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Henry Mancini: A Perspective from Byron Caloz

Henry Mancini

Here is a little bit about Mr. Mancini from the perspective of one talent on the Mr. Smooth Show, Byron Caloz:

The first Henry Mancini record I bought was "The Music from Peter Gunn." I am not sure why I bought it. Probably was the cover. I don't think I knew of the music and I certainly hadn't seen the show, which began broadcasts shortly before I was born and ended before I started kindergarten.

When I bought it, in the summer of 1979, I had been doing jazz programs on KWAX-FM in Eugene, Oregon and was always on the look out for cheap, good jazz in fine condition. I liked to check out the thrift stores and used record places, but rarely found anything I cared for.

However, I had just escaped from the dorm life and had my own place in Eugene's Whittaker neighborhood, by the tracks, right above a food storage facility for the local co-op grocery store. My furniture consisted of a hideaway bed my mom gave me, a bookcase made from boards and wooden dowels and wooden wire spindles.

I needed a desk, so I checked out Saint Vincent de Paul's. I found this great desk with one of those spring steel typewriter shelves that tucked into one side. The desk was already solidly built of real wood, but with that heavy steel contraption it was quite heavy. Luckilly, Saint V's delivered.

While I was at St. V's, I checked out their records. I found some very good older records...some I knew about, others I didn't. I got Glenn Miller's Carnegie Hall Concert, Miles Davis Live and more. It was quite a find then and definitely it would have been today.

So here was this jazzy looking Peter Gunn album. I brought it home but just put it around to show. I am not sure if I even listened to it.

However, I did listen to a woman whom I knew from the dorms the previous year. Dee Dee Petty was quite a wise and beautiful woman who knew what was what and usually wasn't afraid to tell you. Anyway, she visited me once and spied Peter Gunn.

"Oh, that's a classic," she said as she picked it up.

I couldn't wait to put it on my turntable (a thrift store Gerrard turntable running at perhaps not quite 33 1/3 rpm). GREAT STUFF! And since then, I have always played it at the least suggestion and recommended it to anyone who cared to get my opinion.

Dee Dee, as always, was atuned to the world and me.

However, Henry Mancini also knew how to make music which turned the right affect. His music pushed the right buttons. An arranger and composer first off, he also played the piano and conducted. He was the musician's musician who could do any kind of music you requested...from country to blues to jazz to lush laid back styles.

His early association with producer Blake Edwards and RCA was something he never abandoned. And, these partners never let go of Henry Mancini. He must have been one of the most productive and accomodating musicians around and people who had the chance to work with him and hire him wanted to make that a perpetual relationship. Mancini must have gotten along with them, because he never switched labels or refused work from either.

I can't say I like everything Henry Mancini did. I like more of his early stuff than what started coming out in the mid and late 60's. However, usually there was at least one outstanding 2-3 minute cut on every album or every soundtrack he did which stood out.

Someday, someone will have to release an album of the "Cool" Mancini cuts, not generally the hits (although Peter Gunn, Pink Panther and Baby Elephant Walk would still have to go on it: they are way too recognizable, but they are still quite cool). I wouldn't put ANY of his vocal, choral stuff on there, nor any of his arrangements of other people's music.

Henry Mancini was quite versatile and he did music that people he worked for wanted and often music that just fit the occasion, however it wasn't always perky, distinctive or exotic. The vocal version of "Moon River" may be a classic, but it is not the Henry Mancini I enjoy. Still, in the soundtrack to Breakfast at Tiffany's there are some neat cuts including Something for Cat, Latin Golightly and Moon River Cha Cha.

Henry Mancini composed pretty much until the day he died. I understand his last music was written for some sort of industrial/corporate video: not exactly a high profile, monumental assignment. Still, it reflects the musician's musician that Mancini was...someone who composed not for the fame, the money or the status, but because someone needed the music and he could provide it!

Audrey Hepburn said it quite well in her 1961 note to "Hank,"
Henry Mancini is ..."the hippest of cats-- and most sensitive of composers!"

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