work. His devoted efforts as a conductor of the world's great orchestras and as a musical ambassador were an inspiration to countless numbers of musicians and music lovers alike.

Among his many interests, Mancini had a lifelong wish and mission to encourage aspiring musicians. The Henry Mancini Institute, conceived nine years ago by his friend Jack Elliott, and with the full support of Mancini's wife, Ginny (who is current president of the Board of Directors) and the Mancini family, came into being to fulfill this mission. Currently, it offers a yearly Summer Institute, outreach to schools, and various alumni musical projects. The unique emphasis of the Institute is the total professional development of the musician, combining such experiences as composing, arranging, and performing for motion pictures, jazz venues, chamber music, and other musical forms. In its emphasis on diversity, HMI thus complements the training young musicians receive in conservatories and classical institutes.

When Ginny Mancini became available for an interview, All About Jazz "seized the moment" and was excited to do it. AAJ shares the Mancini Institute's commitment to furthering the cause of talented young musicians. We want our readers to know about the unique opportunities for learning offered by the Institute. What follows is an opportunity to find out about it first hand from the woman who knew, loved, and accompanied Mancini throughout his entire career, and who today is dedicated to promoting his legacy.

In addition to discussing the Institute, Ginny was kind enough to reminisce with us about her husband, their marriage, and some of their wonderful circle of friends, many of whom are household names of the music world, motion pictures, and the arts.

The interview was conducted by telephone on February 20, 2005, when Ginny was in New York to attend performances by the Mancini Institute Alumni Big Band at the new Lincoln Center Jazz facilities.

About The Mancini Institute
About Henry and Ginny Mancini

About The Mancini Institute

AAJ: How's it going in New York with the Alumni Concert and so on?

GM: It's just been so exciting. I'm sure you can tell that I'm in a very "up" mode.

AAJ: Terrific. We'll talk more about the Lincoln Center event. But first, can you give us a rundown on the Mancini Institute itself? What's its purpose? How did it begin? And what are its chief current activities?

GM: I'm happy to tell you about the Henry Mancini Institute because it's such a unique and wonderful educational program. It was founded by Jack Elliott, who was a major force in the music world. He had this idea about a summer institute unlike any others. There are other wonderful summer institutes like Aspen, Tanglewood, Ravinia, Interlaken. But they are geared toward classical music. The Mancini Institute gives classically trained musicians a chance to expand their musical worlds. It's such fun to see people discover what they can do in another genre of music. Jack founded it, and I gave him my blessing because it certainly stands for everything that Henry Mancini was all about. Henry was so versatile, and he was such a good mentor to young people. He would open doors and show them the way to go.

AAJ: It's relatively young isn't it? How long has HMI been in existence?

GM: I'm excited that we are entering our ninth year now, and one of the wonderful things that happened is that the Alumni are going to be playing at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center tomorrow, and now, as we speak, they're rehearsing at the Manhattan School of Music, while at the same time, this years' applicants are auditioning for admission to the Institute. So, the word is out that it's a great opportunity for somebody who wants to make a life in music, because it covers all musical genres.

AAJ: What's the special "something" the Institute has to offer?

GM: You have to be good to get in, but once you do, you're shown the way to be a professional and know everything about the business, the right contacts, for example. It's just a wonderful thing to see it change and alter people's lives at a critical juncture. All too many of these young people have studied music all their lives, but they're about ready to give it up because they ask, well, what's in it for me? Where am I going with this? But, boy, at the Institute, they find out that there are ways to make the career happen! It's a beautiful program, and we're meant to nurture the future of music by providing professional training.

AAJ: On a very practical level, when the selected musicians come to LA for the Summer Institute, do they stay in a dormitory?

GM: Yes. All they have to do is get themselves to UCLA, and for four weeks we put them up in beautiful dormitories on the UCLA campus. Their various activities and master classes are all in the Schoenberg Building at UCLA. We also give eight free concerts during those four weeks—throughout Southern California.

AAJ: Do students get a full scholarship, or do they have to cover their expenses?

GM: Full scholarship. We're competing with Institutes that have been in business for half a century, many of them. We're young and eager, and we know how important what we're doing is.

AAJ: Does the film industry contribute to your funding?

GM: We have not gone to them yet. But we have a strategy in place to go to the film industry. The film industry and the recording industry have not been all that generous in what we do. We have to try to change that. And we are going to reach out to the film studios.

AAJ: Do you offer programs in addition to the summer training?

GM: We also have a wonderful outreach program that goes into the schools. We partner with the Los Angeles Unified School District. We're seeking funds to branch out to other cities. I'm so happy that we have a presence in New York now, and maybe this is a beginning to expanding the Henry Mancini Institute world wide.

Songwriter Michel Legrand, Henry Mancini Institute Artistic Director Patrick Williams and Producer Phil Ramone attend the first New York performance of the Henry Mancini Institute Alumni Big Band at Dizzy's Coca Cola Club, Jazz At Lincoln Center February 21, 2004 in New York City

AAJ: What about the faculty?

GM: We have a renowned faculty—classical, jazz. We do chamber music. We do jazz chamber music. Our faculty represents the best. We have Doc Severinsen on our faculty. Gunther Schuller. Christian McBride. In the past, our faculty included the late screen composers Elmer Bernstein and Jerry Goldsmith. There's our wonderful artistic director, Patrick Williams with his fourteen Grammy nominations and Pulitzer Prize in Music. We have the best in the business doing the training.

AAJ: When folks come to the Institute, do they study their instrument, arranging, composing?

GM: The players have mastered their instrument. What they are going to get is hands on training in a studio scoring stage where the red light goes on and they record "Raiders of the Lost Ark," scenes of that nature. And they have to cut it. So they learn what being a pro is about, at least in the TV and film studio system.

AAJ: So they're learning performance skills as well as composing and arranging.

GM: Yes. I'll tell you, in order to be a working musician today, you have to cut anything that's put in front of you. You have to be able to play rock, Stravinsky, jazz. Doc Severinsen conducts symphony orchestras all over the world, and he said, "You know, you're going to be a much better symphonic player if you know how to play jazz. It's something internal that you are taught. It's very subtle, but it makes a big difference when you're contracted for a record date, or motion picture scoring session. You have to be able to play anything that's put in front of you." And that's what the Mancini Institute does for a good player and composer.

AAJ: And there is a lot more crossover between classical and jazz today.

GM: Oh, there has to be! Because we need younger audiences in the concert halls, and we need to offer them something new and different, combined with the great classics.

AAJ: I recently reviewed a performance of Dave Brubeck's "Hold Fast to Dreams," a choral piece that includes a jazz quartet.

GM: Yes. Look at all the wonderful things that Bobby McFerrin is doing with symphonic music and jazz.

AAJ: So students at the Mancini Institute would get the kind of training and exposure that would help them cross that bridge?

GM: That's what it's all about.

AAJ: And what about an aspiring jazz musician who wants to increase his or her skills? Is that also possible at the Institute?

GM: Absolutely. Three of our alumni have flown to New York at their own expense just to have the experience of playing at Jazz at Lincoln Center tomorrow night. That's how much they think of the opportunities that have been opened up for them. They network, and pretty soon a contractor will have heard about this young jazz trumpet player or saxophonist or whatever. And they thus become—not always stars—but professional working musicians who enjoy a life in music.

AAJ: Tell us a bit more about the alumni and the Institute.

GM: They find opportunities to combine with each other, and form different kinds of groups. They hire themselves out. We get calls all the time from people who are having an event, and we supply them with a string quartet, a brass quintet, a big band, chamber, whatever people want for an event.

AAJ: A propos of that, quite a few aspiring as well as experienced musicians visit our website, and some contribute to it. They'll be excited to learn about these resources for career development.

GM: That's great!

AAJ: Networking will interest many musicians, but some who are reading this interview will be asking themselves, what can the Mancini Institute do for me?" or my students—in terms of the educational piece? What is the curriculum?

GM: Well, for starters, the best thing they can do is to visit our website. That's the way to find out all the information, and they can get all the materials they would need to apply.

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About Henry and Ginny Mancini

AAJ: OK. Let's talk about the great Henry Mancini.

GM: That's easy. He was great, not only as a musician, but just the greatest human being. I've never known anyone quite like Henry, whose temperament was so gentle. He was a gentle giant.

AAJ: He came from a small town in Pennsylvania, correct?

GM: West Aliquippa, PA. That whole Beaver Valley area just died when the steel industry tanked. The town he grew up in was a dead town, and in the adjoining town, Midland, PA, another steel mill closed. All of a sudden, not long ago, a wonderful school superintendent decided to change it all through the arts. He got people in Beaver Valley to buy into the concept of building a charter school for the arts, that any kid in the valley could come to—in Midland itself. Alongside the charter school, there's going to be a Mancini Arts Academy. It's made the whole town come alive through the arts. It's provided jobs, there's life in the town again. I just signed a proclamation with Henry Steinway, of the Steinway Piano Company, whereby the Mancini Arts Academy would be the fiftieth All-Steinway school in the world!

AAJ: Congratulations!

GM: Getting back to the man, I was married to him for forty-seven incredibly wonderful years and was in on the birth of so much beautiful music that will last long after we're gone. Every time I go shopping at a market, and a song of Henry's comes on, I think, "God, that is so cool!"

AAJ: Do you have one or two of your own Mancini favorites?

GM: I always revert to "Two for the Road." Not only is it a beautiful, haunting melody, but Leslie Bricuse's lyrics kind of tell the story of what Hank and I were about as a couple. I think it's a lovely song, and that it would probably be his favorite of all the standards that he wrote.

AAJ: Did he have particular sources of inspiration? What was his "muse" like?

GM: He never just sat down at the piano to write music. He loved to write music on assignment. His greatest thrill was to write music to the visual image on the screen. He also loved to conduct concerts with symphony orchestras all over the world. That's why he was so beloved by the public, because he touched them and impacted their lives at one juncture or another. So many people have come to me and said, "O my gosh, our first dance was to 'Moon River.'" "I cry every time I see 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'"?"it goes on and on.

AAJ: He's part of our lives, much more than a writer of songs.

GM: He put out a product that is woven into the tapestry of the lives of our generation. And I have to tell you that I just okayed a rap version of "The Pink Panther!" by the Yin Yang Twins. I have to tell you that the Mancini family covets the music and would never license it to anything that wasn't terrific. They came up with a rap lyric that is so cool, and I think it's gonna turn on a whole young generation of rappers to "The Pink Panther."

AAJ: A friend of mine considers Eminem the greatest musician of all time.

GM: Let me tell you what else. Eminem is going to do a rap version based on "Peter Gunn" in the new movie, "The Longest Yard." They've remade the movie, and Eminem is doing the music.

AAJ: It's an amazing world. As for me, I go back a long way, and I'm into traditional jazz. For the interview, I did some research and noted a connection between Henry Mancini and Billy Strayhorn—I think they were both around the Pittsburgh area at the same time. I also noted that the lyricist for "Moon River" was Johnny Mercer. Can you tell us more about Mr. Mancini's connection with each of these great ones.

GM: I don't think that Henry ever knew Billy Strayhorn. He may have, but certainly was a fan of his. I think they were all there in Pittsburgh trying to find their way together at that time. As a matter of fact, tomorrow night, our band is going to play the Billy Strayhorn arrangement of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." An incredible chart. So, Billy Strayhorn lives.

AAJ: That should be recorded!

GM: Well, I think Wynton Marsalis' Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra did record it.

AAJ: I gather that Henry Mancini was a very social person.

GM: When we were first married, he was extremely shy. I remember that when his first started to conduct on stage, he was almost too timid, but he certainly outgrew that and became a real performer.

AAJ: You yourself were once a vocalist with Mel Torme?

GM: Yes, I was one of the "Meltones" for three years when Mel was starting out and we were all still in our teens. It was a wonderful three years. I adored him, and miss him a lot. I had contact with him over the years until he died. Mel was a great force in my life and certainly led me on the path of music. When he was advised by his agent to focus on his movie roles, the vocal group was about to disband, and Henry had joined the Tex Beneke band when Tex took over for Glenn Miller. On their trip to California, the vocal group that had been with the band decided to make their fortune in Hollywood and left the band there. I went to an audition, and who was playing at the audition but this young, handsome, and talented Italian guy named Henry Mancini? As luck would have it, I got hired, and the rest is history.

AAJ: Your marriage sounds like a dream relationship.

GM: It was a marriage made in heaven, that's for sure. We were very young when we got married, but we seemed to be going in the same direction, and always found ourselves on the same page. We both wanted that, and it worked out great.

AAJ: Do you think it was just a good match, or do you have advice you'd give to married couples?

GM: I think you have to want it. It's not really realistic to expect one person to fulfill all of your needs for a lifetime. When they used to say, "'til death do us part," people died at forty or forty-five. It wasn't a big deal. People are living twice as long now. I think it's really fortunate when people are first married and still on the same page and still cooking with each other—but it's rare for it to last that way—you have to really want it.

AAJ: What drives you to do all your work advancing various causes?

GM: I think what drives me is the desire to give back. I've been so fortunate. I don't think in my lifetime I will have to worry about too many things. And I think that I have an obligation to give back, and certainly I have an obligation to keep Henry alive. And I'm doing that through the Henry Mancini Institute. I'm trying very hard to keep it alive—it takes money, and so I'm "working the room," as they say. Never thought I'd be working so hard at this stage of my life, but I have to do it! That's what drives me.

AAJ: It must be very fulfilling to meet the young musicians, and experience the performances and the progress.

GM: It's just great to really hob-nob with really talented people, good people who also understand about giving back—that whole concept.

AAJ: How about if we close the interview with some fun? I found a passage on the cover of the album, Martinis with Mancini—it's very lighthearted. I'll read parts of it, and you can respond with whatever comes to mind. First, it says that you "were dressed like Mary Tyler Moore with a pedal pusher's flip [laughter!]" What does that mean?

GM: Well, in fashion, there was a time when pedal pushers were in fashion. They were not long pants. They were not culottes or Capri pants, they were pedal pushers, and they came to a certain height on your leg. And I guess MTM wore them on her series.

AAJ: It says that you "were part of the original jet set, traveling to Rio with Jacques Brel one month and to Rome with Peter Sellers the next." Then it goes on, "Mancini and Sellers reportedly did a silly impromptu ballet together on the Spanish Steps."

GM: Yes, they did. They were a couple of rowdy boys. Too much vino. But that was one of the beautiful things about Hank. He never lost sight of the little boy in him. And that was one of his best qualities.

AAJ: Was he close to Peter Sellers?

GM: He was, for a time, yes.

AAJ: The liner notes say, "When Henry threw a party, he threw it far and wide. The famous Mancini shindigs were frequented by such personalities as Sammy Davis, Jr., Doris Day, Mel Torme, Sean Connery, and Jimmy Stewart." Also mentioned are Andre Previn, Michel Legrand, George Shearing, Paul Newman.

GM: You name them—they came through our living room. We cast some wonderful parties that were special musical evenings. Such a treat to have Andre Previn or George Shearing sit down at the piano. I remember one time after George had played a performance, we all came back to the house, and George sat down at the piano and sang "I Remember Sky." I hadn't heard that song before—it was written by Sondheim. And the lyrics depicted watching snow come down out of the sky. And these little white snowflakes would come down, and... this is being sung by a blind man who'd never seen this. I started to cry. When he finished, I said, "George, I don't even know that song." He said, "Stephen Sondheim wrote it." I said, "Would you record that on a cassette and send it to me"? A year would go by, and I'd remind him, and another year. Ironically, the cassette of Shearing singing "I Remember Sky" arrived on the day that Henry died. Of course, I didn't listen to it that day, but a few days went by and I put it on. It's one of my treasures, still.

And then to have Lalo Schiffrin come in and start playing. And then one time at a party, I passed out percussion instruments to everyone, a triangle, pots and pans, and Lalo at the piano, and everybody was just samba-ing all over my house banging on something. It was really great.

AAJ: I can't imagine what it must have been like having parties with Previn, Shearing, Legrand, Schiffrin taking turns at the piano.

GM: Wonderful, wonderful times.

AAJ: I saw Shearing just a few years ago at the Blue Note in New York. What a beautiful musician and what a wonderful human being. Did he ever record that song, "I Remember Sky"?

GM: No. To my knowledge, he didn't. He didn't sing much—but that one was quite something.

AAJ: I feel we could go on talking forever.

GM: Well, maybe we'll do another one at some point. And I can fill you in on how the Mancini Institute is coming along.

AAJ: Let's do it.

GM: And please remind your readers to look into our website.

AAJ: Especially, you young musicians and teachers out there—look into the Mancini Institute. They have much to offer.

GM: Thanks so much for this opportunity—and I hope we speak again soon.

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Visit the Henry Mancini Institute on the web.

Color Photo Credit
Matthew Peyton

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