Composed and arranged by Henry Mancini.
Recorded by Henry Mancini and His Orchestra for RCA Victor on December 17, 1959 in Hollywood.
Henry Mancini, directing: Personnel unknown, but probably including: Dick Nash, first trombone; Jimmy Priddy, John Halliburton, trombones; Karl De Karske, bass trombone; Vince De Rosa, first French horn; Sinclair Lott, Dick Perissi and John Graas, French horns; Ronny Lang, Gene Cipriano, Ted Nash and Harry Klee, woodwinds and flutes; John T. Williams, piano; Buddy Cole, Hammond organ; Bob Bain, guitar; Rolly Bundock, bass; Jack Sperling, drums; plus a string section, Erno Neufeld, concertmaster; and chimes. Don Fagerquist, solo trumpet.
The short happy/unhappy life of Mr. Lucky:
The entertainment business, like any other business, is governed by the Golden Rule: Whoever has the gold, makes the rules. This Golden Rule will almost always control the way that decisions are made. It makes no difference if talented people work and sweat to come up with an idea for, say a television series, and then jump through the innumerable hoops that must be jumped through, including recruiting the writers, actors, directors, producers, a TV network, and sponsors that must be gathered, organized, managed, inspired…simply to get a pilot made and broadcast. Then, in most cases, the pilot, for whatever reasons, is not taken into ongoing series production. Consequently, the idea dies. The percentage of TV series that make it into even a first cycle of production (in the 1950s, that was thirteen weeks), is minuscule. Of that small number, the ones that have any success in their first season is much smaller. And the ones that become an ongoing hit in a given year can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Bottom line: hits on television are a rare thing.
If any TV series has become a hit, the people responsible for producing it then constantly analyze why the series is a hit. Usually, they recognize that because of happenstance, chance, and/or good luck, they have stumbled upon a magic combination of elements that a wide swath of the television audience responds favorably to. So the wise producer will continue to do whatever he/she has been doing not to disturb that magic combination of elements. This usually results in a positive response from the sponsors of the series: Their advertisements are being seen by a lot of people week after week. Money flows. Life is good.
I have noticed over my life that there is a corollary to the Golden Rule. It is that – Whoever has the gold …wants more gold. That corollary almost always drives decision-making when one is involved in any successful enterprise. Hence the much desired entertainment “franchise,” the essence of which is that audiences can be lured again and again to see and/or hear spinoffs of a successful production. And who can complain about that? Gold is not that easy to come by. In the case of a successful TV series, the money is flowing in, and that results in more work for everyone associated with the series. So why not create innumerable spin-offs? The marketing department has data… Life continues to be good.
But in a few instances, against all economic logic, a factor will be introduced into the magic combination of a successful show that removes the magic. Here is a contemporary account of what happened to the Mr. Lucky television series in early 1960: “The Fumigated Air: Lever Brothers (the show’s sponsor) came up with a puzzling decision last week. It decided that soap and gambling don’t mix. As the sponsor of one of the year’s two big hits, Mr. Lucky (the other being the sophisticated comedy …Dennis the Menace), the powers-that-be sent down orders that the celebrated television character played by John Vivyan would henceforth have to be made respectabilized. Almost immediately Lucky turned up running a restaurant instead of gambling aboard his ship. By so ordering it seemed that the soap company was taking a big gamble itself. By taking the bite out of the character, it was running a very real risk of transforming one of the season’s big hits into a big flop, to say nothing of fumigating the air so thoroughly that even soap suds might seem astringent after that.” (1) (Above right: Ross Martin (L) and John Vivyan, the stars of the 1959 CBS TV series Mr. Lucky.)
Henry Mancini, who wrote the music for the Mr. Lucky TV series, remembered that weird sequence of events: “…the minute Mr. Lucky lost his gambling boat, the show’s ratings took a nosedive.” (2) The show limped along to the end of its first year. Producer Blake Edwards, who had created the TV version of Mr. Lucky (3), had grown disenchanted with the sponsor’s interference with his project, and he withdrew at the end of that first year. He had feature film projects in the pipeline and took Mancini with him to compose the music for those films. That effectively marked the end of both Edwards’s and Mancini’s involvement with television. But great things lay ahead for both of them in the movies. (Above left: Henry Mancini and John Vivyan on the set of TV series Mr. Lucky.)
Despite all of the sponsor-driven disruption of the TV series Mr. Lucky, Henry Mancini composed and arranged a lot of wonderful music for the 34 episodes that were made. Mancini and his producer at RCA Victor Records, Dick Pierce, continued the pattern set by the previous success of Mancini’s music from Peter Gunn, by producing an LP comprised of selections from the Mr. Lucky TV series. The first LP of music from Mr. Lucky (4) is as good a collection of pop music as there was in 1960, when the record appeared. The music on that album is melodic and in several moods, beautifully and imaginatively arranged by Mancini, and brilliantly performed by the musicians who made up the Mancini recording orchestra. The title tune became a hit, and is memorably melodic. But the other eleven titles on the LP have equally attractive melodies, and in a few cases, those melodies are superb, including the joyously Italianate quasi-mambo “Lightly Latin,” the brooding “Softly,” the bluesy “Tipsy,” and the exuberant “March of the Cue Balls.” In short, the Music from Mr. Lucky LP album is a cornucopia of delightful melodies in settings fashioned by a masterful swing-oriented arranger.
“Chime Time” is a perfect example of the inspired music Henry Mancini produced for Mr. Lucky. It begins, appropriately enough, with an introduction that starts with some playful chimes notes quickly supplemented by a Jack Sperling’s brushed snare drum and a cool jazz mini-melody played by Mancini’s flute section of Ronny Lang, Ted Nash, Gene Cipriano and Harry Klee.
Then there is a swinging sequence during which bassist Rolly Bundock, guitarist Bob Bain and pianist John Williams make like the Basie rhythm section to ensure that the music that follows will be swinging.
The first chorus presents Mancini’s main “Chime Time” melody played by mixed woodwinds, answered by the open trombones and French horns, a signature Mancini sound by 1960, for sixteen bars. The secondary (bridge) melody is presented in swinging fashion by Buddy Cole, playing a Hammond organ. Notice how subtly Mancini adds a shading of strings behind the sound of the organ. The last eight bars of the main melody are played as the first sixteen were, except the trombones briefly add some cup-muted accent notes at the beginning of this sequence. (Organist Buddy Cole is shown above right.)
The second chorus belongs to trumpeter Don Fagerquist, who plays a solo of splendid, swinging jazz. Listen for how Fagerquist plays the first eight bars in one breath, and his oblique reference to Jack Benny’s theme song, “Love in Bloom,” just before he plays across the bar line going into the bridge. The shifting backgrounds Fagerquist plays against are supplied by pianist John Williams (the first eight bars), and then by maestro Mancini’s pastel sonorities for the rest of the chorus. (Trumpeter Don Fagerquist is pictured above left.)
The next half-chorus spotlights Buddy Cole playing the Hammond organ. He is levitated by drummer Jack Sperling, who confines his playing to his brushed snare and his bass drum off-beats. This is followed by airy strings and fluffy French horns.
The finale comes via a reprise of the sounds of the first chorus.
“Chime Time,” and indeed all of the music on Henry Mancini’s album Mr. Lucky, is imaginative, melodic, beautifully arranged and performed by an orchestra of crack musicians. It is high-content pop music.
The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
Notes and links:
(1) Whitney, Dwight. “Television Diary”, TV Guide Vol. 8, No. 7; February 13, 1960; Issue #359, page A-3. How times have changed. Now legalized gambling, for better or worse, is ubiquitous.
(2) Did They Mention the Music? …The Autobiography of Henry Mancini, with Gene Lees, (1989) 97.
(3) The end credits for each Mr. Lucky TV show stated that Mr. Lucky was “Based on an Original Story: ‘Bundles for Freedom’ by Milton Holmes.” That story was also the basis of the 1943 motion picture entitled Mr. Lucky, starring Cary Grant. The film and the television series had little in common, aside from the title and the suave nature of the lead characters.
(4) There was a follow-up LP entitled Mr. Lucky Goes Latin. Unfortunately, much of the music on that record teeters on the brink of being gimmicky because of the overuse of various instruments whose purpose was to give the music a more overt Latin feel. Especially annoying is the use of a timpanola (Brazilian piano), which even the super-sensitive Jimmy Rowles could not tame. I don’t blame Mancini for this. I can imagine him cringing at the various meetings with his producer where there was discussion about how to make the music sound “more Latin.” Despite all of the artifice, that LP contained at least one lovely melody, “Lujon,” later known as “Slow, Hot Wind.”
Here are other great performances by Henry Mancini: