Raymond offers a debut novel that tells the life story of famed film composer Henry Mancini.
Mancini is born in 1924 to Italian immigrants and grows up in a Pennsylvania steel town during the Depression. His father, Quinto, a “piccolo flute-playing steel worker,” is his first music teacher, training him in classical music and Italian folk songs—but Mancini truly loves ragtime and jazz. His forte is arrangement and improvisation, which earns him a spot at the Juilliard School; in his audition, he performs a “‘fantasy on Cole Porter’s ‘Night and Day’ ” which Raymond describes as “five minutes of pure musical genius filled with wonderful grace notes—those non-essential but inspired additions.” Soon after, he joins an Army band (and is lucky to return home from World War II unscathed), tours the United States as a professional band member, and eventually marries and settles in California. There, he’s hired by Universal Pictures as a staff composer and learns to work in a variety of musical genres. He later gets his big break after a chance encounter with director Blake Edwards, who asks him to score a new TV show: Peter Gunn. “Moon River,” The Pink Panther theme, and various other successful works follow. Raymond’s obvious intention in this fictionalized portrayal is to show her subject in a highly positive light. After all, this book is an entry in the Mentoris Project, a series about trailblazing Italians and Italian-Americans, which frames its subjects as role models. For instance, the author quotes popular singer Andy Williams as saying that Mancini was “one of the nicest men I have ever known,” and she writes that the composer’s peers were generally “inspired by how down to earth he was.” As a result, readers will indeed come away liking Mancini as a person. However, his flaws, if any exist, are left unexamined, so readers looking to read about the life of a tortured artist should look elsewhere. Overall, though, Raymond mostly avoids lionization, painting a low-key look at a kind and modest man with an impressive work ethic.
A simple, successful portrayal of an award-winning but humble artist.