John Alfred Mandel (November 23, 1925 – June 29, 2020), known as Johnny Mandel, was an American composer and arranger of popular songs, film music and jazz. He worked with many musicians including Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Anita O’Day, Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Diane Schuur and Shirley Horn, and won five Grammy Awards – from 17 nominations.
John Alfred “Johnny” Mandel was born in Manhattan on November 23, 1925. His father, Alfred, was a garment manufacturer who ran his own business called Mandel & Cash, and his mother, Hannah, had wanted to be an opera singer and discovered her son had perfect pitch when he was five years old. Johnny and his family moved to Los Angeles in 1934, after his father’s business collapsed during the Great Depression.
Johnny Mandel was given piano lessons, but then switched to the trumpet and later on to the trombone.
Johnny Mandel studied at the Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard School. In 1943, he played the trumpet with jazz violinist Joe Venuti. The following year, he worked with Billy Rogers and played trombone in several bands including the bands of Boyd Raeburn, Jimmy Dorsey, Buddy Rich, Georgie Auld and Chubby Jackson. In 1949 he accompanied the singer June Christy in the orchestra of Bob Cooper, and from 1951 until 1953 he played and arranged music in Elliot Lawrence’s orchestra, and in 1953 was also with Count Basie.
Johnny Mandel also wrote many jazz compositions including “Not Really the Blues” for Woody Herman in 1949, “Hershey Bar” in 1950 and “Pot Luck” in 1953 for Stan Getz, “Straight Life” in 1953 and “Low Life” in 1956 for Count Basie, as well as “Tommyhawk” for Chet Baker in 1954.
Johnny Mandel also composed, conducted and arranged the music for many movie sound tracks. His earliest credited contribution was to “I Want to Live!” in 1958, which was nominated for three Grammy Awards. His other compositions include “Suicide Is Painless”, the theme from the movie and TV series M*A*S*H, “Close Enough for Love”, “Emily” and “A Time for Love”, which was nominated for an Academy Award. He wrote several film scores, including the score of The Sandpiper, and the love theme for that film, “The Shadow of Your Smile”, which he co-wrote with Paul Francis Webster, won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1965 and the Grammy Award for Song of the Year in 1966.
Mandel performed an interpretation of Erik Satie’s “Gnossiennes #4 and #5” on the piano for the film Being There (1979).
Johnny Mandel won a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocal(s) for Quincy Jones’s song “Velas” in 1981, and another Grammy in 1991 for Natalie Cole and Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable”, and one year later yet another Grammy for Shirley Horn’s album “Here’s to Life”.
In 2004, Mandel arranged Tony Bennett’s album “The Art of Romance”. Bennett and Mandel had collaborated before on Bennett’s “The Movie Song Album” in 1966, for which Mandel arranged and conducted his songs “Emily” and “The Shadow of Your Smile”, and was also the album’s musical director.
Johnny Mandel, “A Man and His Music” featuring The DIVA Jazz Orchestra and vocalist Ann Hampton Callaway was recorded live at Jazz at the Lincoln Center in May 2010, and released in March 2011 by Arbors Records.
Johnny Mandel was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Music in 1993, was inducted to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010, and was a recipient of the 2011 NEA Jazz Masters Award. He subsequently received The Grammy Trustees Award in 2018, which is awarded by The Recording Academy to “individuals who, during their careers in music, have made significant contributions, other than performance, to the field of recording”.
Johnny Mandel died at his home in Ojai, California on June 29, 2020, he was 94.
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