Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Johnny's Big Night

Entrepreneur-bassist Howard Rumsey was at the Johnny Mandel Jazz Bakery concert Monday night in L.A. Others included Jack Tracy, 1950s editor of Down Beat; arranger-songwriter Van Alexander, vocal arranger (the other) Ray Charles; M &A Bergman, songwriter Donald Kahn, singer Ruth Olay, master trombonist Dick Nash, Leonard Maltin, Quincy Jones. A full house! As I'm so fond of oft-saying, "Heaven forfend, but if youda dropped a bomb on the place. . .."

The evening was more-or-less a repeat of the arranger-composer's L.A. Jazz Institute Oct. 2nd presentation. Monday night, when Mandel introduced one number, he said, jokingly, "If you don't know this song, there's something wrong with you." The band then launched into his "The Shadow of Your Smile." The audience laughed, then applauded. And, of course, Mandel WAS right. If you didn't know the song, then there was definitely something "wrong with you." A great night!

I attended with singer Pinky Winters. At one point, she spotted a friend and left our table in the lobby to say hello. A gentleman came up to me and asked:

Gent: Who was that lady you were talking to?
Me: Whyyy! That is the singer. . . Pinky Winters!
Gent: Oh, I thought it was the lady who manages a restaurant in my neighborhood. A dead ringer!
Me: Thanks. I'll tell Pinky you said so.

Winters felt there was something insensitive about giving the star of the show a copy of her new Mandel songbook CD. "It's Johnny's night," she said. I think she is right, even though Mandel asked her, "Where's the new CD, Pinky?" She will get it to him in a more personal manner within the next few days.

She is so proud of the CD. The original '83 concert recording was on big professional reels, and had just sat in her garage for many years until I uncovered them one day when I was helping her do some cleaning up of the space, about a year-and-a-half ago (that's in my job description as her record producer).

"What are these?," I asked her. She told me, and we took them into a professional studio for a listen. To say that we were pleasantly surprised is an understatment. Now the first half of the concert---the Mandel portion--is a CD reality.

Here is the first half of the L.A. Times review of the Mandel concert:

Mandel and Big Band Make One Stellar Night

February 15, 2006
By Don Heckman / Special to The Times

There's not much that composer Johnny Mandel hasn't done in the creative end of the music business. He has written arrangements for such artists as Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Lena Horne. His innovative jazz score for "I Want to Live" opened the way for other jazz composers to enter the film music business. And he has written a small but memorable catalog of songs — "Suicide Is Painless (The Theme From MASH)," "Emily" and "The Shadow of Your Smile" among them. What he hasn't done, however, is lead a big jazz band on anything like a regular basis. All of which made his one-night appearance at the Jazz Bakery on Monday a very special event (and a sold-out event, at that).

Mandel's approach to the performance was not complicated: collect some of the Southland's top musicians, especially those with extensive studio experience; place a book full of Mandel big-band charts in front of them; count off the time; and let them start swinging.He began the set with a hard-grooving original, "Low Life," in which the band's two tenor saxophonists, Pete Christlieb and Doug Webb, romped through a series of improvisational exchanges in high-spirited fashion. "Not Really the Blues," a powerful, hard-driving number originally written for the Woody Herman Herd, followed. Then a change of pace into the ballad "Close Enough for Love," featuring Christlieb's muscular, low register sound, followed by selections from Mandel's "I Want to Live" score. Curiously, Mandel did not offer up arrangements for "Emily" (from the film "The Americanization of Emily") or the "MASH" theme. But trumpeter Carl Saunders' chart for the former was first-rate, and the latter was handled by the rhythm section and individual soloists.One player after another in this veritable all-star aggregation stepped into the spotlight: trumpeters Saunders, Ron King and Bobby Shew, saxophonists Kim Richmond, Sal Lozano and Bob Efford, trombonist Andy Martin and pianist Mike Melvoin among them. . . ..

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