The eventful career of Johnny Mandel is grounded by a thorough background in music that has resulted in his being acclaimed in the pantheon of American composers, arrangers, record producers and songwriters. His is a career that has had both duration and substance and continues to flourish.
He was born in New York City. At the age of 12, he was playing the trumpet and beginning to write big band arrangements. After graduating from New York Military Academy, where he had received a band scholarship, he immediately went on the road working in the Catskill Mountains at various resort hotels. He then joined the orchestra of the legendary violinist Joe Venuti. He was also a member of the Henry Jerome Orchestra at Child's Paramount Restaurant in Times Square during 1945.
At 19, he was playing trombone and writing arrangements for the revolutionary Boyd Rayburn Orchestra and soon after, the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra. This was followed by stints with Buddy Rich's first band (as well as Rich's 1947 and 1948 bands), the Georgie Auld Orchestra, and Alvino Rey's band, all in 1946. His first important arrangement was written in 1948 when he wrote the classic big band composition for Woody Herman, Not Really the Blues. He also wrote for Artie Shaw and his only bebop-oriented orchestra, which was recently showcased in the MusicMasters album 1949.
Around this time, Johnny attended Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music in order to study symphonic forms and how to write for the symphony orchestra. These studies were later continued with Stephan Volpe in New York and subsequently with George Tremblay in Los Angeles.