Johnny Mandel, considered one of the finest composers and arrangers of the second half of the 20th century, passed away June 29, 2020. He was 94.
Mr. Mandel, for many years a journeyman jazz trumpeter and trombonist, found his “calling” when he branched out into arranging. His early arrangements were heard on Sid Caesar’s groundbreaking 1950s television series Your Show of Shows and on the first recordings Frank
Sinatra made for Reprise record company.
After a brief stint in Las Vegas in 1957, Mr. Mandel moved back to California in 1958 to write the score for the movie I Want To Live, one of the first movie scores to make extensive use of jazz. In a 2008 interview with Marc Myers for JazzWax, he is quoted: “I’ve been writing and arranging by the clock and catching sight cues for dancers for years. I just put the two together and was able to do movies.” Mr. Mandel scored more than 30 films during his Hollywood career, including the 1960s films The Americanization of Emily (from which the hit song “Emily” emerged), The Sandpiper (which contained “The Shadow of Your Smile,” earning an Oscar and a Grammy for Song of the Year along with lyricist Paul Francis Webster), Harper, An American Dream (which included the Oscar-nominated song “A Time for Love”) and one of his most famous works, the theme for Mash, (“Suicide Is Painless”) which later became, in instrumental form, the theme for the long-running TV series Mash. still on syndication today.
Additionally he provided orchestral charts for a wide range of vocalists including Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson, Tony Bennett, Natalie Cole and Hoagy Carmichael.
In addition to winning an Academy Award and five Grammys, Mr. Mandel was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010 and recognized as a Jazz Master, the nation’s highest honor for a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts the next year.
Friend and collaborator, ASCAP President Paul Williams referred to him as a “Giant. Genius. Gentleman.” Carl Saunders, who played lead trumpet with the Johnny Mandel Big Band for over 20 years remarked: “He made the world a better place and brought us so much joy
through his music. He will always be remembered for the beautiful melodies that he created.”
For further information check out Marc Myers excellent tribute to Mr. Mandel in his online JazzWax post of July 1, 2020.