The Henry Mancini Institute and its summer education program were founded by composer/arranger Jack Elliott in 1997 to continue Mancini's legacy as a mentor for youth. Each year more than 80 young musicians participate in a program that includes jazz, improvisation, new orchestral works and film music. Although Elliott passed away in 2001 the tradition carries on under the leadership of the noted composer and educator, Patrick Williams. All participants attend on a full scholarship basis. Proceeds from this CD, recorded during the HMI 2002 Free Concert Series, will be devoted to scholarships.
The orchestra is strong and the music varied. Film music is honored by a composition each by Erich Korngold (Sea Hawk), John Williams (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and Mancini's happy-go-lucky "Hong Kong Fireworks." There's an eloquent arrangement by pianist/conductor Roger Kellaway of Django Reinhardt's haunting "Nuages" which features violinist Yue Deng and Kellaway on piano. Dave Grusin, Lee Ritenour and the band have a lot of fun with Grusin's "Cripple Creek Breakdown,"a tongue-in-cheek blend of country and swing. Saxophonist Bob Sheppard is featured on three selections conducted by Vince Mendoza: a brief movement from "Songbook for Saxophone and Orchestra"by Daniel Schnyder, stressing interplay between Sheppard and the strings; Mendoza's own playful "Esperança," and Gunther Schuller's "Lament to M," a heartfelt memorial to the composer's late wife. The Peter Erskine Trio makes its presence felt on the last two selections. "Fire, Tears," a rhythmic composition of many moods, is contributed by the gifted composer/conductor Aiko Fukushima, a HMI participant.
Some of the most interesting music on this CD comes from works commissioned by the HMI. Two are by Artistic Director Williams. His "Cascades"leaves no doubt at all about the subject matter as it showcases the talents of student pianists Makesh Balasooriya and Daniel Szabo. The "Show Me" state gets the big band treatment, with a touch of hoedown, in " A Bird From Missouri." Finally, there should be a father and son music award and it should be awarded to John and Gerald Clayton for their collaboration on "The C Zone." Composed and conducted by John, with son Gerald on piano, "The C Zone" is an intriguing work as it encompasses hard-driving swing and introspection.
The enthusiasm and joy of the young players, their obvious talent, the leadership of the instructors and the intricate and colorful arrangements result in an exciting release. It's not at all easy to get a large orchestra to swing. This CD should serve as an example to all conductors who try to do so.