Henry Mancini and Valerie Sagers,
Henry Mancini Interview Section
An Interview with Henry Mancini
Date of interview: February 1982
Interviewer: Valerie Sagers
Transcribed by: B.J. Major
Reprinted here with
VS: I was wondering, because you put a lot of time and effort into a performance, what kind of things you expect out of an audience? I understand that you like people to be punctual.
HM: Well, the only reason I like people to be punctual is because with certain concerts and certain orchestras, you only have a certain amount of time. With the time span, with some orchestras you have two hours, then you have to be off. If you are not finished within two hours, you're finished. So, in that respect (and some of them have two and a half hour spans), that means if you wait ten minutes for people, you have to start rushing, you have to start getting out of your own pace, etc. and in that respect, I don't like it. But I don't mind; I like to yell at people coming in late and say "where have you been; did you have a good dinner?" [laughter]
VS: You have managed to stay married for over 30 years...
HM: Way over [30 years].
VS: What's your secret for marriage? Do you have any secrets or tips?
HM: Hmmm. Well, I travel a lot.
VS: That keeps you away from it? [laughter]
HM: No, I don't think there is any one thing; either you've got it or you don't. I travel a lot and I do about 40-50 concerts a year...
VS: Does your wife accompany you?
HM: Well, she's very sneaky like that. Like, I am going to go to Mexico City, conducting down there next month, and so she'll be there. When I've conducted in Japan she goes; she goes to places like that. She doesn't like the "on the road again" too much.
VS: Do you think that marriage is dying out in today's world; you seem like you like it pretty much,
HM: Well, to tell you the truth, I've never known much else; I was married young, and it seems to work out. You get along and we don't bug each other very much. We have three kids that are grown now and they seem to be doing their own kind of things.
VS: What kinds of things are they doing?
HM: Well, we have twin daughters. Monica of the twins has been singing with various artists; like she was out with Linda Carter recently and she's been with Peter Marshall and John Davidson as a backup singer. In fact, all three sing. Whenever I do a picture and have a chorus call, they're on it, all three of them. There was a time when even my wife Ginny was on it, too. She was a singer, you know.
VS: Yes, that's what I understood and I was going to ask you that too, if she performs or does she like to just....
HM: Oh no, not anymore. My other girl, Felice, is also a singer but she is involved with being a lady executive with an organization called "Summit". It's a group that's into self-examination; something like "S", but "S" with fun, if you can imagine that.
VS: Which one of them - was it Monica or Felice, didn't one of them write some lyrics?
HM: Felice wrote them. And my son Chris is right now in the process of recording; he writes, plays and sings and Warner Brothers records is interested in him, so they are doing what they call a "step deal" where they do a certain amount, they listen, then they do some more, etc. So he's in the second step on that, so he's gotten by the initial barrier.
VS: Are you pleased to see that he's following in your footsteps?
HM: Well, not my footsteps, because he's an entirely different kind of musician than I am. I think he's picked one of the hardest areas in the world to make it in, the rock field. It gives the biggest rewards but it's also quite difficult to get started in.
VS: Some of your music is really romantic; did your wife ever inspire some of the romantic music? I'm a romantic and that's why I always ask these questions! Or you just do a scientific thing...
HM: No, it's not scientific. If you look at it, first of all, I'm a romantic guy. Being Italian from both sides of the fence, melody has always been very important to me. And therefore, melody inevitably leads to romance (you can write that on your list there!) [laughter]. I'm a melodic writer and therefore a lot of the kinds of pictures I've done have taken that approach. So therefore, you get the love songs like "Days of Wine and Roses", "Moon River", "Two for the Road", "Dear Heart", and all those things. And those are actually results of what's up on the screen. It has nothing to do with what I wanted it to do; in other words, I see the picture and then I come up with what I thought is the proper cases I just mentioned and with several others, it's been romantic music.
VS: So it really didn't have that much to do with your wife, it was what is up on the screen, etc. Or are you romantic around her?
VS: Do your children come with you too, when you travel?
HM: Here again, we are all going down to Mexico City in February. Sometimes they do [come with me]. I conducted the Israel Philharmonic in Tel Aviv and I thought that would be a nice family outing. [laughter] They thought so, too. So, they come sometimes.
VS: What advice would you give to parents who want their children to become a musician when they are about 5 or 6 years old; would you tell them to force their kids to play the piano every night, or...?
HM: Well, I think 5 and 6 is quite young, though they have several (like the Yamaha School takes them at that age). But normally, especially with piano - to those little fingers those keys must look like elephant tusks when they get up there. I would say that if you do have a talented child, you have to go through the thing finding out whether he really is or whether you just think he is. If [the child] is from a family who are musical, usually they have an idea and they can judge whether the child has real talent. If you want to find out, you just have to find a good teacher; find out who it is that can do the best job and then if it's a good teacher, it will work itself out. I tell that to other people too, even beyond when they get into school. Go to a school that has what you want. Not because it's a big school, or [because] it's Notre Dame, or whatever it is, because if you find a teacher you want, even if he's in a small school, somewhere aside from the big population centers, I say go there because you are going to get more out of them. If the department is good for what you want, do it. Don't be seduced by the glamour of having a diploma from a big school. Usually the diploma doesn't mean a thing if you are going to be a performing artist or a composer, or something. It's just something that you went through that length of study and you came out on the other end. A diploma doesn't mean a damn thing if you are going to write a film score. I mean the diploma, itself. In some places in some areas, they don't even ... engineering, whatever, some other fields of work, the diploma automatically says that you can do that work. They give them that and a few recommendations and you've got it. But in music, and especially in composing, you have to get out there with the orchestra, string quartet or whatever - it has to be performed and people have to react to it. Nobody reacts to what a computer engineer does, in that sense. He doesn't have an audience, he doesn't have anybody criticizing him except his boss. Sometimes, that's a big enough audience...[laughter]
VS: When you get criticized or you are working on something and you've got a lot of tension and stress, what do you do to work that out? Do you go jog a mile, go pound on the piano, or do you have anything that really seems to work for you?
HM: If I'm having problems, I'll walk away from it; I'll just put it aside. I don't mean walk away from the project, I mean walk away from the particular problem if I'm not getting anywhere, then I'll come back fresh... I do find that periodically I walk or run. When I ski, I find that it's a very ... it's not new, of course; everybody says that exercise puts more oxygen in your blood and clears the brain and I believe that. Especially, I like to get out to do these things because it gets me off the chair and I have to physically go someplace, I have to physically carry a bag, and have to do all these things and I think that's important, too. That gives me a form of exercise. Coming into a new place is a form of mental exercise, wondering what's around the next corner, what's in the orchestra, etc. Not apprehension, but there are little problems that come up. When you are sitting writing, the only problem you have is in front of you, on your paper and your project.
VS: Speaking of skiing, are you going to go skiing while you're here?
HM: No, I'm going back tomorrow, I have to be back ... I have to be in New York on Saturday.
VS: That's too bad; have you ever skied in Utah at all?
HM: No, I haven't. We have a place in Vail. Sun Valley I've skied a lot in; Aspen, Mammoth. I hear about this place. Some of my friends are building places in Deer Valley. When they get their house finished, maybe they'll invite us up.
VS: Did you ever work at a job that didn't involve music; like, were you a gas station attendant, or a dishwasher while you were trying to get through school, or anything like that?
HM: When I was a kid, I worked in the five and ten cent store. It was awful. I only lasted a couple of days. They had candy and it was my job to put the candy (that came from a warehouse storeroom in the back to upfront), where it's supposed to be. I was in my teens, I ate too much candy and I got sick. [laughter] Never went back there.
VS: And that was it?
HM: Fortunately, I've been able to sustain myself in music since high school. Even during high school, I used to play a lot; I used to get two or three dollars for a job; Polish wedding, Italian wedding. We had every ethnic group. I was brought up in a place called Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. We had every ethnic minority group that was ever created in Europe. I grew up playing all these weddings; you got all you could eat plus a dollar or two dollars.
VS: Is that what has given you the background for all these different types of music?
HM: I was forced into that, because if someone comes in with a movie that was shot in Brazil, I have to do research and find out what it is. If I get a period picture - I just finished the seventeenth picture I've done with Blake Edwards and it's called "Victor/Victoria" and it's not that far away but the picture takes place in 1930-34 in Paris. So I had to be very careful in not transcending that period; in other words, keeping things as they may have been back there; it was the beginnings of jazz in Paris (they had a lot of jazz people there and I took advantage of that). [In this paragraph, one of his musicians walked by during the interview and he stated that one of his musicians was walking by and how he tried to play like he didn't recognize or notice them.]
VS: What was your most difficult assignment?
HM: I think "Two for the Road" was hard. If you remember that picture, it operated on several planes of time and in various times in their marriage it would go back ten years and then forward 15 years, etc. and just kept see-sawing. So, the trick there was to solidify all those jumps back and forth there with the music and have it carry through. I still do that theme in my shows, I like that theme very much.
VS: What was your favorite?
HM: That's one of my favorite themes. I've done heavy, dramatic pictures - "Wait Until Dark", ...
VS: That was so scary...
HM: "Experiment in Terror", even recently, "Mommie Dearest". But I love to get into, the one we just finished ("Victor/Victoria"); the picture runs 2 hours and five minutes and I had about an hour and forty-five minutes worth of music in there. So, there are a lot of things, a lot of places for music. "The Great Race" I had a lot of fun with. That was like doing an operetta, really. It was an operetta without all the songs.
VS: This story will be coming out in July and can you tell me, do you have anything planned that you are going to be doing in July?
HM: Well, I'll be doing several symphony concerts then. I think I've got Philadelphia, Dallas, etc. This picture ("Victor/Victoria") will be out at that time, too.
VS: Do you have any summer hobbies?
HM: I used to have a boat. When the kids were small and as they started growing up, they used to complain about having to go down to the boat. Then they got in their mid-teens and I sold it, then I became the heavy because I sold it. They had no interest when at that certain age, then when coming out the other end they said "well, where's the boat?" "Why can't we go to the boat?" I like photography and I collect; I have a nice art collection. And I'm also a wine drinker; I don't like to collect it, I just drink it. I have a big cellar. And I know that I am going to go through it before I leave this world.
Other voice: Would you call yourself a connoisseur?
HM: I know a lot about it, I imagine they could trip me up. I have certain interests in wine. I like the Cabernets. And some whites. But I don't get into German wines, I don't like sweet wines. So it's just a matter of, I know a lot about it, but I wouldn't want to get into a contest with some real experts.
VS: Well, I'm finished. I didn't want to take up too much of you time.
HM: I have to go now!
Other voice: Could I ask you one quick question? Could you tell me about your famous haircut?
HM: The one where I lost it all?
Other voice: Where you ran into Blake Edwards?
HM: Well, that's true, yes. That was at the Universal Studios. Blake was on the lot doing something and when you come out of the barber shop, you go into the commissary. I was coming out of the barber shop and he was going in for lunch. So it was just a chance meeting. And he asked me about doing "Peter Gunn".
Other voice: That was probably the most memorable haircut in your life?
HM: Yes. If it had been the next day, he may have run into Nelson Riddle, I don't know!
Other voice: This was the first time you had worked together?
HM: No, we had done a picture before called "Mr. Cory", for him. And we had been socially friends for a long time, but that was just a chance [that day] and he had probably been thinking (Blake is impulsive that way) and of course, I had my mojo out. [laughter] I needed a job at the time and maybe I looked hungry and he took pity on me.
MN: Are you still doing albums for RCA?
HM: No, I left RCA about four years ago (1978). Things have changed so much in the record business that people like myself, Percy Faith, Ray Conniff - that kind of person the record companies don't know what to do with anymore. For one thing, when the local promotion man comes up to you and calls you "sir", you know you're in trouble, or if he calls you "Mr. Mancini", you know it's not one of the boys anymore like it used to be. Times change, and this is just one of the effects of it.
VS: I think Mike has every record you've got. How many do you have, a hundred, or ...??
HM: Maybe he's got some bootlegs! [laughter]
MN: I've got about 75.
(end of interview)
A Henry Mancini Discography:
Interview with Fernando Gelbard (record producer, musician)
Interviewer: B.J. Major
This interview received in
email on 7/19/01.
Q: Fernando, I'd like to begin by asking you how long you knew Henry Mancini and how did you first become acquainted with him?
A: I met him in the early 80's. We were together on the board of directors of the Foundation for New American Music, a charitable entity that comissioned symphonic jazz works from known and unknown composers and presented them at functions.
Q: How often did you see him - on a regular basis?
A: We saw each other several times each year, busy schedules permitting. He was a wonderful down to earth man.
Q: Did you ever work with Henry Mancini on any recordings or other projects?
A: Only when performing our duties as members of the board of directors of the Foundation for New American Music.
Q: What do you feel is Henry Mancini's contribution to American popular music?
A: I assume I feel the same as the millions of people that every day listen to his music. He is American music.
Q: Do you have a favorite Mancini composition? If so, which one(s)?
A: Two for the Road.
Q: What is your impression of how Henry Mancini was like to work with/be with on a personal level?
A: It was a joy to be with him. He had a great sense of humor, he never behaved like a celebrity, he was like any other musician. A wonderful human being.
Q: Do you have any interesting stories to tell our readers about your relationship with Henry Mancini?
A: Every time with him was interesting. We played jazz together at his home, we went out to dinner, we attended concerts and I saw him conduct.
Q: Because you are a flute player yourself, did you ever get to play any duets with Henry?
A: As I said before, we played at jam sessions at his home and we had lots of fun.I remember one time Mel Torme was our piano player.
Q: Have any of the recordings you ever produced included Henry Mancini compositions?
A: I produced an album with Sam Most & strings, in which two of his compositions are included: "Two for the Road" and "Days of Wine and Roses".
Thank you, Fernando, for the interview!
[Interviewer's note: the album that Fernando references above which contains two Henry Mancini compositions can be seen here in this website.].