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A Tribute to Mancini and His Players

Pop music review: Despite a star-studded lineup, the late composer's most admired artists--the orchestra's musicians--steal the show.

July 02, 1996|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There were plenty of stars on hand Sunday for "The Magic of Mancini," a gala evening celebrating the life and work of composer Henry Mancini, who died in 1994 at age 70, as well as the 75th anniversary of the Hollywood Bowl. Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis and Trisha Yearwood were a few of the major names onstage, and the audience, which was seated in an arena overflowing with flowered decorations, contained a substantial number of A-list celebrities.

Yet, ironically and surely appropriately, the evening really came alive when Quincy Jones, conducting several pieces, turned the spotlight in the direction of the performers Mancini treasured most--the musicians of the orchestra. In a group of works that included "The Pink Panther," "Peter Gunn," "Cameo for Flute" and a Mancini arrangement of "Amazing Grace," players such as saxophonist Don Menza, bassist Abe Laboriel, guitarist Michael Clinco and the remarkable 18-year-old flutist Gregory Lawrence Jefferson stepped forward to bring energy and illumination to the irresistible Mancini melodies. Their performances were reminders of Mancini's often-stated dedication to his players and, in turn, of their allegiance to him.

Among the other artist appearances, the most interesting performances did not necessarily come from the major names. Mancini's daughter Monica, singing "Le Jazz Hot!" from "Victor/Victoria," revealed a talent that was a splendid continuation of the family musical heritage (her mother, Ginny Mancini, who chaired the event, is also a singer). And Michael Nouri, from the Broadway cast of "Victor/Victoria," brought style and character to one of the production's showcase numbers, "King's Dilemma."

Country star Yearwood was impressive with "Dear Heart" and maneuvered her way through the tricky melody of "Dreamsville" with ease. Mathis, however, offered somewhat distracted renderings of "Charade" and "Moment to Moment." And Williams' show-closing versions of "Days of Wine and Roses" and "Moon River" were little more than amiable echoes of his smoothly lyrical original recordings.

Several of Mancini's briskly entertaining instrumental pieces--"Baby Elephant Walk," "Strings on Fire," "Oklahoma Crude," etc.--were efficiently conducted by Peter Nero, Bill Conti, Jack Elliott and Ian Fraser, all Mancini friends and associates. In some cases, a large video screen presented the applicable film clips, reminding the audience that Mancini, the conductor, songwriter and much-loved good guy, was also a highly regarded film composer.

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