March 2, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Henry Mancini

When it comes to true lounge music there is one man whose music and manner are legendary. Henry Mancini was the quintessential swinger with his dapper clothes, his perfect style, his suave manner, and his swinging songs. While the likes of Martin Denny and Les Baxter are heralded by exotica loungeaphiles, and the novice lounger may settle for some Rat Pack stylings, both are inevitably aficionados of Mancini. His music and chic sophistication speaks to everyone alike and makes him both accessible and worthy of worship.

Henry Mancini's Italian immigrant father was a sometime musician himself who introduced Henry to music and pushed him to follow what was so obviously his calling. A composition he wrote for Benny Goodman paid off when Goodman encouraged him to attend New York's prestigious Julliard School of Music. But, WWII got in the way. Fortunately. Henry, more a lover than a fighter, managed to land an audition with the country's musical commander in chief, Glenn Miller and spent the rest of the war playing in an Air Force band. After the war Mancini ended up in the Glenn Miller Orchestra, conducted by Tex Benneke.

From there, Mancini followed his heart to Hollywood where he could finally realize his dream of scoring movies. His earliest works included numerous sci-fi and B-films like Tarantula, It Came From Outer Space and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Unacknowledged success composing for such films paid off when Mancini was asked to arrange the score for The Glenn Miller Story, and later The Benny Goodman Story. Both are excellent soundtracks that showcase Mancini's early swinging style.
The Academy Award nomination he received for his efforts made Mancini a household name. And by then every household had a TV and so it fit that Mancini begin to write the best TV themes ever composed. His first was for Blake Edwards' Peter Gunn, and soon after he scored Edwards' Mr. Lucky as well.

For all his TV scoring, Mancini's most famous works came more from movies than television. The Pink Panther is one of the the most memorable of the films Mancini scored, and the title track fit the film's star, Peter Sellers, perfectly.

However, the music he penned for 1961's Breakfast At Tiffany's is indeed classic in every sense, and produced what is his most famous song "Moon River". Few songs have the pure genius that Moon River does, and few soundtracks catch the feel of its movie any better than this one. It's got a bit of everything, like the chic cool of "Something For Cat", the lush "Sally's Tomato", the crime caper jazz of The Big Heist, the big swing sound of "The Big Blow Out", and my favorite the super suave "Latin Golightly."

When you want to sit and just listen to good lounge music, you can't go wrong with anything by the maestro. Cheers to Mancini.

Henry Mancini & His Orchestra -- Latin Golightly