On this day in 1924, the great arranger-composer Henry Mancini was born. In some ways, he was a hack like all movie composers. He pumped out work at a furious pace. He recorder over 90 albums. He was nominated for 18 Academy Awards, four of which he won. And he was nominated for 72 Grammy Awards, twenty of which he won. Compositionally, he was known for his clever melodies. And that says something for a profession that has moved steadily away from a focus on that aspect of music.
What I most admire him for is his arranging. All professional arrangers do a good job with creating interesting harmonies and effective counterpoint. But what separates the professionals from the masters is how they combine the timbres of the various instruments. Mancini was particularly good in his use of woodwinds. The flute is especially prominent here. As an instrument, it is kind of boring—lacking a great deal of character. Maybe because he played the flute, he just tried harder. But the extensive use of the woodwinds gives his arrangements more style than the standard saxophone and brass section provides.
Because of the breadth of his work, we can’t really appreciate Mancini with just a single song. So here is a playlist of fifteen pieces. They aren’t all by him, but they are all his arrangements. The list does not include the “Pink Panther Theme” or the “Baby Elephant Walk.” But you’ve probably heard them more than enough for a lifetime. Or maybe not.
Happy birthday Henry Mancini!