ITEMS BY THE WEBMASTER: My Favorite Composer (Essay)

Henry Mancini, late 1980s.


My favorite composer is someone with whom the general public is very familiar, yet I would venture a guess that many of the same people would not feel the connection to him that I personally do.

My love for Henry Mancini's music began in 1959 when I was six years old. My mother, also a musician, had special ordered a long-play record at the local J.C. Penney department store which was then located in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. I remember going with her to pick up the record when she was notified that it was in stock. The album turned out to be "Music from Mr. Lucky" by Henry Mancini, an RCA "Living Stereo" title. It was an album full of masterful and creative instrumentals that accompanied the action in the classic television show "Mr. Lucky". Though I was too young to remember any of the television show, I never forgot that music. My mother played the album during the day and I got to know it quite well.

As I grew older, I began to express an interest in being a musician myself. I was and always will be a drummer at heart, but when I reached high school I had to take up an instrument that was needed--and all the trombonists were graduating. Thus began my interest in the brass instruments, and in the trombone in particular. You can imagine my surprise and utter delight, when I learned that one of the featured pieces the concert band was to perform was a suite from "Mr. Lucky" in the spring musicale of 1968! I remember running home that day after band practice and being so out of breath that I could hardly tell my mother the news; I was so elated to be actually playing this music I had listened to for many years. But that was only the beginning of my connection to Mr. Mancini...

Once I graduated from high school in 1971, I began frequenting what was then a Sam Goody record store in downtown Philadelphia, as well as the record department in the former John Wanamaker department store. Both these stores had excellent selections of Mr. Mancini's work and I acquainted myself with his other numerous scores for film and television. Soon my collection of Mancini LPs was reaching over 20 in number. And I still had that original Mr. Lucky album as well, though I had replaced playing it with a brand new one.

The mid-1980s saw Henry's work begin to be available on compact disc format, and I was elated once again. Some of my records were so worn that they didn't sound well when being played anymore, and I was very anxious to have this music in a form that would be free of LP surface noise. I was also using my tape recorder to tape his many television themes of that time that were not yet available in prerecorded form.

The late 1980s brought an unexpected treat for me; I was taking a vacation trip to California and was surprised by receiving concert tickets to the Hollywood Bowl to see "An Evening with Henry Mancini". From where I was sitting, he was no bigger than a straight pin, but I was happy nonetheless that I could actually be in his presence and watch him conduct the musicians who brought his music to life. It was a very special evening.

The remainder of the decade brought a television special to PBS called Mancini and Friends in 1988, which I still have on video tape (although its quality is degrading with time). It also brought a special appearance by Hank to visit Marian McPartland's "Piano Jazz" on NPR radio, which was originally broadcast in 1985, then rebroadcast several years later. I continued to buy new CD releases as they were released.

In the 1990s, the book "Did They Mention the Music?" became available--and this was priority reading for me. It is a very enjoyable biographical work that explains how all the popular tunes we've come to know that are Mancini standards were written and also how the complete film scores evolved--as well as the interesting story of how Hank found work in Hollywood in the first place.

There was a brief period in the early 1990s where I had the time, money, and energy available to restudy music seriously--including trombone lessons, which were something I had not had in fifteen years. Amazingly, things picked up pretty much where I had left off, I even was successful in auditioning for the music department at the local university where I was working as a word processor, and in selecting some sheet music one day, I came across Mancini's "Sounds and Scores" book, which is a book and tape set that explains many of his musical writing styles and gives examples of each. I was totally fascinated with this book and even played along with the recording on the excerpts that had trombone parts illustrated. I also picked up one of Henry's piano songbooks even though I was never a keyboardist--because I wanted to look at the structure of the music as it was laid out in manuscript form.

I had a sudden unexplainable inclination in 1994 to unpack my turntable (which by then had not been in use for some years) as well as many of my Mancini LPs. Many of those albums were still not released in CD format, and I wanted to make fresh audio tapes of them. I really, really enjoyed listening to the music that day (even more so than usual), and it was the very next day I learned that Henry Mancini had died--precisely at the time when I got the urge to listen to those old LPs.  Isn't that interesting?!

That Mr. Mancini has had a profound influence on my own musical tastes is without question.  He was the very first contemporary musician to whom I was formally introduced - through his recordings.  His early works for television were the start of what would be my own record collection way back when.  His music caused me to experience feelings which even today--are still totally overwhelming to me in their intensity.  Following his music through four decades, Henry Mancini remains one of the carefully chosen musicians for whom I elected to build a discography - because he is a superb composer of television and film music.

--B.J. Major, Webmaster
Spring 2000.
Amended/edited by the author 5/18/06.


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