Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Saluting Henry Mancini's immense musical legacy

If you watched television, went to the movies or listened to the radio in the 1960s, '70s or '80s, the music of composer Henry Mancini was everywhere. He left a stunning legacy of movie scores and TV theme music, which the Orlando Jazz Orchestra explored and celebrated on Monday, February 13 in its first Charlotte County Jazz Society appearance.

Mancini, who was both prolific and versatile throughout his five-decade career, died in 1994 at age 70. He won four Oscars, one Golden Globe and 20 Grammy Awards, plus a posthumous Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, for the most memorable of his hundreds of compositions.

Greg Parnell
Musical director Greg Parnell brought an 11-member version of his fine Central Florida-based repertory ensemble. Thanks to crafty, swinging arrangements for its six horn players, it often sounded like a robust big band.

For the several hundred listeners at the Charlotte Performing Arts Center in Punta Gorda FL, this was a trip down a musical Memory Lane, with Parnell interspersing bits of historical perspective and anecdotes as the band explored Mancini's elegant melodies.

Justin Diaz, Charlie Bertini
The band included David MacKenzie on alto sax and clarinet, Rex Wertz on tenor sax, Fil Lorenz on baritone sax, Charlie Bertini and Justin Diaz on trumpet, Clay Lucovich on trombone, Judi Glover on piano, Steve Luciano on guitar, Greg Zabel on bass, and the drummer's wife, Amy Parnell, adding vocals on six tunes.

They opened with an early composition "BT Jump." Mancini, then a journeyman pianist, arranger and composer wrote it for the Tex Beneke Orchestra, which was carrying on the Glenn Miller big band tradition. (Parnell was the revived Glenn Miller Orchestra's drummer and road manager for many years). They followed with "Too Little Time," the love theme from 1954's film The Glenn Miller Story. 

Amy Parnell
Steve Luciano, Greg Zabel
Two pieces followed from the late 1950s TV private detective series Peter Gunn: "Brothers Go to Mothers" and "Dreamsville." Wertz and Luciano were featured as the band dug into the theme from the series Mr. Lucky, opting for a version that trombonist Phil Wilson arranged for the Buddy Rich Band.

The band's Latinized take on "Moon River," the Mancini-Johnny Mercer ballad from Breakfast at Tiffany's, featured Amy Parnell's wistful vocals and a Bertini horn solo. That in turn set up a swinging romp through "The Days of Wine and Roses" that energized the room. Mancini won Grammys and Academy Awards for both. 

David MacKenzie

Other fine moments included MacKenzie's teasing clarinet solo on "Baby Elephant Walk" from the 1962 film Hatari, and the themes from two editions of The Pink Panther, with Lorenz turning in a fine baritone solo on "A Shot in the Dark."

The OJO's version of "The Sweetheart Tree" from The Great Race featured beautiful interplay between Amy Parnell and Glover, and then MacKenzie's answering alto sax solo. Shifting gears from soundtrack and TV theme music, the band dug into "Cheers!," a hard-driving big band instrumental that Mancini recorded in 1963 on his Uniquely Mancini album.

Judi Glover
Saving the best for last, the band wrapped up the evening with four standouts. They included Glover's poignant extended piano solo on "Two For the Road" and a searing Latinized take on "It Had Better Be Tonight" from The Pink Panther original movie with frisky vocals, as well as an extended drum feature for the leader. 

Then came another Glover feature on Mancini's arrangement of Nino Rota's “Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet” (also known as “A Time For Us”). Mancini's recorded version resulted in his only No. 1 hit single during the rock ‘n’ roll era, spending two weeks atop Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 in the summer of 1969.

The Orlando Jazz Orchestra finished on a high note, lots of them actually, with one of Mancini's first TV music hits, "Peter Gunn Theme." 

The Lemon Bay High School jazz ensemble, the Jazz Rays, performed a varied pre-concert set that included several New Orleans classics, some Miles Davis, and closed with the Jaco Pastorius-Bireli Lagrene version of the Pee Wee Ellis composition "The Chicken."

Orlando Jazz Orchestra

Lemon Bay High School's Jazz Rays

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