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JOHNNY MANDEL,
1925-2020

Film composer, songwriter and arranger Johnny Mandel, an Oscar and Grammy winner known for the theme from M*A*S*H and “The Shadow of Your Smile,” has died. He was 94.

Michael Feinstein, a friend of Mandel’s, announced his death on social media but did not provide any details. “The world will never be quite the same without his humour, wit and wry view of life and the human condition. He was truly beyond compare, and nobody could write or arrange the way he did. Lord will we miss him. Let’s celebrate him with his music! He would like that.”

A trumpeter and trombonist who studied at Julliard, he got his start in the bands of Count Basie, Buddy Rich and Jimmy Dorsey before moving on to arranging and composing for jazz artists such as Chet Baker, Stan Getz and Bud Shank. He did his first film score for 1958’s I Want to Live!, using West Coast jazz musicians to create a swing-heavy soundtrack.

His songs were recorded at a steady pace by jazz musicians in the early 1960s as he started arranging for singers such as Peggy Lee, Jo Stafford, Anita O’Day and Frank Sinatra while breaking into film scoring. He bridged his multiple worlds in 1964 with “Emily,” the title song for The Americanization of Emily, which he scored: Sinatra recorded the song, with words by Johnny Mercer, and the pianist Bill Evans turned it into a jazz standard.

His most honored work was 1965’s The Sandpiper starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Its theme song, “The Shadow of Your Smile,” won the Original Song Oscar and a Grammy; the score was also honored with a Grammy. A minor hit for Tony Bennett, “The Shadow of Your Smile” has been recorded by scores of artists, among them Astrud Gilberto, The Delfonics, Oscar Peterson and Barbra Streisand.

Mandel’s most famous song, though, was first heard in 1970 as the theme for M*A*S*H—“Suicide is Painless.” The song debuted in Robert Altman’s film and then served as the theme for the TV show that ran from 1972-1983. During its run on TV, Mandel proved to be a versatile composer as he moved between dramas such as The Last Detail and The Verdict, lighter fare such as Freaky Friday and comedies of varying tones such as Caddyshack and Being There. he also provided the string arrangement for Steely Dan's "FM."   

Mandel won his third of five Grammys for arranging “Velas” on Quincy Jones’ 1981 album The Dude.  Ten years later, Mandel would win another arranging Grammy (for Natalie Cole’s “Unforgettable”), following it up with another win for Shirley Horn’s Here’s to Life; in 2019, the Recording Academy gave him a Trustees Award. In 2010, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2011.

 

 

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