Prompted by his father, a steel-worker who loved music, Henry Mancini learned to play several musical instruments while still a small child. As a teenager he developed an interest in jazz and especially music of the big bands. He wrote some arrangements and sent them to Benny Goodman, from whom he received some encouragement. In 1942, he became a student at the Juilliard School of Music, but his career was interrupted by military service during World War II. Immediately following the war he was hired as pianist and arranger by Tex Beneke, who was then leading The Glenn Miller Orchestra. Later in the 40s Mancini began writing arrangements for studios, prompted initially by a contract to score for a recording date secured by his wife, singer Ginny O'Connor (of the Mel-Tones).
Mancini was also hired to work on films (the first of which was the Abbott And Costello comedy Lost In Alaska), and it was here that his interest in big band music paid off. He wrote the scores for two major Hollywood biopics, The Glenn Miller Story (1954) and The Benny Goodman Story (1956), as well as Orson Welles' Touch Of Evil classic (1958). Mancini also contributed jazz-influenced scores for television, including those for the innovative Peter Gunn series and Mr Lucky. His film work continued with scores and songs for such films as Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961), from which came 'Moon River' (the Oscar winner that year), and the title songs for Days Of Wine And Roses (1962), which again won an Oscar, and Charade (1963). Mancini's other film compositions included 'Baby Elephant Walk' from Hatari! (1962), the theme from The Pink Panther (1964), 'The Sweetheart Tree' from The Great Race (1965), and scores for Man's Favourite Sport", Dear Heart, Wait Until Dark, Darling Lili, Mommie Dearest, Victor/Victoria (1982), for which he won an Oscar for 'Original Song Score' with Leslie Bricusse, That's Dancing, Without A Clue, Physical Evidence, Blind Date, That's Life, The Glass Menagerie, Sunset, Fear, Switch, and Tom And Jerry: The Movie, on which he again teamed with Leslie Bricusse.
One of the most respected film and television composers - and the winner of 20 Grammy Awards - Mancini acknowledged his greatest legacy to be '… my use of jazz - incorporating various popular idioms into the mainstream of film scoring. If that's a contribution, then that's mine'. In addition he also regularly conducted orchestras in the USA and UK in concerts of his music, most of which stood comfortably on its own merits outside the context for which it was originally conceived. In the months prior to his death from cancer in 1994, Mancini was working with Leslie Bricusse on the score for the stage adaptation of Victor/Victoria.
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