Born John Alfred Mandel, November 23, 1925, in New York, NY; son of a garment manufacturer, Alfred, and Hannah (Hart-Rubin) Mandel, an aspiring opera singer; married Martha Blaner, 1970; children: Marrisa, born 1976. Education: Attended the New York Military Academy on a band scholarship, where he formed a small jazz band; attended Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard School of Music, New York City, where he studied symphonic forms and writing for a symphony orchestra; also studied with Stefan Wolpe and Ben Alexander Addresses: Home--Johnny Mandel, 28946 Cliffside Dr., Malibu, CA 90265.

Musicians within bands have often developed into important arrangers, and Johnny Mandel is a classic example as he played trombone and bass trumpet, eventually leading him to arrange for Artie Shaw and many other top band leaders. Mandel's parents, Alfred and Hannah Mandel, migrated from their native Chicago to New York in 1920 because his mother was an aspiring opera singer and his father a garment manufacturer. When the Depression came, the family moved to California but returned to New York City after the death of Mandel's father in 1937.

When the Mandel family returned to New York City, they temporarily moved into the Essex House Hotel. It was there Johnny met Marshall Robbins, son of music publisher Jack Robbins. It was the height of the swing era. Mandel recounted, "There were bands in all the hotels, theaters and night clubs, and they were good ones. At night, Jack would take us around to hear all the big bands. It was the treat of all times, the ultimate Disneyland for me." After listening to big band music as well as the jazz music his mother regularly aired on her radio in their home, 12-year-old Mandel decided he wanted to become a music arranger and at the same time advance his musical career by playing a wind instrument he excelled at.

He began his career in 1943 playing trumpet in Joe Venuti's Orchestra in New York City. In 1944 he joined Billie Rogers' band and toured with a number of popular bands including the big bands of Jimmy Dorsey, Georgie Auld, Henry Jerome, and Alvino Rey as a trombonist. In the early 1940s, renown band leader Alvino Rey utilized the arrangements of Mandel and other future stars describing his band as "the best band I ever had." In 1944, big band leader Boyd Raeburn enlisted Mandel to make new arrangements and contribute new scores. Another New York area band leader, Henry Jerome, became displeased with his arrangements and the quality of his band. He hired several new musicians and singers along with 19-year-old Johnny Mandel to write new scores at Child's Paramount Restaurant in Times Square in New York City. Two of Mandel's band mates were tenor saxophonists Alan Greenspan, who currently heads the United States Federal Reserve, and Leonard Garment, a key lawyer for President Richard Nixon. Mandel said, "We were always paid on time because Alan handled the payroll." Jerome felt it was his finest orchestra.

Mandel also played trombone in Buddy Rich's first band in the mid-1940s and was considered one of the finest sidemen of that period. Subsequent stints with Rich occurred in 1947 and 1948. In 1948 he wrote the big band composition "Not Really the Blues" for Woody Herman, and it became his first important arrangement. In the late 1940s he joined the music department at radio station WMGM where he wrote arrangements for the staff orchestra and then joined band leader Elliot Lawrence because he was considered one of the finest young songwriters and one of the best jazz arrangers in the country. Mandel remained with Lawrence through 1953, supplying many arrangements. Between June and November of 1953 he traveled with Count Basie's band. He said working with Count Basie was one of the most enjoyable experiences of his life and commented, "I couldn't wait to get to work every night." He then joined Zoot Sim's band in Los Angeles playing the bass trumpet at the Haig. He also worked in Las Vegas writing dance sections working with Gordon Jenkins at the Tropicana Hotel and others.

Having moved to Hollywood, in 1957 Mandel composed part of the score for the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis motion picture You're Never Too Young. This was followed a year later by his musical film score for the Susan Heyward blockbuster motion picture I Want to Live, marking the first time that jazz had been successfully integrated into a musical score. Mandel's reputation as an arranger continued to soar as a result of his contribution to this film. He has provided music for more than 30 films including M*A*S*H, The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!, and Academy Award-winning music for The Sandpiper.

In the late 1950s, Frank Sinatra left Capitol Records and opened his own recording company. In 1961 Sinatra's Reprise label was born during a period when the entertainer had been moving more and more in the direction of a jazz oriented style. Mandel was considered brilliant by many jazz musicians and enthusiasts and was one of several arrangers and conductors who had gained a highly respected reputation during an era of what was then called "The West Coast Jazz." For Sinatra's first Reprise album release, Ring a Ding Ding!, Mandel was chosen as the arranger. Wide respect by singers, orchestra leaders, and even Paul Weston--one of the finest arrangers of popular music of the twentieth century--helped Mandel secure the job of arranger and producer for Jo Stafford's album Jo + Jazz.

Mandel was commissioned to write the score for the 1965 motion picture The Sandpiper, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. When Mandel played the melody for Johnny Mercer with the intention of Mercer writing the lyric for the film's major song, Mercer felt the composition sounded too much like Hoagy Carmichael's "New Orleans" and turned Mandel down. Mandel then co-authored the song with Paul Francis Webster, an already accomplished award winning lyricist. Their collaboration resulted in the 1966 Academy Award and Grammy Award-winning song "The Shadow of Your Smile," performed by Tony Bennett. Before the Academy Award ceremonies, Mercer expressed his regret that he had not worked on Mandel's melody, and every time he saw Mandel later, he would remark how foolish he had been for turning him down. Mandel said, "Carmichael once commented that when he heard the song that he never associated it with his composition." Bennett later went on to record two more Mandel and Webster compositions--"A Time for Love," which was also nominated for an Academy Award, and "A Lonely Place."

In 1965, Mandel mailed a copy of a melody he had written for the motion picture The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! to renowned vocalist and lyricist Peggy Lee. After the picture was assembled, Mandel took Lee to the Director's Guild for a preview. Their song, "The Shining Sea," had been interpolated into the movie, and her lyric described the film of a young couple walking on the beach as though Lee intuitively had known the film's script. It fit the scene with such accurate detail, Lee was amazed at the finished product.

The Theme for M*A*S*H (Suicide is Painless) wasn't intended to be the theme of the motion picture. It was written in 1970 for the "Last Supper" scene and was actually intended to be played by one of the actors. It had to be written before the movie was actually shot. Director Robert Altman hired Mandel to write the music and indicated he wanted something that was funny and kind of stupid to accompany this particular scene. After several days, Altman came back and said "I can't write anything that ridiculous but all is not lost." His 14-year-old son, Mike Altman, was enlisted and wrote the lyrics in five minutes to which Mandel later added the melody. Later when the movie was being edited, Mandel heard the song being played over the film's title in the helicopter scene and protested, saying, "It was the stupidest thing I have ever seen" and angrily walked out insisting it didn't fit. The studio ignored his protest. The song was not only heard all over the world in the award-winning comedy television series, but it brought Mandel his highest copyright revenues. He later remarked, "I'm glad I lost that battle."

Since 1989, Mandel has actively served on the Board of Directors of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), an organization he has been a member of since 1956. Since 1944, Mandel has made musical contributions as an arranger, producer, orchestra leader, and musician for many singing notables in the entertainment business from Nat King Cole to Michael Jackson. He remains active, continuing to provide musical compositions that help him satisfy the ambitions he has had since he was a 12-year-old boy.

by Francis D. McKinley

Johnny Mandel's Career

Arranged musical scores for many motion pictures and television productions including Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows, Markham, General Electric Theater, Andy Williams' NBC variety show, and Evita Peron; crafted musical arrangements for such singing stars as Gogi Grant, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Diana Krall, Natalie Cole, Barbra Streisand, Ray Charles, Michael Bolton, Barry Manilow, Manhattan Transfer, Tony Bennett, Dick Haymes, Nancy Wilson, Vic Damone, and Andy Williams; well-known songs include "Emily," "Close Enough for Love," Hershey Bar," "Suicide Is Painless (theme from M*A*S*H)," and "A Time For Love."

Johnny Mandel's Awards

Academy Award, The Shadow of Your Smile; five Grammy Awards; American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers Henry Mancini Award, 1997.

Famous Works

Further Reading

Sources

BooksOnline

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 7 years ago

Any kinship between Johnny Mandel and George Kamen? or Milt Kamen?