Songwriter Johnny Mandel to conduct at Jazz Port Townsend
Songwriter Johnny Mandel is the featured guest artist this weekend at Centrum's Jazz Port Townsend. He'll conduct a program of his own songs and arrangements.
Seattle Times jazz critic
Jazz Port TownsendMainstage concerts at McCurdy Pavilion, Fort Worden, Jefferson County: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Eric Reed, Wycliffe Gordon, Bruce Foreman; 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Benny Green, Dena DeRose; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Mary Stallings, Graham Dechter; performances from 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday at various Port Townsend clubs; individual shows $19-$47; nightly club pass, $24; concert and club packages, $39-$128 (360-385-3102 or www.centrum.org).
Johnny Mandel, this weekend's featured guest artist at Centrum's Jazz Port Townsend, is probably best known as the composer of the beguiling bossa "The Shadow of Your Smile."
And therein lies a tale.
Arguably Mandel's most famous tune, it wasn't meant to be a song at all, at first, but an instrumental theme for the film "The Sandpiper."
"I wrote it for that whole opening sequence with those gorgeous shots of Big Sur," explained the 86-year-old songwriter, arranger and sometime conductor in a phone interview from his Los Angeles home. "But all the movie producers [back then] wanted a title song. I said, 'OK, but I need a lyricist. How about Johnny Mercer?' I figured let's start at the top."
The studio said yes, but when Mercer — who wrote, among other hits, "Moon River" and "I Thought About You" — heard the tune, he declined.
Mercer said, "It's a steal," explained Mandel — from Hoagy Carmichael's song "New Orleans."
"That was the worst word I could possibly hear," said Mandel, who then sang the opening notes to me of Hoagy's tune over the phone and, indeed, they are the same, though Mandel's song heads in a completely different direction.
"Johnny thought Hoagy would freak. Then the song became a big hit. Every time I saw Mercer he would pound his head. 'I turned that down! Sonofabitch!' He'd do it at parties. He had a whole routine about songs he missed."
Many years later, Hoagy asked Mercer at a party why he hadn't written the lyrics to 'The Shadow of Your Smile.' When Mercer told him, Hoagy said, "I never noticed."
"Then Johnny would hit his head again," Mandel said.
In addition to "The Shadow of Your Smile" Mandel wrote "Emily," another title song for a film ("The Americanization of Emily"), and the theme for the TV show M*A*S*H, otherwise known as "Suicide is Painless."
That kind of success spells money, but Mandel has something equally valuable — respect — from an exclusive club that includes Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, Barbra Streisand and Diana Krall, all of whom he's worked with.
Mandel was working with Krall on the new Paul McCartney album, "Kisses on the Bottom" — he arranged three of the final tracks — when he fell and broke his hip last May. Lucky for us, he's out of rehab now, and ready to conduct the Centrum Faculty All-Star Big Band Saturday.
Songwriters usually stay in the background, but Mandel loves to conduct.
"It's fun," he said, "particularly if I wrote the music."
At the festival, he'll conduct a program of his songs and arrangements as the finale of the Saturday afternoon mainstage concert at Fort Worden's McCurdy Pavilion, which also features sets by Benny Green Trio with baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan and singer-pianist Dena DeRose.
Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or email@example.com