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Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn Music

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One early January afternoon, Constantine, our publisher, dropped by to spin some tunes. I asked him if he was in the mood for something a little different and got out the four Peter Gunn LPs seen in the Picture. I had no idea if he would like these LPs but before he left he made me promise I would write about them, so here it goes.

Peter Gunn was an American television series about a private eye named Peter Gunn. It aired first on NBC and, later on, ABC from 1958 to 1961. The show made use of modern jazz music for a distinctive touch. Different modern jazz themes accompanied every move Gunn made. The music, composed by Henry Mancini, was performed by a small jazz ensemble that included some prominent Los Angeles-based jazz and studio musicians. Trumpeter Pete Candoli, alto saxophonist Ted Nash, flutist Ronny Lang, trombonist Dick Nash, and pianist John Williams, provided most of the jazz solos.

Some jazz musicians occasionally had cameo on-screen appearances. Trumpeter Shorty Rogers appeared in the episode titled “The Frog” playing his flugelhorn as Lola Albright sings “How High the Moon.” Drummer Shelly Manne was a performer on the soundtrack album. He also made a ‘Special Guest’ role in the 1959 episode “Keep Smiling” playing drums in the “Bamboo Club” combo. Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida also played himself in the 1959 episode “Skin Deep.”

The “Peter Gunn Theme” became an instant hit, earning Mancini an Emmy Award and two Grammys. Today, many people who have never seen the TV show can easily identify the theme. Mancini said, “The ‘Peter Gunn’ title theme actually derives more from rock and roll than from jazz. I used guitar and piano in unison, playing what is known in music as an ostinato, which means obstinate. It was sustained throughout the piece, giving it a sinister effect, with some frightened saxophone sounds and some shouting brass. The piece has one chord throughout and a super-simple top line.”

The popularity of this music resulted in RCA issuing a second Mancini album of Peter Gunn music titled More Music from Peter Gunn. Shelly Manne recorded two jazz albums of themes from the show in 1959, Shelly Manne & His Men Play Peter Gunn and Son of Gunn!!

From left to right, the four LPs in the above picture are: the original soundtrack in 200 gram vinyl on the Analogue Production Jazz label that has been reissued on 45 rpm, the Shelly Manne and His Men Play Peter Gunn, RCA’s second soundtrack album and Henry Mancini – Combo. The last LP was recorded in 1960 and has a good bit of Peter Gunn music on it.

This Combo recording features some great artists playing: trumpeter Pete Candoli, trombonist Dick Nash, Ted Nash on alto sax and flute, Art Pepper on clarinet, baritonist Ronnie Lang, pianist Johnny Williams (also on harpsichord), guitarist Bob Bain, bassist Rolly Bundock, drummer Shelly Manne, Ramón Rivera on conga, and Larry Bunker on vibes and marimba. The use of a harpsichord in both a rhythm and solo capacity on such a jazzy album is really cool to listen to.

In case you want to know how these recordings sound, the two soundtrack recordings have a beautiful, deep and rich tonal quality. The other two have a lighter, fresher quality to the sound. While all four albums are incredibly fun to listen to, the 45rpm reissue from Analogue Productions is simply faultless. I sure hope there are plans in the future to give us the “More” album also in 45, since it is my favorite, but I love them all.

Yes, these are a little off the beaten track; but if you like good music, they are well worth having. I can’t imagine you won’t find them fun regardless of what kind of music you listen to most often.

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