This article has been a long time coming. No, I am not referring to the undeniable fact that it has been three weeks since I last published a review here. I am referring to the fact that I have been in love with this man’s music since I was a teenager.
Henry Mancini was, to say the least, one of the most prolific composers of TV and movie scores ever. He was born in Cleveland, Ohio on April 16, 1924 and died in Beverly Hills, California on June 14, 1994. Over a period of four decades, he had the kind of career most musicians and composers can only dream of. He won no less than 20 Grammys and 4 Oscars.
A short list of some of his many memorable TV & movie scores:
Days Of Wine And Roses
Two For The Road
Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation
Experiment In Terror
The Pink Panther
Breakfast At Tiffany’s
Popular songs he wrote, other than TV/move themes:
Baby Elephant Walk
A few weeks ago (on May 7, to be precise) I wrote about a Dave Brubeck Quartet album from 1964 titled, “Jazz Impressions of New York,” which consists of music Brubeck wrote for an obscure TV series that was killed after less than one year, “Mister Broadway.” The star of “Mister Broadway” was the tall, square-jawed, good-looking actor, Craig Stevens. Prior to his stint on “Mister Broadway,” Stevens had starred in the title role in a more popular (and better-remembered) show called “Peter Gunn.”
I don’t recall ever seeing “Mister Broadway” during its short life, but I do remember seeing “Peter Gunn.” I even downloaded a few of the old black & white episodes from YouTube, to see if the passage of time has rendered the show unwatchable, which fate has befallen at least one series that was a favorite of mine when I was growing up.
To my delight, the episodes I watched are very enjoyable, and before this summer is over I hope to have purchased the complete set on DVD. (The YouTube episodes may be watchable, but they are hardly what you would call high-definition video. Also, the all-important opening “Theme From Peter Gunn” and the closing credits have been deleted from them.)
I don’t suppose I really need to say this, but just to nail it down for you, the album I want to tell you about this week is Henry Mancini’s “Music From Peter Gunn.”
Mancini was a music writer and conductor and he plinked around on the piano a bit, but was hardly himself a musician. He relied on a full orchestra to bring his creations to life, and that presents a problem for a blog like this one. I was going to scan the page in the liner notes where it details which musician played what instrument on what track, but my trusty H-P scanner has suddenly stopped working.
For the sake of getting this article online on time, I am going to forgo, with apologies, listing the entire band for the time being. Once I get the scanner up and running I will scan the list and upload it to this review.
Various tracks featured various artists, and here is a short list of some of the better-known among them:
Barney Kessel, guitar
Ted Nash and Plas Johnson, tenor sax
Pete Candoli, trumpet
Victor Feldman, vibes
Shelly Manne, drums
John Williams, piano
Pianist Williams would later write movie music history himself by authoring the scores for “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” “Jaws,” “Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom,” “Superman,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Jurassic Park,” and, of course, “Star Wars,” and the first several “Harry Potter” films, among others. It is worth noting that the soundtrack album from “Star Wars” is the best-selling music only soundtrack of all time. Unfortunately, as outstanding as it is, the music from “Star Wars” is not jazz, so let’s move on to music that is. J
“Music From Peter Gunn” opens with, appropriately enough, the wildly popular “Theme From Peter Gunn,” a fantastic piece with a guitar riff that won’t quit and which took the music world by storm when the series first went on the air. Even today, fifty-odd years later, I defy you to resist its appeal. The only real problem with the song is, at barely two minutes in length, it’s too damn short! It definitely leaves you wanting more.
“The Brothers Go To Mothers” is slightly less frenetic, but still has a great appeal. Trumpets, bass and drums all come together to lay down a wonderfully uplifting song, and when the sax comes in for a short lick about halfway through, it adds just the right touch.
“Dreamsville” slows the pace to a crawl, a decided change from the driving pulse of the opening theme. Piano and horns carry us along quietly and then the guitar player steps up and continues the soft melody, followed by the others and the song goes off quietly into the night.
“Session At Pete’s Pad” opens with a series of staccato trumpet blasts while the bass player and drummer lay down a nice groove. Then the vibraphonist comes in (Feldman?) and things even out for a bit. When the trumpets return they are more restrained than at the opening, but we’re still in for a wild time. Before long that staccato riff returns and takes it to the end.
One thing I noticed as I watched the YouTube downloads is that every episode (or at least, the four that I watched) opens with the same bass riff running in the background.
I went to the shelf units where I keep the jazz part of my CD collection to fetch the album, and when popped it in my CD player and pressed the Play button, I was delighted to discover that that riff is present, expanded out into a full-fledged three minute song called “Fallout!”
The firs twenty seconds are just the bass player and drummer on his cymbal, giving us the riff from the opening scene of the show, but then the whole group joins in, the pace quickens, and you’ve got a monster on your hands! It carries on for a while and then, just as it crept in on silent cat feet, it silently creeps back out and ends. The only song on the album I like better than “Fallout!” is the “Theme From Peter Gunn” itself.
Other high points, on an album full of high points, are “The Floater,” “Brief And Breezy,” “Walkin’ Bass,” “Spook” (with an outstanding opening from guitarist Bob Bain), and “Blues For Mothers.”
I have been listening to this music, off and on, for most of my life. I was 9 years old when “Peter Gunn” debuted on NBC on September 22, 1958. I don’t remember for sure, but I suspect that I probably saw the show later, in reruns, when I was older.
Regardless of that, I am about as certain as I can be that you will find “Music From Peter Gunn” to be a fantastic addition to your personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night!
If you would like to learn more about Henry Mancini and his music, most of which was not jazz, here are a few places: His official web site can be found here. The Internet Movie Database (aka IMDb) has somewhat of a bio of Mancini here. And the Frost School Of Music Henry Mancini Institute at the University of Miami (aren’t you glad you don’t have to answer their phones?) has a nice write-up about Mancini here.
Thanks for reading this.
Wood Village, Oregon
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