Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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MANDEL, Johnny

(b 24 Nov. '25, NYC) Composer, arranger. Began studying trumpet and writing music at age twelve, went to bandleader Van Alexander for lessons at 14, who showed him how to lay out a score. Switched to trombone, played in bands incl. Alvino Rey, Jimmy Dorsey, Boyd Raeburn; continued studying music, played with Artie Shaw '49 and in several Buddy Rich bands. He wrote 'Not Really The Blues' for Woody Herman, played bass trumpet in a Chubby Jackson band, trumpet with Count Basie '53 (wrote 'Straight Life' and 'Low Life'), turned to studio work with formidable technique and a gift for melody. Worked in TV; scored albums such as Sure Thing by David Allyn (Kern songs), I Dig The Duke/I Dig The Count for Mel Tormé, Ring-A-Ding-Ding for Frank Sinatra, Mirrors for Peggy Lee (Leiber and Stoller songs); but over 40 film/TV scores '58--89 began with I Want To Live!, a true story about a woman sentenced to execution: Susan Hayward got an Oscar, and Mandel's score was considered to be the first successfully integrating jazz in film music. A theme for The Americanization Of Emily '64 became 'Emily' with words by Johnny Mercer; themes for The Sandpiper '65 and An American Dream '66 became 'The Shadow Of Your Smile' and 'A Time For Love', both with substandard lyrics by Paul Francis Webster (Sandpiper was corny but beautifully shot in Big Sur: jokers said that Mandel scored the scenery instead of the film). Peggy Lee wrote the lyrics for 'The Shining Sea' (love theme from The Russians Are Coming '66), Paul Williams for 'Close Enough For Love' (from Agatha '78); director Robert Altman's son Michael wrote words for 'Suicide Is Painless', a comic song for M*A*S*H '70: the tune was used for the theme of the subsequent TV series. Collaborations with Alan and Marilyn Bergman began with 'Sure As You're Born' (tune from Paul Newman's detective film Harper '66); the Bergmans also wrote 'Where Do You Start?' '87, which like 'You Are There' '78 was not from a film but just popped out of Mandel's gift: the latter tune defeated several lyricists until Dave Frishberg came up with a fine love song. Mandel quit writing for films because it wasn't fun any more; later albums incl. Unforgettable '91 with Natalie Cole (Mandel oversaw the technical process of Cole's duet with her father on the title track) and Here's To Life '92 with Shirley Horn. He is one of the last in the dying art of making commercial music with integrity.