Tony Bennett: I Will Be Remembering Johnny Mandel

Our finest jazz and traditional-pop singer reflects on his collaborations with the late, great composer-arranger.

by

The hugely influential composer and arranger Johnny Mandel died on June 29 at his home in California. He was 94, and leaves behind a legacy that includes some of the most indelible melodies of the 20th century, among them “The Shadow of Your Smile” and “Suicide Is Painless,” the theme from M*A*S*H. To pay tribute, we asked the iconic singer Tony Bennett to reflect on his time collaborating with the maestro. Bennett’s words appear below — along with a stunning portrait he painted of his friend Johnny Mandel. – Ed.

Johnny Mandel. Credit: Tony Bennett/Benedetto ©2004
... in the center of it all is this thoughtful and sweet and gentle face that shows such depth of character...

“The Shadow of Your Smile”: Johnny as Composer

I get asked quite often what makes a great song, and it’s like a great marriage — it has to be an authentic partnership and stand the test of time. And to build a song of that caliber, the music and lyrics have to exist in the same way. “The Shadow of Your Smile,” with music by Johnny Mandel and lyrics by Paul Francis Webster, is a marriage for the ages. 

When I started looking at material for 1966’s The Movie Song Album, a concept album based on music from films, the song was sent to me and it was love at first hearing. I also adored “Emily,” which Johnny had composed and which I recorded for the project. 

But “The Shadow of Your Smile” is the quintessential song evoking a bittersweet memory of love. Johnny’s music captured that perfectly, without turning it into treacle, alongside all the expertise provided by Webster’s lyrics.

It’s the one song that gets called out most often by an audience member when I perform. It earned me an opportunity to perform at the Academy Awards — and it earned Johnny an Oscar. In fact, after the awards show, Johnny and I celebrated at my house. He was so ecstatic to have won. He said goodnight, and about five minutes later the doorbell rings and it’s Johnny: He’d been so excited that he left without his shoes!

The Art of Romance: Johnny as Arranger

Although Johnny is revered as a composer, he was also a master arranger, and, in fact, that was how he started out. I loved working with him in that regard as well. 

We first met in the 1940s in New York City, at the hangout called Hanson’s Drugstore on 51st Street and Seventh Avenue. But we never worked together professionally until 1965, when I was making The Movie Song Album. The last time we truly collaborated was for an album I made called The Art of Romance, released in 2004. We recorded it in an actual theater in New Jersey instead of a studio, and Johnny conducted the orchestra for the project.

When the orchestra started to play the charts Johnny had written for “I Remember You,” it moved me so much that I started to tear up before I began to sing. As a composer or an arranger, Johnny had that kind of impact on me. I was glad to have him onboard for that album, as he arranged the music for the one and only song I ever wrote lyrics for. The words I crafted in dedication to my wife, Susan, and the title, “All for You,” was also a tribute to Django Reinhardt, whose gorgeous composition “Nuages” provided the melody. 

The Portrait

I painted this portrait of Johnny (at top) when we worked together on The Art of Romance, to thank him for all his beautiful arrangements. I love the fact that it is almost a visual representation of “The Shadow of Your Smile”: a bit dark in the corners, but in the center of it all is this thoughtful and sweet and gentle face that shows such depth of character. … I will be remembering Johnny Mandel.

Related

Songs of Protest & Healing: Meshell Ndegeocello on the Gospel of James Baldwin

Songs of Protest & Healing: Meshell Ndegeocello on the Gospel of James Baldwin

How the cultural and literary icon continues to deliver lessons of freedom, humanity and humility.

Songs of Protest & Healing: Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah on ‘Shallow Water’

Songs of Protest & Healing: Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah on ‘Shallow Water’

The visionary trumpeter finds his personal and ancestral heritage in an Afro New Orleanian anthem.

Ennio Morricone’s Mythic West

Ennio Morricone’s Mythic West

Throughout his marathon career, the late composer provided a guidebook to distilling story, legend and image into sonic form.

All your favorite music.
Best sound quality available.

Start Free Trial
TIDAL app