“Misty” (1959) Henry Mancini with Dick Nash, Bob Bain and John Williams.


Composed by Erroll Garner; arranged by Henry Mancini.

Recorded by Henry Mancini and His Orchestra for RCA Victor on February 22, 1959 in Hollywood.

Henry Mancini, directing: Conrad Gozzo, first trumpet; Pete Candoli, Frank Beach and Graham Young, trumpets; Dick Nash, first and solo trombone; Jimmy Priddy, John Halliburton, trombones; Karl DeKarske, bass trombone; Ted Nash, first alto saxophone; Wilbur Schwartz, alto saxophone; Gene Cipriano and Harry Klee, tenor saxophones; Ronny Lang, baritone saxophone; (All saxophonists play flute on this recording.) Vince DeRosa, first French horn, Dick Perissi, Sinclair Lott and John Graas, French horns; John T. Williams, piano; Victor Feldman, vibraphone; Bob Bain, guitar; Rolly Bundock, bass; Jack Sperling, drums.

The story:

By the time Henry Mancini recorded “Misty” in early 1959, he was in the beginning of a period of meteoric commercial success as a composer/arranger in Hollywood. He had spent most of the 1950s working at Universal Pictures as a staff composer/arranger, learning the craft of writing the music that went onto the soundtracks of many Universal films then. Mancini’s selection as the composer for the television series Peter Gunn in the summer of 1958 provided him with the opportunity to have his music presented weekly on what quickly became a successful sponsored network television series. Of equal importance however, was Mancini’s signing by RCA Victor to produce long-playing records containing many of the melodies he had composed for and that appeared frequently on the soundtrack of the Peter Gunn television shows. Mancini’s RCA album The Music from Peter Gunn was released in the autumn of 1958, and by the end of that year was a hit. Consequently, the people at RCA began to work with him on a follow-up album which was entitled The Blues and the Beat. That album contained a dozen tunes, most of which were memorable swing era hits. Half of the songs were presented at ballad tempos; the other half as swingers. They were arranged in the Mancini style and performed by an orchestra of top Hollywood free-lance musicians, most of whom learned their craft as sidemen in the big bands of the swing era. Many of the musicians who played on these early Mancini albums continued to work with him for many years.

The music:

If anyone in the world of American popular music knew how to exalt a lovely melody, it was Henry Mancini. Fundamental to that talent was Mancini’s great aptitude as a composer of beautiful melodies himself. Quite simply, Mancini had the gift of melody: “Moon River,” “Charade,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Pink Panther Theme,” “Dear Heart,” and “Dreamsville,” a melody that has drawn the attention of many jazz musicians over the years, among many others, are proof of that. They are now also a part of the fabric of American Popular Song.

But what set Mancini apart from most composers was his other great musical gift, as a skilled and sensitive arranger. Although many exceptionally talented arrangers emerged from the world of swing, very few of them exuded melody in their arrangements as much as Mancini (and his friend and mentor, Jerry Gray. Gray was best man at Hank’s marriage to vocalist Ginny O’Connor in 1947). The introductions, backgrounds, modulations and codas they wrote sang, no matter what music they were arranging.

A perfect example of Mancini’s arranging talent is the utterly simple yet captivating four-bar introduction he wrote to begin his chart on jazz pianist Erroll Garner’s great melody “Misty.” He had his flute quintet quietly play a lovely melodic fragment, supported only by hushed rhythm and a subtle chord played by pianist John Williams (the same John Williams who went on to achieve great fame and success as a Hollywood film composer). Instantaneously, we are transported into a magical musical place.

Trombone virtuoso Dick Nash then steps forward to play the main melody of “Misty,” (which has some challenging intervals), with consummate smoothness, and a round, velvety trombone tone. The key to Nash’s smooth delivery is how he phrases each part of the melody. Listen for when he takes breaths in the sixteen bars he plays in the first chorus. (Above left: Dick Nash shown in the early 1960s.)

Mancini’s pellucid arrangement is constructed to highlight and elevate the melody. On the bridge, guitarist Bob Bain plays that secondary melody with utter simplicity. But behind his playing we hear vibraphonist Victor Feldman adding a few strategically placed chords while John Williams sprinkles some glistening right-hand piano notes in just the right places. The final eight bars of this chorus have the French horns, underlined by the trumpets and trombones, moving the performance toward a brief, warm climax. It arrives in the next eight bar segment, with first trumpeter Conrad Gozzo’s ringing sound at the apex of the ensemble. (Notice how Goz handles the decrescendo, going from forte on his trumpet down to a whisper.) After the ensemble falls away, pianist Williams has a few bars of spare piano to himself, swathed by the nappy sound of the four French horns and the three trombones.

Mr. Nash returns for a reprise of the main melody, and then the subtle build-up to the dramatic high note ending. Dick Nash’s playing on this recording is virtuoso lyric trombone performance of the highest order.

Whenever I hear Dick Nash’s trombone playing, I can’t help but to reflect on the fact that it represents the final stage of the evolution of lyric trombone performance that began some ninety years ago in the mid-1930s. Many writers have focused their commentary on how Tommy Dorsey then took the trombone from being a crude, blatting instrument and transformed it into a vehicle for producing beautiful, smoothly played melodies. There is no doubt that Dorsey was a major innovator in the area of how to play ballads on the trombone. But there were others who also contributed to the progression of expressive possibilities of the instrument. Foremost among those other pioneers was Jack Jenney (1910-1945). His solo on Artie Shaw’s recording of “Star Dust” was in many ways the beginning of a new school of velvet-toned and elegant but technically demanding trombone performance in jazz and American popular music.(1) Those who followed the trail Jenney blazed included such giants of the instrument as Urbie Green, J.J. Johnson, Milt Bernhart, Bill Watrous, and of course Dick Nash. (Above right: Jack Jenney and his wife Bonnie Lake. This photo was taken in 1940 when Jenney was the featured trombonist with Artie Shaw’s band.)

The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Notes and links:

For those who want to see and hear the master at work, here is a marvelous video of Dick Nash playing “The Shadow of Your Smile” with Henry Mancini and His Orchestra in 1973:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDf9TiqjAuY

Dick Nash (1928 – ) is the father of Ted Nash, a very talented jazz saxophonist who is named after Dick’s late brother, Ted, who was also a great woodwind player. Here is a link to Ted Nash interviewing his father that is well worth seeing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BHV4Hp4ZFk

(1) Here is a link to Artie Shaw’s great 1940 recording of “Star Dust.” In it there is a seminal trombone moment: Jack Jenney memorable solo. https://swingandbeyond.com/2017/10/21/star-dust-1940-artie-shaw/

And here is another trombone master, Buddy Morrow, demonstrating his approach to lyric trombone performance: https://swingandbeyond.com/2016/10/18/gershwins-piano-prelude-2-played-by-buddy-morrow-1964/

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for mentioning Jack Jenney, whom I thought of as I listened to this piece.
    Beyond Jack’s own contribution to Shaw’s “Stardust”, is his less well known 1939 recording of the same number with his own short-lived orchestra, which gives us almost 2 full choruses of Jack’s sublime discourse on this subject, including a middle 8 which he would re-use in Shaw’s version some 2 years later. For my own ears, it’s one of the swing era’s seminal moments.

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