MY MUSICAL INFLUENCES: Johnny Mandel

In my last blog, I spoke of some of my childhood musical influences, and this week I would like to focus on Johnny Mandel, the film composer, and what he has meant to my musical sensibilities. Many years ago my dad came home from work one day to announce, “I’ve just had the greatest musical experience of my career.” He was referring to his participation as one of the studio musicians on Mandel’s iconic film score for “The Sandpiper.” What made this score groundbreaking wasn’t just the use of a memorable theme—although this theme did subsequently become a huge hit as “The Shadow of Your Smile.” No, thematically oriented scores had been in vogue for quite some time, as demonstrated by the works of Max Steiner, Alfred Newman, David Raksin, and later, Henry Mancini.

What made Johnny Mandel’s score so distinctive were the jazz sensibilities he brought to it—muted trumpet by Jack Sheldon á la Miles Davis, sophisticated harmonies, and his trademark orchestration of unusual and untraditional colors.
Since “The Sandpiper” was far too provocative for my young eyes, I had only the album to play repeatedly, and that experience planted a seed in my subconscious: “Someday I, too, want to make that kind of music.”
I invite you to listen to all of Johnny Mandel’s scores, for they are each stand-alone works of art: “The Americanization of Emily”, “Agatha”, “Deathtrap”, to name a few. And, I challenge today’s young filmmakers to embrace this type of soundtrack—evocative, memorable, thematic and harmonically sophisticated. Your movies, and the music-loving public will be the better for it.

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