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'Peter Gunn' Revisited

The classic Mancini soundtrack is still hip after all these years.

by Mark D. Johnson
November 1, 2000

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'Peter Gunn' Revisited_Mark D. Johnson-The classic Mancini soundtrack is still hip after all these years. I bought the old, scratched up LP at the public library sale for ten cents when I was eighteen, and I wore it out some more, to the point of being virtually unlistenable with all the pops and hisses. It was the soundtrack to a black-and-white TV series that I'd never seen, composed by Henry Mancini, whose easy-listening hits, which my parents listened to, made me roll my eyes. But this stuff was cool, and it still blows me away today.

After years of looking around for the album on CD format, Buddha Records finally came out with it in 1999 with four bonus tracks and is easily attainable through online music sellers.

Everybody knows the famous main theme with its driving bass notes and mean brass lines. It's a shame the other gems on the album have gone pretty much unnoticed, from cookers like "Session at Pete's Pad" and "Fallout," to the mellow "Dreamsville" and "Soft Sounds." This is first and foremost a big band jazz album, though some of the orchestrations hint at Mancini's future "Moon River" sappiness that became his trademark. The soloists are hot, many influenced by the "cool" West Coast sounds of the era. Some notables in the band include Pete Candoli, Victor Feldman, Shelly Manne, and on piano, a young man named John Williams, who would go on to become the great film composer. I don't know whether Williams improvised his solos, or if they were written, but they are solid, and he swings.

Mancini was incredibly prolific with a remarkable ear for melody, which is why he quickly became a hot commodity in Hollywood. Unfortunately, one can only wonder about what he would have composed had he remained in the realm of jazz. Aside from his occasional "jazzy" numbers like the "Theme to Pink Panther," he never looked back. But what he gave to the jazz world is timeless, and now we can enjoy it without the pops and hisses.

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