Henry Mancini’s 100th Is a Cause for Celebration, as the Hollywood Bowl Sets Sail Down ‘Moon River’ for Season’s Opening Night

Before John Williams became the flagship film composer-conductor anyone thought of when they thought about the Hollywood Bowl, that honor belonged to Henry Mancini. And in some years, when Los Angeles is particularly lucky, it still does, even though the scorer behind “The Pink Panther,” “Days of Wine and Roses” and other classic scores has been gone for 30 years now. This Sunday, the LA Phil will devote the Bowl’s traditional opening night to a 100th birthday celebration for the man who, arguably more than any other, turned movie scores into a truly populist artform… and who conducted at the Bowl 29 times.

It’s not even the only major event involving Mancini’s legacy this weekend. Friday will see the release of a tribute album, “The Henry Mancini 100th Sessions – Henry Has Company,” that features among its guests Lizzo, Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock and, not incidentally, John Williams.

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At least two artists who appear on the tribute album will also be featured on the Bowl stage Sunday. One of them is Michael Bublé. The other is the late legend’s daughter, Monica Mancini, a renowned vocalist in her own right who often does pops concerts in which she sings the music of Pops. (She actually calls him Dad, but close enough.) Other guests announced for the show include Cynthia Erivo and Dave Koz, with possible surprises, plus Thomas Wilkins leading the Bowl Orchestra.

Besides putting together the tribute album with producer Gregg Field (who is also her husband), Monica Mancini appears on the new record singing “Days of Wine and Roses” with Take 6. But at the Bowl, she will be reviving a different classic.

“The song that I love doing is ‘Two for the Road,’ which was my dad’s favorite song that he wrote,” she says, referring to the theme for the 1967 film that starred Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney. “It was my parents’ song, and it really speaks to how they lived their lives, so it’s a very sentimental song for me. I sing it at all my my concerts, and this will be another one.”

Of the Bowl, Monica says, “it was kind of Dad’s home turf. I mean, he performed there every year, or every other summer, since the early ‘60s. So it feels like going home every time we go to hear anybody there. This will certainly be a sentimental evening, and in selecting the music, in the famous words of Phil Ramone: ‘Play the hits.’ So we’re gonna just throw all of Dad’s greatest hits at ’em. It should be a very uplifting and fun evening — and a colorful one, in that people are being encouraged to wear pink, as a Pink Panther homage. The whole spirit of it is going to be lighthearted and lovely.”

Her memories of the Bowl include an unusual tradition her late mother, Ginny Mancini, engaged in: buying the worst seats in the house, in order to throw the best party.

“Every time that he performed there, what my mom liked to do is buy a block of seats in the very, very back, you know, the cheap seats. She used to take over the whole thing and throw a party up there for her friends. And I remember in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s, everybody parked their cars at my parents’ house and then everybody loaded a bus that took them to the Bowl — this busload of luminaries, from Sonny and Cher to Cary Grant, this random group of people that just used to come up and see the concert. I thought, ‘Shoot, Cher getting on this bus is pretty cool.’ But we loved just going to see him do his thing”… in the days before there would have been big screens to make his face visible that far back.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 04: (L-R) Gregg Field, Monica Mancini, Felice Mancini and a guest attend the Primary Wave 16th Annual Pre-Grammy Party on the rooftop of the Whitney Houston Hotel on February 04, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Gonzalo Marroquin/Getty Images for Primary Wave Music and the Estate of Whitney E. Houston)
Gregg Field, Monica Mancini, Felice Mancini and a guest attend the Primary Wave 16th Annual Pre-Grammy Party on the rooftop of the Whitney Houston Hotel on February 04, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.

Buble is a featured performer at Sunday’s show, and it’s likely he’ll repeat a key performance from the tribute album of “Moon River.”

“We were at Abbey Road recording the Royal Philharmonic, and it’s Dad’s original arrangement of “Moon River,” which he used to play in concert, conducting and playing the piano. The only other time that his arrangement was done was in the film ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s,’ where Audrey Hepburn is sitting on the fire escape and she’s singing with her guitar. But this is really the first time that anyone has recorded Dad’s arrangement, and Michael recorded it. It’s such a gorgeous rendition, and for me it’s about its simplicity, because that’s kind of the way Dad wanted it to be heard. So I think people are gonna love it.”

The new album has Lizzo and Sir James Galway teaming up for a flute-led rendition of the “Pink Panther” theme. “We didn’t want to go the obvious route, which would be obviously finding a saxophone god somewhere. We thought, no, let’s put a spin on this, and also engage other audiences. His music has taken off on TikTok and all kinds of different platforms — young people know this music, and so we thought, well, let’s bring them to the party. Lizzo has got her socials and she’s being very generous, and we want to bring a bunch of different people on board, not the obvious choices.”

The first track recorded for the new album was Mancini’s theme for the TV series “Peter Gunn,” a piece of music important enough that, all by itself, it’s the subject of a new book by Variety contributor Jon Burlingame. “We knew it was the first song we were gonna record,” says Monica. “We started there and said, okay, who are we gonna bring on board? John Williams played the original riff on ‘Peter Gunn’ on the piano back when Dad recorded it, and they had a lifelong friendship. So John was the first call I made, and I said, ‘We’re celebrating Dad’s 100th, and I can’t think of anybody who I’d rather have be there, because you were there at the beginning.’ And he said, ‘Anything you want.’ It started there and then it just built into this beautiful cast of crazy characters.”

Something Mancini and Williams have in common: not just being great film scorers but being among the greatest melody writers of the 20th century, in the midst of working to picture. And Mancini went a step beyond Williams in actually parlaying that into topping the pop hit parade.

“Dad could write hit songs, and I don’t think there are even a handful of composers that can score a film and then come up with a hit song from the movie. It just doesn’t happen that often. And he didn’t mean to write a hit song. He just was good at writing a theme, and it just happened to work. His gift for melody probably cemented that for him, so that was a bonus.”

For anyone who wants a deeper exploration of Mancini’s work and importance, Monica Mancini will be taking part in a panel discussion at the Grammy Museum Monday night, moderated by Burlingame, with 20 of her father’s Grammys on display in a case. Other tribute shows are set for the U.K. And for anyone who misses this night at the Hollywood Bowl, it’s being filmed for a PBS “Great Performances” episode, to air during pledge drives in November. “Through 2024 and early 2025, we will still be, as my mother says, ‘preaching the gospel of Mancini.'”

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