The very name “Mancini” brings with it many associations, most notably, exceptional talent, critical acclaim, and respected professionalism. Continuing the family legacy, Monica Mancini takes the next step on her own musical path with the release of Cinema Paradiso (CCD-4988-2), her second for Concord Records.
Choosing to record a collection of theme songs from both new and classic movies was a natural choice for Monica. “Much of my favorite music comes from the movies,” she explains. “Theme songs are so evocative—when you listen to the lyrics, they really tell a story. I’ve always thought these kind of songs had more meaning because they conjure up both images and emotions.”
Possessing a warm, expressive voice and a remarkable gift for interpreting lyrics, Monica began her singing career as a member of the Henry Mancini Chorus. Later, she developed a lucrative career as a studio singer in Los Angeles, where she contributed vocals to countless film scores and recordings for a variety of major artists, from Placido Domingo to Dolly Parton and Michael Jackson to Quincy Jones.
Her 1998 eponymous debut, a homage to her father’s musical career, won over both critics and audiences alike and established Monica as a tour de force in the female vocal community. The New York Times noted that her voice was, “the glamorous equivalent to diamonds flashing,” and Jazz Times enthused that “Mancini sings like a dream.” Monica’s sophomore effort, The Dreams of Johnny Mercer (CCD-4937), featured seven Mercer songs, with music co-written by Concord label-mate Barry Manilow. The album served as a personal tribute to a close family friend and one of the most brilliant American song lyricists of all time.
Cinema Paradiso continues Monica’s tradition of selecting a theme that has a deeply personal connection. “This is the kind of music that I grew up with, and it’s what I know best,” she says. In fact, several of the songs on the new CD were specifically chosen because of their personal significance, including the title track. “Cinema Paradiso was my dad’s favorite movie theme,” she recalls. “It’s such a gorgeous piece, and he always said how much he loved it.” Monica and her husband / producer, Gregg Field, contacted composer Ennio Morricone and expressed the desire to have English lyrics written for this theme. “As it turned out, Gregg took on the challenge, and the lyrics were accepted by Morricone, which was very exciting.”
Another song with a link to her father is “Soldier in the Rain,” from the 1963 Steve McQueen film of the same name. With music by Henry Mancini and lyrics by the esteemed duo Alan and Marilyn Bergman, the song is a moving look at the lonely life of a serviceman. “It’s a very sad song,” comments Monica. “And I think it’s especially poignant with everything that is happening in the world today.”
Several other tunes on the CD also evoke a feeling of melancholy, especially the classics “The Summer Knows” and “The Shadow of Your Smile.” “I’m a big fan of Michelle Legrand’s, and I considered several of his songs,” Monica says of the love theme from the movie Summer of ‘42. Monica chose the Academy Award-winning Johnny Mandel/Paul Francis Webster tune from The Sandpiper for its beauty and timeless quality. Although she also admits, “It’s completely challenging to take on a standard—you want to make it personal and not just faithfully reproduce what’s been done before.”
Another song that is well established in modern culture is the Burt Bacharach/Hal David tune, “Alfie,” from the 1966 hit movie of the same name. “When I decided that I was going to record songs from films, Alfie was my first choice,” states Monica. “I’m also a huge fan of Bacharach/David, and I’ve always loved that song.” Rather than duplicate the Dionne Warwick rendition, Monica chose instead to slow down the tempo and sing the tune accompanied solely by a piano. “I wanted to strip it down and take it to an intimate place so that the words to the song would be at the forefront,” she explains.
Monica’s haunting performance of “Senza Fine,” which she recorded especially for the 2002 Robert Zemeckis/Joel Silver thriller, Ghost Ship, is also featured on this new CD. Monica sings in Italian for this track, showcasing her tremendous vocal versatility. Another modern standard included on this collection of movie themes is the Academy Award nominated song, "A Love Before Time," from the critically acclaimed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Multi-Grammy and Oscar nominee Jorge Calandrelli, who wrote this song, is a long-time fan of Monica’s and kindly agreed to arrange and conduct the track for the CD, along with "Cinema Paradiso" and "A Day in the Life of a Fool." Other well-loved songs from cinematic history featured on this CD are: the delicate lullaby, "Baby Mine," from the Disney classic Dumbo; "Too Late Now" from Royal Wedding; "I’ll Never Say Goodbye" from The Promise; and a soulful rendition of "Over The Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz.
The musical accompaniment throughout Cinema Paradiso is nothing short of world-class. Whether it’s the lush setting provided by an orchestra or the quieter mood created by solo piano or guitar, the players match Monica’s vocal artistry and nuanced phrasing note for note. “You’re hearing a team of people putting all of their talents and efforts together,” she states humbly. “I think this CD sounds like a million bucks and that’s due to all the hard work of everyone involved.”
In addition to her recording career and a hectic touring schedule both domestically and internationally, Monica works with her sister, Felice, and mother, Ginny, to raise funds and awareness for The Henry Mancini Institute and its music education programs. Each year, 85 music students from around the world are selected to study and perform during a four-week summer program that culminates with a concert at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Some of the finest musical masters in the industry, including Quincy Jones and John Williams, have served as mentors and tutors for students, each of whom receive a full scholarship that includes tuition, room and board. “That was always my dad’s goal—to encourage kids to get a really good education,” Monica explains. “I’ve seen firsthand what a difference this program makes to these musicians’ lives.”
Monica Mancini continues to seek new challenges as a performer, exploring the music for which she feels the greatest affinity. “I feel so blessed that I grew up with an appreciation for sophisticated music,” says Monica. Performing her favorite songs with grace and style, Monica’s tribute to the movies is destined to become a classic among film lovers everywhere.