Monica Mancini joins Hamlisch, UI Jazz Band at Krannert

Monica Mancini joins Hamlisch, UI Jazz Band at Krannert

URBANA – Growing up in California as a child of legendary movie composer Henry Mancini was nothing out of the ordinary to Monica Mancini, who performs with Marvin Hamlisch on Thursday evening at Krannert Center.

"He would get up and go to work, and my mother would do the same thing," she recalled. "We went to school and did homework. It was really normal."

And though people such as Johnny Mercer, Mel Torme and other famous folks often visited, Monica, her twin sister and their older brother were oblivious.

"We were not aware that there was any celebrity going on until we were 12 and 13 years old," she said in a telephone interview. "That's when he won his first Academy Award, and that's when we started paying attention."

After the composer fell ill – he died in 1994 – composer/conductor Bill Conti replaced him on the pops symphony circuit. Conti recruited Monica to perform in those concerts, which in part focused on her father's music.

She has continued doing that, singing 25 times a year with orchestras and less frequently in smaller venues.

Stephen Holden noted in a 1998 New York Times review of Mancini that it's a ticklish situation for a child of a celebrity to strike out as an entertainer. Should she emphasize the family tie or pretend it doesn't exist or doesn't matter? While performing, Monica chooses to acknowledge her father. And Holden wrote that she "certainly can sing."

"A formal pop stylist who delivers carefully measured readings of songs, she rarely strays from the written note," he wrote. "In her timbre, she suggests a more laid-back descendant of the 1950s pop belter Toni Arden, who specialized in declamatory semi-operatic ballads.

"Like Ms. Arden, Ms. Mancini conveys guarded tension, even when her voice spreads into a rapid vibrato that suggests the glamorous vocal equivalent of diamonds flashing."

The friendly and accessible Mancini digs the metaphor.

"I have a real rich tone in my voice," she said. "When you match that up with a microphone, it glistens. I can put a visual to what he's saying. I think it's a good thing. Anything with diamonds in it is probably a good thing."

At Krannert Center on Thursday evening, Hamlisch and Mancini will be backed by the University of Illinois Concert Jazz Band. Hamlisch will conduct and play piano. Mancini's husband, Gregg Field, will be at the drums. Their program will be along the lines of "Mancini and Hamlisch at the Movies."

Henry Mancini won his first of four Oscars for best music for "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and best song for "Moon River," with lyrics by Mercer. He and Mercer also wrote "Days of Wine and Roses," among other great songs. Mancini and Hamlisch likely will perform those as well as Hamlisch's Oscar-winning "The Way We Were."

Though Krannert booked them as part of its Marquee Jazz Series, Mancini does not consider herself a jazz singer per se.

"I like singing really good songs," she said. "If it happens to be a jazz song I love, I'll sing it. I don't categorize myself as any kind of singer."

Like her mother, studio singer Ginny O'Connor Mancini, Monica began her professional career before she was out of her teens. At age 14, Monica and her identical twin sister joined the Henry Mancini Chorus. Her mother sang with the group as well.

"It was great getting a paycheck at 14," she remembered. From there, Mancini began singing backup for "anybody who was making records" in Los Angeles – she continues to live in her hometown of Studio City – and for film scores. She has worked with artists such as Placido Domingo, Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson.

"That was the best. That was fun," she remembered. "You show up in your jeans, and you go in and sing what they tell you to sing, and you go home. I don't get called for that much anymore after I went on to a solo career."

As a solo artist, Mancini has released three CDs and appeared on another that was nominated for two Grammy Awards.

Her debut album, "Monica Mancini," was released in 1998 as the companion to the PBS television special, "Monica Mancini: On Record." The next, "Dreams of Johnny Mercer," was released in 2000. That was followed by "Cinema Paradiso," which features 12 tracks from a variety of movie soundtracks.

In 2004, Mancini sang as a guest vocalist on the double-Grammy-nominated "Ultimate Mancini." Other guest artists on the recording such as Stevie Wonder, Take 6, Kenny Rankin and Gary Burton all pay tribute to her father.

Monica Mancini, who is 55, admits she didn't listen much to her father's music when she was young. Like most of her generation, she was tuned into the Beatles and other rock music.

She continues to do so today.

In fact, she has been listening lately to thousands of iTunes of '60s and '70s songs to help select tracks for her next album, due in late summer. On it, she will cover artists such as Paul Simon, Billy Joel and the Beatles. She's already been in the recording studio, backed by a Los Angeles rhythm section. Light strings will be added to the tracks.

"I want to perform some of this music with symphonies," she said. "It's going to have a beat, this one."

Topics (1):Music