Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Henry Mancini's PETER GUNN Jazz

I haven't seen any numbers, but my feeling is that jazz is less popular these days.  I can remember when it was the rage, back in Henry Mancini's heyday.

The name recognition of Mancini himself fades more each year.  Ask young people to identify the Peter Gunn theme from the first few bars and you'll see.

The soundtrack to the Peter Gunn television series was once a bestseller.  Rock guitarist Dwayne Eddy also made a popular rendition of the theme song, using electric guitar for the driving backbeat and a wailing saxophone for the mid-song jazz solo.

I hadn't listened to the entire Album/CD for decades, when I picked up Max Allan Collins' superb novel, Target: Lancer, and was drawn into it with the album as a natural soundtrack.  The novel's protagonist says he listens to Mancini, so it is a natural.

Mancini also did a latin jazz rendition of the Peter Gunn soundtrack, and Ray Anthony and his Orchestra did a stripper or burlesque version of the theme.  The Blues Brothers movie revived it briefly.  The Ventures, Bill Black's Combo, and Johnny and the Hurricanes all did less popular rock versions, and the theme song was recorded by a capella groups, such as the Swingle Singers.

Not many people now realize that vocal versions of the theme song were recorded with the title "Bye, Bye."  Sarah Vaughan's jazzy version has a solid, catchy, almost-disco beat, and the lyrics make it a brush-off song--think of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" or Linda Ronstadt's "Different Drum."

Karen Murphy also does a torchy jazz vocal rendition, and Roger Cairns does a straight male vocal cover which also features a spectacular jazz trumpet solo.  Terrific stuff.

I'm not a Mickey Spillane fan, and I'm afraid I've been ignoring the works of his heir/associate Max Allan Collins, despite his Shamus Awards, because of this bias.  His new novel, Target: Lancer, took me by surprise and drew me in with its wit, wordplay, and general excellence.  It certainly makes my Best of 2012 List.  I'm still in the glow of it, but I'll post a detailed review shortly.

I immediately sent for the previous novel in the Nate Heller series, Bye, Bye, Baby, and am now wondering if the title was taken from the Peter Gunn lyrics:

Every night your line is busy
All that buzzin' makes me dizzy
Couldn't count on all my fingers
All the dates you had with swingers

Bye, baby
I'm gonna kiss you goodbye
And walk right through that doorway
So long
I'm leaving
This is the last time we'll meet
On the street going your way
Don't look surprised
You know you've buttered your bread
So now it's fair
You should stare
At the back of my head
If you write a letter to me
My former friend
Don't you end
With a R.S.V.P.

I'm going bye, bye
I'm moving
Tomorrow I may be splittin' to Britain or Norway
I'm saying bye, bye
Bye, baby
Now that I heard all that jazzing
Whereas I have had it
I've had it
I'm through now
With you now
So baby it's au revouir
Ciao ciao

The youtube link to hear Sarah Vaughan's version is here.


  1. "Bye Bye, Baby" is mostly a reference to the song that Marilyn sang, but the "Peter Gunn" resonance is there, too (more Gunn references in BYE BYE, BABY than in TARGET LANCER...).

    Your kind words are most appreciated. That you enjoyed the humor and word play mean a lot.

  2. Well, thanks for stopping by, and thanks for writing such a splendid book. I stood deeply impressed when I finished the last page of the text, but then when I read your afterward on the historical sources I was shaking my head in amazement.

    Earlier this year, I decided to read one of the new books celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the death of Marilyn Monroe. I chose MARILYN MONROE: A CASE FOR MURDER by Jay Margolis because I saw that he had more footnotes (nearly a third of the book) and because it appeared to be the more scholarly, less sensational of the three (all of which, I later learned, came to the same conclusion).

    My take is, I'm not paranoid enough to be certain of this thing (since I have no first-hand knowledge of it), but I am not naive enough to believe that such things don't happen.

    Later, I began reading TARGET: LANCER while browsing in a bookstore, and I was just swept into it. Midway through the book I was wishing I had read the previous book and immediately sent for it, as I say.

    I'll be posting my review of LANCER tomorrow, here and at Amazon, with very high marks for pacing and plot, language and wordplay, research and period detail. I suspect that this book will garner more honors for you along with accelerating sales.

    Again, thanks and congratulations.