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Johnny Mandel: Harper, 1966

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In 1966, Paul Newman starred in Harper, a film about a private investigator with a spent marriage who takes a challenging case 90 miles north of Los Angeles to get away from it all. In today's world, it's a TV pilot at best, but in the cool '60s, studios didn't need much of an excuse to put Newman in gear.

The Harper soundtrack is a different matter. Composed and conducted by Johnny Mandel, with orchestration by Bill Holman, Billy Byers and Dick Hazard, the score has it all. There are brassy orchestral pieces, soaring cinematic strings, a pair of vocal tracks by Ruth Price and Sam Fletcher, with-it rock numbers, a soul waltz with organ, and even a nifty bossa nova.

Rather than delve into a bio of Johnny, I'll direct you instead to my 2008 multipart interview starting here. In short, after his big band years in the mid-1940s and jazz arranging in the late '40s and 1950s, Johnny began working for the film industry. Starting with The 3rd Voice in 1960, Johnny scored relentlessly for the movies. His career in film began with the jazz tracks for I Want to Live in 1958, but once he was pulled into the orbit of Hollywood, the workload grew.

Harper came just after The Sandpiper, which included The Shadow of Your Smile, and preceded The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming, which featured The Shining Sea.

What's wonderful about Harper is how listenable it is. There's no filler. Each song has its own personality and a jazz undertow. Tracks of note include Quietly There (with lyrics by Morgan Ames and a vocal by Ruth Price), Temple of the Clouds and Finale (Susan) (with wonderful string writing), Bel Air (a sexy bossa nova) and the Harper Main Title, which sounds like a drive up the Pacific Coast Highway. The score is gorgeous all the way through.

I'm convinced that someday a label will release the Complete Johnny Mandel Film Scores. What a box that would be.

JazzWax tracks: Unfortunately, Harper has never been issued on CD. You can find it at eBay on vinyl.

JazzWax clips: Here's the Main Theme to Harper. Dig how many times it changes personalities and instrumentation...

 

Here's Andre Previn's Livin' Alone...

 

Here's Harper Does It Better and Magnus Cum Louder...

 

Here's Sam Fletcher singing Sure As You're Born. Dig the brass and strings...

 

And here's the Finale (Susan)...

 

Continue Reading...

This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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