In celebration of Henry Mancini, one of the 20th century’s most prolific and honored composers, Concord Records has teamed with his daughter, Monica, to release Ultimate Mancini on March 23. Many of Mancini’s most memorable songs have been re-recorded, in some cases using the original arrangements.
In addition to Monica Mancini, the CD features several special guests, including Stevie Wonder, Take 6 and Kenny Rankin.
Henry Mancini is best known for the endearing music that he wrote for films and television. Some of his best songs, including "Moon River," "Two For The Road," and "The Pink Panther Theme" are included on the new CD. During his career, Mancini earned four Academy Awards and 20 Grammy Awards.
The release of "Ultimate Mancini" is one of several special events happening in 2004, which would have been the composer’s 80th birthday. Ten years after this death, the U.S. Postal Service is also issuing the Henry Mancini Commemorative Stamp in April. Other events happening this year include a tribute concert at the new Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
JazzReview.com recently caught up with Monica Mancini as she was winding down a 60-city tour. She tells us about the new CD, some of her father’s favorite songs, and what the reaction has been to people hearing her sing some familiar tunes.
"Ultimate Mancini" is her third recording for Concord.
JazzReview.com: How would you describe the new "Ultimate Mancini" CD?
Monica Mancini: "We put together a collection of what we thought were Dad’s finest arrangements and compositions and had a lot of guest artists come in and play and sing. It turned out to be just a superb record."
JazzReview.com: One of the challenges of assembling this collection must have been choosing the songs from such a vast pool of material.
Monica Mancini: "That is a challenge. I guess we just went down the list and picked the ones that were our very favorites. It’s a very personal selection, but I think everybody will respond pretty well to it."
JazzReview.com: You sing on quite a few of the songs. Did you know which songs you wanted to record?
Monica Mancini: "Absolutely. I have my very favorites that I usually do when I tour. I sing a lot of his music anyway so I feel very at home with it. I think I have some wonderful interpretations of the music. They’re my favorite vocal selections of his."
JazzReview.com: Let’s go down the list of some of the songs you perform on the CD. How about "Two For The Road?"
Monica Mancini: "That’s a good one to start with. That’s a family favorite. If you ask any of my Dad’s peers, they will tell you that is their favorite song of his. Why? I’m not sure. It strikes a chord with musicians. It’s Dad’s favorite composition that he wrote as well. Over the years, it became my parents’ song. You know, two for the road."
JazzReview.com: How about "Days Of Wine And Roses?"
Monica Mancini: "That’s a good one, too. That one has been my favorite throughout the years. When I first heard it, I took it is as my favorite one that he wrote. I love singing it, and I love being able to do something different with it. I think you probably connect it with the film, which is a very powerful piece of filmmaking. It’s just a really intense, poignant song with a gorgeous lyric. It’s really wonderful to sing."
JazzReview.com: Then there’s "Dear Heart."
Monica Mancini: "I have a very soft spot in my heart for that because prior to Dad’s death it was a lovely, little Academy Award-nominated song. When he left, it took on a whole new meaning for me. I personalize that with a connection with my Dad. That’s a tender one for me."
JazzReview.com: Is it different singing a Mancini song than a song written by someone else?
Monica Mancini: "It is in that I’ve been so familiar with the music for so long it feels like a second skin. I feel much closer to that music because I know it so well. It’s easier for me to interpret. It’s closer to home. I love singing other people’s music as well. It may take a little longer to bite into it and get a sense of how I can make it fresh."
JazzReview.com: The CD also features you singing a duet with Kenny Rankin.
Monica Mancini: "I’ve been a Kenny fan for, dare I say, 20 years. It was really fun. We’ve been friends for so long. I’ve always wanted to do something with him. I thought this was the perfect vehicle for us to do a duet. I’m really happy with that."
JazzReview.com: The record closes with a song called "Music On The Way."
Monica Mancini: "That’s a really special song one. That’s a melody Dad had written back in 1970 for a film called ‘The Molly McGuire’s.’ It’s a piece of music taken out of this film. Will Jennings, who wrote so many hit songs, put a lyric to it. Will wrote ‘My Heart Will Go On’ from ‘Titanic’ and ‘Up Where We Belong.’ We call it a love letter to my father. It’s a wonderful way to cap this recording. It’s really special."
JazzReview.com: This is a special year for the Mancini family. Tell us some of the highlights.
Monica Mancini: "I’m on tour with a show called ‘Mancini at the Movies." It is a tour that we have been planning for a year and a half. We decided to do a special pressing of the CD to be available on tour. The CD was created because of that and also this would have been Dad’s 80th birthday this year.
There’s also a U.S. postage stamp coming out in April. There are a couple of events at the new Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in his honor. There are so many things going on it seemed perfect to have this come out right now."
JazzReview.com: Do you recall your father writing any of his classic pieces?
Monica Mancini: "He used to work at home. He used to write at home. I’m sure a lot of his masterpieces were written right under my nose, but frankly I wasn’t aware of it. I was too busy listening to the Beatles to pay attention. The one thing that I remember is when he wrote the theme to the ‘Pink Panther.’ The song just exploded into a cultural phenomenon. It’s a universal song. You can’t disconnect the image (of the Pink Panther) from the song. It’s also the 40th anniversary of the Pink Panther this year."
JazzReview.com: What don’t people know about Henry Mancini?
Monica Mancini: "You know, if you ask anyone who knew him what they’ll remember, they’ll probably say that the music speaks for itself, and it will outlive us all, but he was one of the nicest and most human beings you ever met. I think that’s what people come away with if they saw him in concert and didn’t know him. His friends would say, ‘Hank was just the most wonderful, caring human being.’ He was just a great guy. I think that beats it all."
JazzReview.com: You are currently on tour. How is that going?
Monica Mancini: "We’ve got a 10-week tour, and we’re in the ninth week of it so we’re almost done. We’ve hit 60 cities along the way. It’s pretty intense. We’re in a different city every day. The show is called ‘Mancini at the Movies.’ It’s a lot of Dad’s stuff. I recorded a CD last year of all film music called ‘Cinema Paradiso’ so I put a few songs from that CD in there. It’s all my favorite movie music. It’s a multimedia show. We’ve put a lot of film clips for the movies that I’m singing about plus a family montage.
I think it’s a good experience for people. One of the fun parts is that after the show I go out and sign the CD for people. The response is just amazing. I forget that the legacy is so huge. People tell me what they have experienced hearing the music. It just cements that. It’s a pretty wonderful thing."
JazzReview.com: You’ve been recording on your own for a while and have a successful career, but on this tour are people kind of surprised that Henry Mancini’s daughter is up there singing?
Monica Mancini: "They are. Obviously, they come in because they are Mancini fans. And, there’s always the novelty of an offspring coming out and doing this music. I think that curiosity may drive some people in. I like to think they come in being a Henry Mancini fan and go out being a Monica Mancini fan. I think I’m surprising a lot of people."
JazzReview.com: If you have a rare day off, what do you like to do?
Monica Mancini: "Today, we do have a rare day off. We’re in Indianapolis, and a city never looked so good to me. Malls have taken on a whole new predilection. We’re just hanging out and walking around and getting some fresh air."
JazzReview.com: How do you approach singing?
Monica Mancini: "First of all, I’m very proud of the fact that I have musically good taste. I think that’s a function from being from a musical household. My parents are both musical and have great taste. So for starters, I like good music. That’s subjective, but for me it’s music that has a great melody. Dad was known for his sense of melody, and finding songs with lyrics that mean something. I like to find songs that move me. A song like ‘Moon River’ has been sung by so many hundreds of people, thousands of times. It’s my job to come up with a version that’s fresh. That’s a challenge, but that’s the fun part."
JazzReview.com: There’s a nice version of "Moon River" on the new CD with Stevie Wonder and Take 6.
Monica Mancini: "That was Dad’s original arrangement for ‘Moon River.’ It came right off the film we took the exact same arrangement with the same instrumentation and said who would be the best harmonica player we could come up with. Stevie Wonder was first on the list. And our favorite vocal group, and they are just hot as hell, is Take 6. We asked and they were delighted to do it. It came out great."
JazzReview.com: Was it key for this CD to use as much of the original arrangements as possible?
Monica Mancini: "It was. We really wanted to point out the fact that this music is so timeless. You can take these original notes that he put on paper and if someone comes and plays the same notes, it just adds a freshness and uniqueness. It can sound very contemporary even today even though some of the arrangements are 30-some years old."
JazzReview.com:The CD does have a contemporary feel to it.
Monica Mancini: "The theme from the ‘Pink Panther’ is now 40 years old. Plas Johnson, who played the original sax solo, came in and duplicated everything he did on that first record without even looking at a piece of music. He remembered it. It sounds as fresh today as it did 40 years ago."
JazzReview.com: What’s next for you?
Monica Mancini: "At the end of this tour, I end up at Carnegie Hall. Then we have the first-day issue of the Henry Mancini stamp so there’s going to be a huge celebration in Los Angeles surrounding the stamp. And, the CD is coming out. We’re excited about this record. I want to put everything I have behind. And, I’ll continue to do my concerts and doing what I do."