Henry Mancini was born Enrico Nicola Mancini on April 16, 1924 in the Little Italy neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio and was raised in the steel town of West Aliquippa near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He began piccolo lessons at age eight, by 12 began piano lessons and played flute in the Aliquippa Italian immigrant band, “Sons of Italy”. After graduating from high school he went to Juilliard School of Music and after one year of study was drafted into the Army, where in 1945 was part of the liberation force of a southern Germany concentration camp.
After the war years Mancini entered the music industry as a pianist and arranger for the newly re-formed Glenn Miller Orchestra. He went on to broaden his skills in composition, counterpoint, harmony and orchestration during subsequent studies. By 1952 he joined the Universal Pictures music department and over the next six years contributed music to over 100 movies, most notably The Glenn Miller Story, The Benny Goodman Story, Touch of Evil and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. It was also during this period that he wrote his first hit single for Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians titled I Won’t Let You Out of My Heart.
Henry left Universal International to work as an independent composer and arranger in 1958 and soon scored the television series Peter for writer and producer Blake Edwards. This was the genesis of a relationship in which Edwards and Mancini collaborated on 30 films over 35 years and was one of several pioneers introducing jazz elements in the late romantic orchestral film and TV scoring prevalent at the time.
Mancini’s scored film songs Moon River, Days of Wine and Roses, The Pink Panther, A Time For Us, Baby Elephant Walk, and the Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet as well as many TV shows and movies such as the Thorn Birds, Peter Gunn and Remington Steele. Among his many singers he worked with frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Julie London, Peggy Lee among a host of others. He recorded over 90 albums, eight certified gold by the RIAA, a twenty-year contract with RCA that culminated in 60 commercial albums. Many of his songs have become jazz standards, most notably, Charade, Moment To Moment, Two For The Road, Love Story, Slow Hot Wind, Moonlight Sonata, The Pink Panther, The Days of Wine and Roses and Moon River.
Composer, arranger and conductor Henry Mancini died of pancreatic cancer in Los Angeles, California on June 14, 1994. He was working at the time on the Broadway stage version of Victor/Victoria, which he never saw on stage. Mancini was nominated for an unprecedented 72 Grammys, winning 20; nominated for 18 Academy Awards, winning four; won a Golden Globe Award, nominated for two Emmys, was posthumously Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and honored with a 37 cent postage stamp in 2004.
Matt Dennis was born on February 11, 1914 in Seattle, Washington. His early exposure to music came from the family business of vaudeville, his mother who was a violinist and his father a singer. In 1933 he joined Horace Heidt’s orchestra as a vocalist and pianist. Later he would form his own band, with Dick Haymes as vocalist.
Dennis became a vocal coach, arranger, and accompanist for Martha Tilton and then worked with a new vocal group, The Stafford Sisters. Jo Stafford, one of the sisters, joined the Tommy Dorsey band in 1940 and persuaded Dorsey to hire him as arranger and composer. He would go on to wrote prolifically, with 14 of his songs recorded by the Dorsey band in one year alone, including “Everything Happens To Me”, an early hit for Frank Sinatra.
With four years in the U.S. Air Force in World War II behind him, Matt returned to music writing and arranging. He got a boost from his old friend Dick Haymes, who hired him to be the music director for his radio program, and with lyricist Tom Adair wrote songs for Haymes’ program.
Dennis made six albums, most of which are out of print; however, his 1953 song Angel Eyes that he composed with lyricist Earl Brent has become a frequently recorded jazz standard. Added to that list of standards are Will You Still Be Mine, The Night We Called It A Day and Violets For Your Furs.
Composer, pianist, arranger, singer and bandleader Matt Dennis passed away on June 21, 2002 in Riverside, California at the age of 88.
Cecil Irwin was born December 7, 1902 in Chicago, Illinois. Learning to play clarinet and tenor saxophone, his career began playing with Carroll Dickerson, Erskine Tate and Junie Cobb. He would then join Earl “Fatha” Hines in 1928 in the reed section and arranging for the big band.
During this period Cecil recorded on more than a dozen sessions with Hines in a variety of ensembles with which his playing and arranging is prominent. Irwin also freelanced as a sideman working and recording with New Orleans notables Johnny Dodds, Jabbo Smith, King Oliver, and also with Stephane Grappelli and Joe Venuti.
While on tour driving outside Des Moines, Iowa, tenor saxophonist and arranger Cecil Irwin perished in a car accident at the age of 32 on May 3, 1935, cutting short a promising career.
Billy Strayhorn was born William Thomas Strayhorn on November 29, 1915 in Dayton, Ohio but the family moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania shortly after his birth. Protecting him from his father’s drunken sprees his mother sent him to live with his grandparents in North Carolina, which is here he first became interested in music. He learned to play hymns on the piano and listening to records on her Victrola.
By high school he was back in Pittsburgh and began his music career studying classical music, writing a school musical, forming a trio that played daily on the radio and composing Life Is Lonely (renamed Lush Life), My little Brown Book and Something To Live For while still in his teens.
When the harsh reality of a black man making it in the white classical world shattered his 19-year-old ambitions, Strayhorn turned to the music of Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson and was guided into jazz. In 1938 he met Ellington, impressed him with an arrangement of a Duke piece, went to New York and collaborated with Ellington for the next quarter century. He composed Take The “A” Train, Chelsea Bridge, Day Dream, Such Sweet Thunder and A Drum I A Woman among others and the landmark score to the film Anatomy Of A Murder.
Billy was openly gay, participated in many civil rights causes, was a committed friend to Dr. Martin Luther King, influenced and help propel the singing career of Lena Horne, embarked on a solo career and continued to compose and arrange for Ellington.
Billy Strayhorn, composer, pianist and arranger whose compositions are known for the bittersweet sentiment and classically infused designs that set him apart from Duke succumbed to esophageal cancer on May 31, 1967. His final song “Blood Count”, composed while in the hospital, was the first track on Ellington’s memorial album for Strayhorn, …And His Mother Called Him Bill. The final track is a solo version of Lotus Blossom performed by Duke for his friend while the band was packing up.
Clare Fischer was born October 22, 1928 in Durand, Michigan and started general music study in grade school with violin and piano as his first instruments. By age 7 he was picking out four-part harmony on the piano and by 12 was composing classical music and creating instrumental arrangements for dance bands.
In high school he added cello, clarinet and saxophone to his arsenal of instruments and studied music theory, harmony and orchestration privately. He started his own band at 15, writing all the arrangements, went on to college studying music composition and theory as a piano major. After graduation and a stint in the Army as the arranger for the U.S. Military Academy Band at West Point, N.Y., he returned to Michigan State and received his Masters in 1955.
He went on to arrange for the vocal quartet Hi-Lo’s that would later become a major influence on Herbie Hancock, would record under his own name in 1962 for Pacific Jazz, play with Bud Shank, Joe Pass and Cal Tjader among others, arrange for Sergio Mendes and Willy Ruff, began playing organ and composed his most famous compositions, Pensativa and Morning.
By the mid-‘70s Fischer was pioneering the electric keyboard, reconnected with Tjader started his group Salsa Picante, won a Grammy for his album 2+2 and Free Fall, forayed into R&B doing orchestral sweeteners, worked with Rufus with Chaka Khan, The Jacksons, Earl Klugh, The Debarges, Shot-gun and Atlantic Starr and pop artists such as Paul McCartney, Prince, Celine Dion and Robert Palmer, picking up numerous gold records.
From the Eighties on Clare has been commissioned to score symphonic work using Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn themes, working with Branford Marsalis, the Netherlands Metropole Orchestra, arranged for Spike Lee’s Girl 6, has conducted clinics and master classes at numerous universities, and continued to record in small group and orchestral settings until his death in Los Angeles, California on January 26, 2012 at age 82..