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Mancini Magic: An Interview with Ginny Mancini

Victor L. Schermer By

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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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