Henry Mancini

Meeting Mancini

The day I met Henry Mancini, I didn’t actually meet him. Let me explain…

My paternal grandparents, in their later years, lived in a trailer park in upstate New York. This wasn’t some tornado-prone dumping ground full of sad, displaced corrugated iron abodes squatting on the wrong side of the tracks. These were rows of well-manicured lawns, friendly elderly folk, and families and grandchildren—like me. At the bottom of the hill, past the fields where I went strawberry picking with my plastic bucket (impossible as that is to believe for those who know me) sat the movie theater where I would later first see STAR WARS at age 14. But that movie and that date with destiny were still a few years in the future…

Even now, over 40 years later, I can still vividly picture my grandparents’ trailer. In the shed outside, an antiquated rotary mower that was a bitch to push for a kid like me with zero upper body strength. My grandfather’s wooden paddle conspicuously hung from a nail by the entrance, just waiting to be used on my tender young behind…again. But inside the living room’s faux-wood-paneled siding and atop its fuzzy shag carpet lay a discovery that would take decades for me to connect the musical dots.

My grandparents’ hi-fi (definitely not a stereo system) had one of those long center posts where you could stack a dozen albums for hours of listening pleasure. (Well, at least one side of listening pleasure.) Nestled among their Beethoven, Mantovani, and Reader’s Digest boxed compilations lay a cream-colored LP with one word on the cover—CARPENTERS. The unique envelope design of that album opened up a sonic world that changed my pre-pubescent life.

The album is chock full of Carpenters classics. From “Rainy Days and Mondays” and the Oscar-winning “For All We Know” to a pitch-perfect Burt Bacharach/Hal David medley, this was pristine pop music with crisp, clean production values and sung by the voice of an angel. While this was all new to me, the real discovery came at the end of the album. I sat there in front of the hi-fi, my butt creating symmetrical dents in the shag, oblivious to everything around me, and played this final song over and over and over again.

A simple, plaintive piano melody weaves around an arpeggiated accompaniment, tugging at emotions I was probably too young to understand. The song? “Sometimes,” music by Henry Mancini and lyrics by Felice Mancini.

Did I look at the album back then to find out who wrote the song? Probably not. (Because songs just write themselves, right?) And on the offchance I did, I certainly didn’t connect it to the Pink Panther shorts I was so fond of at that age.

As I grew older, my tastes in music changed—from The Carpenters, ABBA, and Elton John to ragtime, classical, and eventually film music. But I never forgot that song. Still, it wasn’t until many years later that I discovered the melodic and harmonic richness of Henry Mancini’s music and finally made the connection.

When Holly Golightly cried in the rain, it was Mancini’s musical tears that I shed. When Joe Clay desperately dug in the dirt for a drink, those were Mancini’s musical seeds planted in the muck and the mire. When Joan Crawford made Christina rethink wire hangers, Mancini’s music softened the sadistic blows. The music of Henry Mancini is as much a fabric of my life as my fond memories of my grandparents, that trailer, the hi-fi, and the butt-matted shag.

“Sometimes, not often enough, we reflect upon the good things…” And the music of Henry Mancini is a very good thing indeed.

  1. I idolized Mancini. As a young music school student interested in orchestration, I was delighted to discover his “Sounds & Scores” book complete with a series of 7″ 33 1/3 rpm records that were used to demonstrate the various orchestral techniques of this master musician.

    When I learned that one of the musicians on many of his albums, John Graas, a native of my hometown – Dubuque, Ia, I was thrilled. As years passed I was able to contact John’s wife who sent one memorable photo of John standing in the brass section of the Tex Beneke orchestra at the time Henry was playing piano for Tex. It was in that band that John and Henry became friends.

    My own musical career has included writing for jazz band, swing band, combos, choral groups, and symphonic pops orchestras. At age 75 I’m still writing and still consult the “Sounds and Scores” when I’m looking for a sound or distinctive touch for whatever I’m writing.

    I’ve read his autobiography, “Did They Mention the Music?” at least twice and enjoyed the warmth and quiet humor he obviously possessed.

    Henry Mancini will always remain my greatest inspiration.

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