Johnny Mandel


It is with deep sadness and a profound sense of loss that we mark the passing of our esteemed friend and colleague, Johnny Mandel. The consummate composer and songwriter, he was an “arranger’s arranger” – among the finest ever to put pencil to paper – and his generous nature and wicked sense of humor won you over the instant you met him. Honored as an official SCL Ambassador in 2007, he began his studies in his birthplace of New York City at the age of 12 with another SCL Ambassador, the inimitable Van Alexander, and to hear them riff off each other at industry events over the years was truly special.
I was fortunate to cross paths with Johnny both socially and professionally on a few occasions over the years, but there are two particular experiences that immediately come to mind. Some years ago while presenting a master class for ASMAC, in which he so graciously shared many of his tips and techniques, someone asked Johnny why he no longer wrote for film and TV. He answered (paraphrasing), “As soon they asked me to mock-up my music, I knew it was time to move on.”
The other occasion I recall is one for which he was not present, but nonetheless ably represented by his music. About 15 years ago I was working on a TV variety special in Washington and one of the acts on the show was the enchanting jazz artist Diana Krall. She’d been on tour with her trio for several weeks and before she’d hit the road she’d finished the rhythm and vocal tracks for her new album, but she hadn’t heard the overdubs that had been done in the interim, nor was she aware that her record label had sent the charts for the orchestra for us to premier on the show. At the rehearsal she began the tune as she always did, with just the trio, but I will never forget the look on her face when Johnny’s lush orchestration made its entrance, enveloping Diana in a harmonious blanket that lifted her spirit and performance alike. “Where did that come from?” she asked the conductor. “Why, from Johnny Mandel of course” he replied. That’s the effect Johnny’s music has. It lifts your spirit.
The musical legacy of Johnny Mandel is vast. From standards like the Oscar-winning song “The Shadow of Your Smile” (from the film The Sandpiper) and “Emily” (from the film The Americanization of Emily) to his scores for I Want to LiveBeing There and so many more, his work will be savored, analyzed and admired by generations to come. And of course, “Suicide Is Painless” aka “The Theme from M.A.SH.” is one of the most recognizable film and TV themes in the world.
It’s always sad to see someone pass who has been a musical hero to so many, but in leaving us their music they’re never far away.
Dearest Johnny, thank you for all the pretty notes and may you Rest In Peace.
 – Ashley Irwin

Read more about Johnny Mandel’s career in this tribute by Jon Burlingame in Variety