Jazz Professional               


A profile of the highly versatile jazzman-composer by

Talking in 1980

Judging by the volume of Johnny Mandel’s work, he hardly has time to sip a cup of coffee, even less to grab a bite to eat. The majority of Mandel’s work is confined to the television and movie studios these days, but he is a jazzman at heart.

Arranger, composer, bass trumpeter, and trombonist, John Alfred Mandel was born in New York on November 23, 1925. He studied with Stephen Wolpe and Van Alexander, and engaged in a complete music course at the renowned Juilliard School of Music and the equally famous Manhattan School of Music, thus winning a scholarship to West Point Military Academy as a bandsman.

Mandel’s first professional jazz engagement involved playing standard trumpet, not his customary bass trumpet (similar in tone and depth to that of a trombone), with a combo led by jazz violinist Joe Venuti. The following year, 1944, he had joined a popular band led by a female trumpeter, Billie Rogers, which at this time included another up-and- coming trombonist, arranger and composer - Bill Russo.

Brief spells ensured with the bands of Boyd Raeburn, Henry Jerome, Jimmy Dorsey, Alvin0 Rey (the Hawaiian guitar leader), Georgie Auld, Buddy Rich, and Chubby Jackson (former bass player for Woody Herman).

By the late 1940’s Johnny Mandel was arranging standards for Artie Shaw. During 1949, Johnny appeared on bass trumpet with an all-star group led by tenor saxophonist Bob Cooper, featuring Cooper’s wife, June Christy. The recorded tracks were Jerome Kern’s “The Way You Look Tonight” and Matt Dennis’ “Everything Happens To Me” - originally issued on a 78 and since been released on a West Coast Jazz album.

Throughout the 1950s Mandel was freelancing and wrote several numbers for tenor saxophonist StanGetz. Firstly, “Hershey Bar” (named after a chocolate bar), recorded on Vogue v-202 and Columbia 33CX10023 with the other members of Stan’s quartet - Al Haig (piano), Tommy Potter (bass) and Roy Haynes (drums). Then came “Pot Luck”, on the Music for Pleasure label MFP 1023 - not to be confused with “Potter’s Luck”, also recorded by Stan on the aforementioned label, but not a Mandel composition; it was credited to pianist Horace Silver. Mandel’s “Pernod” was recorded by Getz at the Shrine auditorium with an introduction from Duke Ellington (1954, Columbia 33CXlO,OOO, Verve SLVP9139). Years later, “Pernod” was recorded by a larger L.atin-type jazz orchestra, featuring a host of jazz stars, including Conte Candoli, Art Pepper, and Bill Perkins.

Johnny Mandel rearranged the famous “Early Autumn” and “Four Brothers” numbers with a personnel consisting of himself on bass trumpet; Al Porcine, Stan Fishelson, and Idress Suliman (trumpets); Stan Getz, Zoot Sims (two of the original Woody Herman “Four Brothers”) and Don Lanphere (tenor saxes); Gerry Mulligan (baritone); Billy Taylor (piano); Tommy Potter (bass); and vocal on “My Gentleman Friend” by Sarah Vaughan. (Zim ZM1007.)

It proved that Mandel was very much involved with the jazz movement, specially when Elliott Lawrence, a talented pianist-arranger- composer himself, was requiring extra assistance with the arranging chores and knew just the man to call upon. Count Basie, too, had heard of Mandel’s splendid reputation and invited him to go on the road for a six- month tour, joining the band on trombone.

Mandel wrote “Straight Life” for Basie. Shortly afterwards he took up residency in Los Angeles and it was at this point that he played alongside_ one of his favourite tenor sax players, Zoot Sims.

Mandel's work was proliferating in all directions, including a contract with WMGM as a staff writer and musician that led to a TV show entitled “Your Show of Shows”, which survived 1% years. The film “You’re Never Too Young” in 1955 was basically a vehicle for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis but featured several Arthur Schwartz compositions beautifully arranged by Johnny Mandel.

Despite the volume of his work for TV and films, Mandel managed to participate in his first love, jazz, when he arranged and conducted the orchestra for Hoagy Carmichael and the Pacific Jazzmen, a lineup which featured some of the West Coast’s finest musicians including some scintillating alto saxophone solos from Art Pepper (Vogue VA160112;. A separate session was recorded on the same date - 11 September, 1956 - this time omitting Carmichael’s vocal, and with more accent on Pepper’s solos.

Several West Coast jazz sessions arranged by Mandel took place at this time. Art Pepper and tenor saxist Richie Kamuca united for a recording date with a quintet (Vogue LAE 12156). More delightful arrangements by Johnny were evident on a Chet Baker sextet album, Vogue LAE 12115.

Probably the most extensive jazz writing for a film score was Mandel’s scoring for a 1958 motion picture based on a true story of a tragic figure named Barbara, who was committed to the gas chamber in Los Angeles. She was portrayed by Susan Hayward as a jazz lover, hence some fine jazz sequences, both live and background music performed by Gerry Mulligan, Bud Shank, Art Farmer, Frank Rosolino, Shelly Manne, et al. Gerry Mulligan’s Concert Band recorded several numbers from the film including “Black Nightgown”, the emotional “Barbara’s Theme” featuring Don Ferrara’s warm trumpet and, of course, the main theme, “I Want toLive”, taken at slow and fast tempos. Stan Getz also recorded the latter with a large orchestra and voices (Verve V6-8707).

A documentary was produced on the late James Dean, and although the music score was by Leith Stevens, the arrangements were supplied by Johnny Mandel and Bill Holman who seemed to add just the right jazz dimensions when appropriate. There was some very stylish jazz to be heard in the MGM thriller, “The Lawbreakers”, starring Jack Warden and Robert Douglas. Mandel recruited some of the best jazz West Coasters for this venture.

More excellent film and TV music followed, including the brilliant background music in the exciting thriller, “The Third Voice”. Although Duke Ellington wrote the music to the pilot film .“The Asphalt Jungle”, it was Calvin Jackson and Johnny Mandel who were responsible for the music in the series that was to follow.

During 1961 Mandel assembled a West Coast big band to accompany the effervescent vocalist, Anita O’Day. The numbers vary in mood and tempo. One of the best is the title track “Travellin’ Light” (Vogue V-6-2157).

Mandel was spending more and more time at the TV and film studios discussing his ideas with the directors, who were not always veryco-operative at first, but he eventually convinced them that he was right. The popular medical series “Ben Casey”, 1960-1966, had a theme written and arranged by Mandel. “The Russians are Coming” may have been lacking in storyline but it had as its theme the splendid “Shining Sea” with lyrics by Peggy Lee. Stan Getz recorded a beautiful version of this Mandel tune on Verve VLP 9248 (album title, “Didn’t We?“).

The lovely, lilting waltz “Emily” was recorded by Stan Getz and included in the aforementioned album. The late Bill McGuffie and his orchestra also recorded a fine version of this tune (Redifusion ZS130). The film “An American Dream” was based on a novel by Norman Mailer; its theme, “A Time for Love”, had lyrics by another famous Johnny - Mercer. The vocal on the soundtrack was by Patti Brooks. This too, was recorded by Stan Getz on his “The Dolphin” album; on the same album is a later Mandel composition (from the film “Agatha”), “Close Enough for Love” (1978), with a lyrical but powerful performance by Stan.

One of the most popular songs ever: “The Shadow of Your Smile” was composed by Johnny for the Elizabeth Taylor film “The Sandpiper”. Heard on the soundtrack are Jack Sheldon (trumpet), Howard Roberts (guitar), Bud Shank (alto saxophone and flute) and VictorFeldman (vibes). Although Stan Getz recorded this number with Gary Burton (vibes), Chuck Israels (bass) and Roy Haynes (drums), it was never released in England. An Italian record company recorded it (Unique UJ-33).

Maynard Ferguson recorded a very subdued version of “Shadow of Your Smile” (surprised?) on flugelhorn: Mainstream TL 5310. Numerous vocal versions are available, of course. Other scores by Mandel include “That Cold Day in the Park” (Sammy Davis, Ernest Borgnine); “Journey through Rosebud” (‘IV documentary); “Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams” (with Mandel’s rearrangement of “American Patrol” and Shelly Manne on drums); “I Want Her Dead” (Bette Davis, Christopher Lee); “Return to Witch Mountain” (a Walt Disney film); “The Turning Point”; “Freaky Friday” (with trumpeter Jack Sheldon in a minor role); “The Sailor who Fell from Grace with the Sea”; “The Baltimore Bullet” (James Coburn, Omar Sharif); “Being There” (Peter Sellers); “MASH” - the TV series for which Mandel composed the theme. In one of the later episodes, pianist/composer Bobby Troup appeared as an army sergeant. (All record numbers listed are for reference only.)


Johnny Mandel
(talking in 1980)

One thing keeps the music scene very interesting—the fact that it’s changing all the time. It’s frustrating; you have to keep your ears open. You go to sleep for a couple of weeks and wake up and it’s a different business you’re in.
I’ve got deeply into Brazilian music, and most of the good Brazilian musicians—quite a few that haven’t been heard outside Brazil, such as Paloso, Galpasta—have turned to rock. And if you ever want to hear anything interesting, listen to the Tropicalista De Tropicalia Brazilian rock artists. Some of them are very bad, but some are very good, particularly those who were very good musicians before they made the transition. It’s a strange marriage—especially in Portuguese. Musicianship is being acknowledged more today. Groups like Blood, Sweat And Tears and Chicago are tremendous. But I have a feeling—I hope I’m wrong—that there could well be a dead end there. It’s probably the most successful marriage I’ve ever heard between a big band sound—or a small group sounding like a big band, as the case may be, and a rock rhythm section.

You know something? Any time you add horns to a rock rhythm section, it’s going to sound like Blood, Sweat And Tears—and there’s no way around it. Even Blood, Sweat And Tears hasn’t come out with another album in a year, or a year and a half. I’ll be very interested to see what they do. I hope it’s not a matter of keeping big band jazz alive through artificial respiration. Or even artificial insemination!

Who knows what the offspring will be? I fell in love with the album; I just hope they can keep going from there. But if they don’t, they’ll find something else.

I’ve made some records in the process of doing movie scores and doing demonstration tracks for songs; any time I use horns, it always sounds like Blood, Sweat And Tears. Like, any time you use a Latin rhythm section and two trumpets, it’s got to almost sound like Herb Alpert. Because it’s a sound that he got hold of first. It’s almost as typed as the early Mancini sound.

Or the Shearing sound—there’s another great example. As soon as you try and do anything remotely like it, it’s bound to bring George Shearing to mind. Even Shearing couldn’t get away from it—and he tried hard enough. The same thing’s happening with Herb Alpert now; he’s been trying to make records away from the Tijuana Brass idea—and nobody’ll buy them! Yet they were musical sounds to begin with; these are sincere musicians. What it is: you become a prisoner of your own invention.

As for Duke Ellington and his sound—he’s about the one musician you could mention that I find it impossible to pass an opinion on. Because he’s the most incredible of any of ‘em. I think. There’s no stopping him. It’s often been written that he writes for personalities in the band. Well, there’s certainly never been a leader or organiser like him; he works in a different way from anyone I’ve ever seen. I know one thing about Duke. He’s got one indispensable musician in that band, and if he ever loses him I don’t know what he’ll do. That’s Harry Carney.

I’ll tell you what makes me realise that he’s the one he can’t do without. On a lot of these Metronome All-Star dates, and other dates where they’d have Carney on baritone and he was the only one out of the Ellington band in the personnel, the band would sound like Duke Ellington. This isn’t to take any credit from all the other players; there’s one Johnny Hodges, one Lawrence Brown, one Cat Anderson. But unlike Carney, they’ve all been in and out of the band. Duke, of course, makes the whole atmosphere possible to start with: he’s such a truly incredible man.

I wish I knew him better than I do; I’ve always admired him from a distance. I’ve tried to study how he does it—and it’s just an extension of his own personality. The band is his instrument, not the piano; he’s the first one to say that, too. He’s got to have his band. Basie, Buddy Rich, Woody Herman are other outstanding people in the big band field.

Woody is amazing; he’s probably one of the all-time greatest bandleaders of them all. Because he’ll show up every year with a different band, and I don’t know where he finds the kids he has playing. I imagine a lot of them came out of music clinics and universities, where they’ve been trained in big band playing. But the bands all have his unmistakeable personality stamp; that’s what makes a great leader.

I’ve worked for both Woody and Basie, so I know how they work. Basie’s a great leader in another way. He makes it possible by setting up a very good atmosphere for music,, too, but his working methods are so different from Ellington. Everything is written out. The music is played very precisely, much more than it was in the early days.

The early bands couldn’t read, and there were a lot of head arrangements; they couldn’t afford music, in many cases. I’m referring to the pre-World War Two days, when the bands in many ways were more exciting. With Ellington, still to this day an awful lot of the music isn’t written out. He walks in the recording studio with a scrap of paper and an idea; he calls things out. Everybody works them out right there. And it’s the weirdest band to play in, because they don’t play his music like it’s written. It takes several months of playing in that band before you have the slightest idea of how to play with it.

Nobody in the world could just walk in and sub with that band. Duke has a whole bunch of people that have worked with the band. He always gets them back, and that’s one reason why: they know how to phrase with his music. You take most of the Ellington sidemen—Carney’s an exception, and some others—put ‘em in other bands, and they don’t phrase the same way as the rest of the band.

There’s a mystique going there, that I still don’t understand. And I wouldn’t understand it unless I played with the band a long time. I never have played with Duke’s band, but I’ve been around it a lot. When I was with Basie, I worked opposite it: this enabled me to watch it awfully closely. It was a new band that Duke had at that time, the latter part of ‘53, and one of his worst. Only because of that very thing. When he gets a whole bunch of new faces, it takes a while for it to come together. You don’t just sit down and play the music, like with Basie.

Basie’s bands need time to start sounding good, but it takes a lot less time than Duke’s, because nowadays the level of musicians Basie gets is very professional. Also he plays a lot of the same arrangements time and time again: so even if they haven’t played in the band, they know them. Whereas Duke, you’ll go see him over the years—it’s always different.

I’ve heard maybe a dozen arrangements of “Satin Doll” or of “Mood Indigo.” He doesn’t just play the same original scores. Once in a while he’ll drag out another old arrangement. He’s got so much to draw from. But Basie doesn’t go back to the old things. Duke, because he’s so unique, no matter when he plays he’s timeless. You walk in and hear him play “Black And Tan Fantasy”—marvellous. Especially in a room.

That’s a band you’ve got to hear in a room; I don’t think it’s ever heard at its best in a concert. Oh—it can be overwhelming. When you hit the Ellington band on a good night, it’s better than any other band I’ve ever heard in my life. Hit ‘em on a bad night—it’s unbelievably bad. There’s no in between. But Duke just takes it all in his stride: he doesn’t seem to be terribly upset by it. Which is one reason, I guess, that he’s the man he is. I don’t know of anyone else who could ever do that.

It’s this thing Woody Herman has, the knack of putting good bands together. While Basie will hold on to a lot of the same people, Woody has these new faces constantly, and the bands are always exciting. Woody’s been able to play more rock recently, because there’s more music that he can play, where in the ‘fifties he couldn’t. Now he can play closer to the Blood, Sweat And Tears set-up; he can use fender bass.

The songs are better; there’s a lot of usable material for him. that even he himself can sing. At one time he found it very hard; what could he use—Bill Haley or Elvis Presley material? Today, however, he wouldn’t have to look very far to assemble an entire library of contemporary music. Such as the Beatles’ work—a wealth of stuff.

Laura Nyro is a marvellous example for him to draw on. Because her stuff is musical, it’s got long form, and it’s vocal in content. If she isn’t that well-known yet, she will be, believe me. I think she’s the most important voice in music I’ve heard in many years. I mean, as an all-round talent. It’s taken her a while to gain recognition as, an artist, but watch what happens when she does. Probably by the time this is in print, she’ll be a much bigger item. and there’ll be no stopping her. Because she’s a super singer, with about a three-octave range, and a hell of a piano player.

Regarding British musicians—I love the way they splay, I’ve got a lot of favourites. In my writing, one of the most influential people ever is Bob Farnon. I’m a tremendous fan of his; everything that ever came out by him I loved. He turned so many of us on—Quincy, Don Costa, Marion Evans, myself. One after another, you name ‘em; Robert Farnon’s the one who showed us the way.

What is so exceptional about him? His choice of textures, his sense of orchestra, and particularly the way he writes for strings. His own compositions, most of all—just gorgeous. Better than any we had in the States. For us, he’s the guv’nor, whether he knows it or not.

Anything you play of his still holds up too. I can see where much of his technique is derived from, but it’s still his and no one else’s. The profound feeling of texture, the way he voice-leads . . . you’d have to take the things apart, one by one—that is, if you could. It’s just that the decisions he makes always seem to me to be the right ones.

I’ve heard John Dankworth’s writing for films. He’s a brilliant player, too, and he’s had a lot of good big bands. There’s quite a number of fine movie writers in Britain. I have a lot of admiration for John Addison. Forgive me if I make any omissions, but I’ve always found Frank Cordell and Wally Stott to be excellent writers.

John Barry wrote some of the best scores I’ve ever heard. You have to listen to a lot of John Barry to have an understanding of what he really sounds like. People are most familiar with the Goldfinger type of things in the James Bond films, which I wouldn’t say were my favourites; I have a feeling they may not even be his favourites. I much prefer some of his other scores, like the one he won the Academy Award for last year, A Lion In Winter. He has a marvellous feeling for mediaeval scoring—and that’s a really hard thing to do. He’s got a great aptitude for comedy too. The Knack was a brilliant job, I think. That was a type of nouveau silent movie technique he used there; it was most effective. And when you’ve got a good picture to work with, you’re that much further ahead. He seems to have a very broad scope.

Another good writer is Stanley Myers. There’s others here I know I’ll kick myself for not mentioning, when I think of them. A lot of them don’t get to the States, either. Movies get scored in other places, like Yugoslavia or Italy; producers are always trying to save money by the time it gets down to the music. Then occasionally, of course, American composers come over here and write. This was the first time I ever had a chance to, although I’ve wanted to for a long time.

You have to think of all film music in this way: it’s meant to be one voice of a three-part counterpoint, you could say. Four, really, if you include the visual! which is most important. You’ve got pictures, dialogue, sound-effects and music; so it’s only one of four elements. If you’re lucky enough to end up with something that can stand on its own merits, that’s fine, but the picture is the first consideration.