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Symphonic Soul: The Musical Ingenuity of Henry Mancini

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The following is a guest post from Archive Processing Technician Melissa Capozio Jones. In celebration of publishing the finding aid to the Henry Mancini Papers, In the Muse is celebrating “Mancini Week” with multiple blog posts from the Division’s archive processing technicians who processed the collection. This post is the third of the “Mancini Week” series. 

Lola Albright’s vocal part for the Dreamsville album’s title song “Dreamsville” with annotations, circa 1959, vocal part. Box 246, folder 4, Henry Mancini Papers, Music Division.

Tucked away between the numerous film scores and television themes in the papers of Henry Mancini (1924-1994) are hand-written pages of musical notation with names scribbled in the margins: Ella Fitzgerald, Jose Feliciano, Lawrence Welk, Doc Severinson, Roberta Flack, and a host of others. As if his extensive list of film and television work were not enough, Mancini also somehow found the time to collaborate with some of the most prominent musicians and entertainment names of his time. His musical partnerships crossed performance media including live concert performances, television cameos, and record albums.

While it is hardly uncommon for musicians to collaborate on an assortment of projects, it was Mancini’s ability to work with such a variety of musicians across musical genres that is particularly impressive. Often considered a purveyor of jazz-pop music and its stylistic offshoots, Mancini did not shy away from work in a variety of other ensemble voicings and musical forms, such as suites for concert orchestra, solo piano, and Latin-infused big band. His versatility can likely be attributed to his extensive on-the-job education in orchestrating and arranging during his early years with Max Adkins, the Glenn Miller Orchestra under Tex Beneke, and later with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. This experience would directly affect his ability to compose across the entire spectrum of film, leading to his well-earned success.

Unidentified photographer. Inscribed photograph of Henry Mancini and Luciano Pavarotti, 1988. Box 695, folder 8, Henry Mancini Papers, Music Division.

One of the larger collaborative projects documented in the Henry Mancini Papers is Mancini’s work with operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti in the mid-to-late 1980’s. The albums Mamma (1984) and Volare (1987) showcased Pavarotti in popular Italian songs. Mancini arranged and conducted the Italian popular songs for both albums, combining the sound of a full orchestra and the operatic voice of Pavarotti with classic Italian melodies to create music perfect for the musical connoisseur and amateur alike. Like so many of Mancini’s collaborative partners, Pavarotti remained a good friend and performed at multiple benefits held in Mancini’s honor to raise money for a number of performing arts causes and organizations.

No matter the collaborator, Mancini almost always arranged the music himself, especially if the work was his own composition. In 1984 he worked with famed flautist James Galway on In the Pink, a thirteen track album of Mancini’s film and television themes arranged by Mancini for solo flute and orchestra. Similar to Mancini’s chance meeting with Pavarotti, Mancini overheard Galway playing the theme from The Pink Panther in his dressing room at the 1983 Grammy Awards, and later inquired about a possible album together. Galway and Mancini would continue to be close friends and would perform together in the years to follow, including in a peppy flute duet of “Seventy-Six Trombones” from Meredith Willson’s The Music Man at the Fourth of July concert from the West lawn of the U.S. Capitol in 1992. (Mancini had originally arranged the duet for his television special, Monsanto Presents Mancini, in 1971.)

Promotion flyer for Henry Mancini and James Galway in Concert, circa 1980s, promotional material. Box 915, folder 14, Henry Mancini Papers, Music Division.

This narrative would be incomplete if it did not include Peter Gunn, which highlights Mancini’s work with singer and actress Lola Albright. Albright’s big break came when she was cast in the show as a nightclub singer and the love interest of the sophisticated detective Peter Gunn, played by Craig Stevens. Mancini composed new music for each episode rather than recycling older material, which was a somewhat common practice at the time. By approaching each episode as if it were a short film, Mancini provided the show’s creator, Blake Edwards, with jazz-infused music perfect for dramatic storytelling. Continually introducing new material also allowed Mancini to compose new numbers for Albright to perform on-screen, where she was often backed by big names in West Coast Jazz such as Shorty Rogers and Shelly Manne, or accompanied by an up-and-coming John Williams on piano. Mancini and Albright’s work together on Peter Gunn led Mancini to arrange and conduct Albright’s second solo album, Dreamsville. The melody to the song “Dreamsville” had its start in Peter Gunn as the love theme for Albright and Stevens’ characters; the lyrics were later added specifically for Albright’s performance on her album.

Throughout the years, Mancini would find himself working with other beloved performers, such as Julie Andrews, Andy Williams, Max Adkins, Gloria DeHaven, Hoagy Carmichael, and Bing Crosby. A number of these partnerships sprang up from prior film work, but many often came about from simple serendipitous meetings and general interest on the part of Mancini. A man of many musical talents, it is clear from his collection and the work he left behind that he appreciated all forms of music, great and small. This appreciation that he carried throughout his fifty year career has provided listeners with some truly enjoyable and memorable music.


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