Composer, arranger, conductor, producer
Musicians within bands have often developed into important arrangers, and Johnny Mandel is a classic example as he played trombone and bass trumpet, eventually leading him to arrange for Artie Shaw and many other top band leaders. Mandel’s parents, Alfred and Hannah Mandel, migrated from their native Chicago to New York in 1920 because his mother was an aspiring opera singer and his father a garment manufacturer. When the Depression came, the family moved to California but returned to New York City after the death of Mandel’s father in 1937.
When the Mandel family returned to New York City, they temporarily moved into the Essex House Hotel. It was there Johnny met Marshall Robbins, son of music publisher Jack Robbins. It was the height of the swing era. Mandel recounted, “There were bands in all the hotels, theaters and night clubs, and they were good ones. At night, Jack would take us around to hear all the big bands. It was the treat of all times, the ultimate Disneyland for me.” After listening to big band music as well as the jazz music his mother regularly aired on her radio in their home, 12-year-old Mandel decided he wanted to become a music arranger and at the same time advance his musical career by playing a wind instrument he excelled at.
He began his career in 1943 playing trumpet in Joe Venuti’s Orchestra in New York City. In 1944 he joined Billie Rogers’ band and toured with a number of popular bands including the big bands of Jimmy Dorsey, Georgie Auld, Henry Jerome, and Alvino Rey as a trombonist. In the early 1940s, renown band leader Alvino Rey utilized the arrangements of Mandel and other future stars describing his band as “the best band I ever had.” In 1944, big band leader Boyd Raeburn enlisted Mandel to make new arrangements and contribute new scores. Another New York area band leader, Henry Jerome, became displeased with his arrangements and the quality of his band. He hired several new musicians and singers along with 19-year-old Johnny Mandel to write new scores at Child’s Paramount Restaurant in Times Square in New York City. Two of Mandel’s band mates were tenor saxophonists Alan Greenspan, who currently heads the United States Federal Reserve, and Leonard Garment, a key lawyer for President Richard Nixon. Mandel said, “We were always paid on time because Alan handled the payroll.” Jerome felt it was his finest orchestra.
Mandel also played trombone in Buddy Rich’s first band in the mid-1940s and was considered one of the finest sidemen of that period. Subsequent stints with Rich occurred in 1947 and 1948. In 1948 he wrote the big band composition “Not Really the Blues” for Woody Herman, and it became his first important arrangement. In the late
Born John Alfred Mandel, November 23, 1925, in New York, NY; son of a garment manufacturer, Alfred, and Hannah (Hart-Rubin) Mandel, an aspiring opera singer; married Martha Blaner, 1970; children: Marrisa, born 1976. Education: Attended the New York Military Academy on a band scholarship, where he formed a small jazz band; attended Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard School of Music, New York City, where he studied symphonic forms and writing for a symphony orchestra; also studied with Stefan Wolpe and Ben Alexander.
Arranged musical scores for many motion pictures and television productions including Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, Markham, General Electric Theater, Andy Williams’ NBC variety show, and Evita Peron; crafted musical arrangements for such singing stars as Gogi Grant, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Diana Krall, Natalie Cole, Barbra Streisand, Ray Charles, Michael Bolton, Barry Manilow, Manhattan Transfer, Tony Bennett, Dick Haymes, Nancy Wilson, Vic Damone, and Andy Williams; well-known songs include “Emily,” “Close Enough for Love,” Hershey Bar,” “Suicide Is Painless (theme from M*A*S*H),” and “A Time For Love.”
Awards: Academy Award, The Shadow of Your Smile; five Grammy Awards; American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers Henry Mancini Award, 1997.
Addresses: Home —Johnny Mandel, 28946 Cliffside Dr., Malibu, CA 90265.
1940s he joined the music department at radio station WMGM where he wrote arrangements for the staff orchestra and then joined band leader Elliot Lawrence because he was considered one of the finest young songwriters and one of the best jazz arrangers in the country. Mandel remained with Lawrence through 1953, supplying many arrangements. Between June and November of 1953 he traveled with Count Basie’s band. He said working with Count Basie was one of the most enjoyable experiences of his life and commented, “I couldn’t wait to get to work every night.” He then joined Zoot Sim’s band in Los Angeles playing the bass trumpet at the Haig. He also worked in Las Vegas writing dance sections working with Gordon Jenkins at the Tropicana Hotel and others.
Having moved to Hollywood, in 1957 Mandel composed part of the score for the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis motion picture You’re Never Too Young. This was followed a year later by his musical film score for the Susan Heyward blockbuster motion picture I Want to Live, marking the first time that jazz had been successfully integrated into a musical score. Mandel’s reputation as an arranger continued to soar as a result of his contribution to this film. He has provided music for more than 30 films including M*A*S*H, The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!, and Academy Award-winning music for The Sandpiper.
In the late 1950s, Frank Sinatra left Capitol Records and opened his own recording company. In 1961 Sinatra’s Reprise label was born during a period when the entertainer had been moving more and more in the direction of a jazz oriented style. Mandel was considered brilliant by many jazz musicians and enthusiasts and was one of several arrangers and conductors who had gained a highly respected reputation during an era of what was then called “The West Coast Jazz.” For Sinatra’s first Reprise album release, Ring a Ding Ding!, Mandel was chosen as the arranger. Wide respect by singers, orchestra leaders, and even Paul Weston—one of the finest arrangers of popular music of the twentieth century—helped Mandel secure the job of arranger and producer for Jo Stafford’s album Jo + Jazz.
Mandel was commissioned to write the score for the 1965 motion picture The Sandpiper, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. When Mandel played the melody for Johnny Mercer with the intention of Mercer writing the lyric for the film’s major song, Mercer felt the composition sounded too much like Hoagy Carmichael’s “New Orleans,” and turned Mandel down. Mandel then coauthored the song with Paul Francis Webster, an already accomplished award winning lyricist. Their collaboration resulted in the 1966 Academy Award and Grammy Award-winning song “The Shadow of Your Smile,” performed by Tony Bennett. Before the Academy Award ceremonies, Mercer expressed his regret that he had not worked on Mandel’s melody, and every time he saw Mandel later, he would remark how foolish he had been for turning him down. Mandel said, “Carmichael once commented that when he heard the song that he never associated it with his composition.,” Bennett later went on to record two more Mandel and Webster compositions—“A Time for Love,” which was also nominated for an Academy Award, and “A Lonely Place.,”
In 1965, Mandel mailed a copy of a melody he had written for the motion picture The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! to renowned vocalist and lyricist Peggy Lee. After the picture was assembled, Mandel took Lee to the Director’s Guild for a preview. Their song, “The Shining Sea,” had been interpolated into the movie, and her lyric described the film of a young couple walking on the beach as though Lee intuitively had known the film’s script. It fit the scene with such accurate detail, Lee was amazed at the finished product.
The Theme for M*A*S*H (Suicide is Painless) wasn’t intended to be the theme of the motion picture. It was written in 1970 for the “Last Supper,” scene and was actually intended to be played by one of the actors. It had to be written before the movie was actually shot. Director Robert Altman hired Mandel to write the music and indicated he wanted something that was funny and kind of stupid to accompany this particular scene. After several days, Altman came back and said “I can’t write anything that ridiculous but all is not lost.,” His 14-year-old son, Mike Altman, was enlisted and wrote the lyrics in five minutes to which Mandel later added the melody. Later when the movie was being edited, Mandel heard the song being played over the film’s title in the helicopter scene and protested, saying, “It was the stupidest thing I have ever seen,” and angrily walked out insisting it didn’t fit. The studio ignored his protest. The song was not only heard all over the world in the award-winning comedy television series, but it brought Mandel his highest copyright revenues. He later remarked, “I’m glad I lost that battle.,”
Since 1989, Mandel has actively served on the Board of Directors of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), an organization he has been a member of since 1956. Since 1944, Mandel has made musical contributions as an arranger, producer, orchestra leader, and musician for many singing notables in the entertainment business from Nat King Cole to Michael Jackson. He remains active, continuing to provide musical compositions that help him satisfy the ambitions he has had since he was a 12-year-old boy.
You’re Never Too Young, 1957.
I Want to Live, 1958.
The Third Voice, 1959.
The Americanization of Emily, 1964.
The Sandpiper, 1965.
The Russians Are Coming!, The Russians Are Coming!, 1966.
An American Dream, 1966.
Point Blank, 1967.
The Last Detail, 1973.
Freaky Friday, 1976.
Agatha Being There, 1979.
The Baltimore Bullet, 1980.
The Verdict, 1982.
Caddy Shack, 1988.
Prince of Tides, 1991.
The Artistry of Tony Bennett, Forty Years, Columbia 46886.
Natalie Cole-Unforgettable-Special Edition, Elektra, 61243.
Four Freshman, Still Fresh, Gold Label 80052.
Diana Krall, When I Look in Your Eyes, Verve 03042.
Peggy Lee, The Peggy Lee Songbook-There’ll Be Another Spring, Musicmasters 60249.
Peggy Lee, Cross Country Blues, Blue Note 20088.
Barry Manilow, Manilow Sings Sinatra, Arista 19033.
Frank Sinatra, Complete Reprise, Reprise 47045.
Jo Stafford, Jo + Jazz, Corinthian 180.
Andy Williams, Greatest Hits, Columbia 9979.
Bennett, Tony, The Good Life, Pocket Books, 1998.
Feather, Leonard, The Encyclopedia of Jazz, Horizon Press, 1960.
Gammond, Peter, The Oxford Companion to Popular Music, Oxford University Press, 1993.
Kaplan, Mike, Variety, Who’s Who in Show Business, Garland Publishing Co., 1983.
Lax, Roger and Frederick Smith, The Great Song Thesaurus, Oxford University Press, 1989.
Maltin, Leonard, Movie and Video Guide 1995, Penguin Books Ltd., 1994.
Musiker, Reuben and Naomi Musiker, Conductors and Composers of Popular Orchestral Music, Greenwood Press, 1998.
Shaw, Arnold, Sinatra: 20th Century Romantic, Holt, Rhinehart and Winston, Inc., 1968.
Simon, George T., The Big Bands, The Macmillan Co., 1967.
“Johnny Mandel,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (January 2000).
“Johnny Mandel,” American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, http://www.ascap.com (January 2000).
Additional information was obtained through an interview with Johnny Mandel on October 13, 1999.
—Francis D. McKinley
Composer. Nationality: American. Born: New York, New York, 23 November 1925. Education: Studied symphonic music at Manhattan School of Music and Julliard School of Music. Career: Discovered he had perfect pitch when he was five; began writing big band arrangements at age 12; played in swing bands at age 16; after graduation worked with violinist Joe Venuti; arranged, wrote, and performed (generally on trombone and trumpet) with Alvino Rey, Artie Shaw, Jimmy Dorsey, Buddy Rich, Elliott Lawrence, and the Henry Jerome Orchestra, 1940s and 1950s; radio and television work, including Your Show of Shows. Joined Count Basie Orchestra; session work with Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Chet Baker, Paggy Lee, Anita O'Day, Maynard Ferguson, Mel Torme, and Andy Williams, Los Angeles; turned from playing to composing music, late 1950s; began scoring films with I Want to Live, 1958; composed music for the TV series Banyon, 1972, M*A*S*H, 1972, "One for the Road" episode of Amazing Stories, 1985. Awards: Academy Award, Best Song, for "The Shadow of Your Smile," and Grammy Award, Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Show, for The Sandpiper, 1966; ASCAP Henry Mancini Award, 1997.
Films as Composer:
I Want to Live (Thomas) (billed as John Mandel)
The Third Voice (Cornfield); The Lawbreakers (Newman)
Drums of Africa (Clark)
The Americanization of Emily (Emily) (Hiller)
The Sandpiper (Minnelli)
An American Dream (See You in Hell, Darling) (Gist); Harper (Smight); The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (Jewison)
Code Name: Heraclitus (Goldstone—for TV); Point Blank (Boorman)
Pretty Poison (Black)
That Cold Day in the Park (Altman); Some Kind of Nut (Kanin); Heaven with a Gun (Katzin)
The Man Who Had Power Over Women (Krish); M*A*S*H (Altman)
The Trackers (No Trumpets, No Drums) (Bellamy—for TV)
Molly and Lawless John (Nelson); Journey Through Rosebud (Gries)
Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams (Cates); The Last Detail (Ashby)
W (I Want Her Dead) (Quine)
Escape to Witch Mountain (Hough); The Turning Point of Jim Malloy (Gibbsville: The Turning Point of Jim Malloy) (Gilroy—for TV)
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (Carlino)
Freaky Friday (Nelson)
Being There (Chance) (Ashby); Agatha (Apted)
Baltimore Bullet (Ellis Miller); Caddyshack (Ramis)
Evita Peron (Chomsky—for TV)
The Verdict (Lumet); Soup for One (Kaufer) (additional music); Deathtrap (Lumet); Lookin' to Get Out (Ashby)
Staying Alive (Stallone) (additional music)
A Letter to Three Wives (Elikann—for TV);
Foxfire (Taylor—for TV); Assault and Matrimony (Frawley—for TV)
Brenda Starr (Ellis Miller); Single Women, Married Men (Havinga—for TV)
Kaleidoscope (Taylor—for TV)
A Great Day in Harlem (Bach) (music consultant)
By MANDEL: articles—
"Themes in the Key of Mandel," interview with Jem Aswad, on ASCAP Film and TV Legands, http://www.ascap.com/filmtv/mandel.html, April 1997.
On MANDEL: articles—
McGilligan, Patrick, liner notes to I Want To Live (originally released 1958), Rykodisc, 1999.* * *
Composer/arranger/instrumentalist Johnny Mandel came into film scoring and Hollywood songwriting after a long and successful career playing and arranging jazz and big band music. Like Henry Mancini, Mandel was one of Hollywood's last true links to the classic American pop era of big band, swing, and bebop.
Mandel's musical education began at age 5 when his musical family discovered he had perfect pitch. Piano lessons followed but the young Mandel soon found his true calling in the brass family of instruments: first on trumpet and later trombone. By age 12 he was writing big band arrangements, and by 16 was performing in bands in Catskill Mountain resorts.
During the prime big band era, Mandel got the kind of thorough working musical education impossible to achieve today. "A lot of the people I came up with—Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Miles Davis—were out on the road from when we were 16 and 17 years old. I did it for ten years, one-nighters all down the line. You can't learn this, you have to live it. We were very lucky because we had bands to play in. That's how you learn," Mandel remembered in an ASCAP interview.
Mandel's road work included performing with Alvino Rey, Artie Shaw, and Count Basie, among many others. With the decline of the big bands, Mandel began writing for radio and television in 1949, and by 1954 had settled in Los Angeles, doing session recording work, and concentrating on writing and arranging. His first film work was as an uncredited arranger for the 1955 Martin/Lewis film, You're Never Too Young. Mandel's career in actual film scoring commenced in 1958 with an innovative jazz score for I Want To Live, Robert Wise's grimly realistic crime drama about playgirl/convicted murderess Barbara Graham and her eventual execution in the San Quentin gas chamber. Mandel commented: "I felt totally at home doing movies because I'd done everything else first. I'd worked Vegas shows and in television with Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows where you had to write visual cues, where you were catching dance accents and marrying music to sight cues. And I'd done some radio drama in the late '40s and early '50s, so I'd learned to write to the second hand. Movies combine all of those things, so I realized—very late!—that I already knew how to do it."
Fortunately, Mandel broke into film scoring in a cinematic era that was ideally suited to his talents. The old order studio system, with its wall-to-wall symphonic orchestral scores, had crumbled by the late 1950s, and a new mode of film music, based on pop and jazz idioms, was quickly emerging.
Though jazz had been fused with orchestral scoring in several previous Hollywood films—most notably Alex North's landmark 1951 score for A Streetcar Named Desire, and Elmer Bernstein's The Man With the Golden Arm in 1955—I Want To Live was the first film to be completely scored in an authentic jazz mode. The real life Graham had been a fan of saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, who was at the height of his popularity in the late 1950s. Mulligan and his combo appear in the opening club scene, and perform all the source music in the film.
The underscoring was also based on 1950s jazz styles, utilizing unusual instruments and conventional ones employed in extreme ranges such as the piccolo heard in an uncharacteristic low register in the execution cue. Mandel placed an emphasis on jazz drumming and exotic percussion for the suspense cues, sometimes employing several jazz percussionists. Two original soundtracks albums were released by United Artists Records at the time of the film's release, one featuring the source music played by Mulligan's combo, and the other including the more expansive, big band influenced underscoring. In the digital era, both albums were combined on a Rykodisc CD which included extensive liner notes on both the film and Mandel's unique score.
By the late 1950s, pop/jazz scores such as I Want To Live and Henry Mancini's Touch of Evil and Breakfast At Tiffany's were increasingly in demand. They were commercially successful, often producing both lucrative popular songs and soundtrack LPs, which meant both royalties and free promotion for the film. Mandel himself had several pop song successes, and a string of original soundtracks albums during the late 1950s and early 1960s.
After three small features, Mandel scored two major films, both of which produced successful theme songs. The Americanization of Emily, an off-beat comedy-drama about a less than heroic American soldier in World War II England, produced the hit "Emily," with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Even more successful was a tune written for The Sandpiper, a project chiefly motivated by the then-much publicized coupling of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Today the film is primarily remembered for Mandel's ballad, "The Shadow Of Your Smile." With lyrics by Paul Frances Webster, the lyrical melody with a contemporary bossa nova beat became one of the most recorded film songs of the decade, and won an Academy Award for Best Song in 1965.
Mandel followed Sandpiper with An American Dream, a watered-down version of the Norman Mailer novel, which nonetheless introduced another sensitive jazz ballad, "A Time for Love." ("A Time For Love" was again nominated for an Academy Award, but lost to "Born Free.") These popular successes led to Mandel scoring a number of 1960s "New Hollywood" classics, among them Harper, Point Blank, Pretty Poison, and That Cold Day in the Park. In 1970 he hit commercial gold again with his score for Robert Altman's M*A*S*H, which produced the hit "Suicide Is Painless" (also known as "Theme from M*A*S*H"). Mandel also scored the TV series based on the film.
Along with The Last Detail in 1973, M*A*S*H was the last film of consequence that Mandel scored, moving on as he did to Disney live-action features (Escape to Witch Mountain, Freaky Friday), and a mixed bag of comedies (Caddyshack), TV movies, and the occasional major feature (Deathtrap, Brenda Starr). Mandel's last score was for a TV movie of Danielle Steel's Kaleidoscope in 1990.
In spite of his prolific film work, Mandel considered himself primarily a jazz musician, and during the 1990s, he returned to his arranging roots with arrangements for a variety of major recording artists, including Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, and Barbra Streisand, as well as producing his own solo albums. In addition to his Academy Award and two nominations, Mandel has won four Grammys, and in 1997 was awarded ASCAP's prestigious Henry Mancini Award.