Cinema Jazz

Few creatively distinct yet compatible art forms have intersected in ways as simultaneously natural and conflicting as cinema and jazz. That relationship is literally the confluence of the first-ever “talkie” in 1927 — and since that talkie was The Jazz Singer, whose titular role was played by Al Jolson and involved blackface performance, the questions and conflicts over depictions of the music and its culture were there literally the moment that relationship was made technologically possible. And while jazz would remain a major part of Hollywood’s aesthetic palette for as long as it remained a popular concern — scoring numerous oddball animated shorts of the ’30s, driving the beat of the occasional Broadway adaptation, popping up in musical-interlude cameos for romantic comedies and hard-boiled dramas — it was still treated as an end rather than a means: jazz appearing on film primarily in performance, to showcase the music, to be about jazz. In other words, taking advantage of film to showcase the music’s qualities, rather than using those musical qualities to comment on the events of the film.

But something shifted in the postwar years — a notion that began to take hold around the time that jazz entered a phase of growing maturity, rapid creative evolution, and a tenuous but emerging status as an increasingly “elevated” and “respectable” art form. This was partly the knock-on effect of an early ’50s trend on the part of studios to trim budgets — jazz quintets generally worked cheaper than dedicated full-time studio orchestras — but it also coincided with a slow but noticeable shift in attitudes towards what subjects movies could dare to depict. (Some of the most morally contentious films from the postwar portion of the Hays Code era — Otto Preminger’s The Man With the Golden Arm (1955) and Anatomy of a Murder (1959), and Sidney Lumet’s The Pawnbroker (1964), just so happened to have jazz scores — as did later flashpoints for controversy like Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris (1972) and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976).) That shift meant regarding jazz not just as a subject of interest, but a component of a greater piece of work — not just as a way to make a film’s setting feel credibly hip, but as a way to engage with something more distinctly spontaneous and direct compared to the labored-over and carefully orchestrated symphonic works that typically drove film scores. And that gave rise to a curious effect: the feeling that an improvisational ensemble form of music could convey a further depth of unpredictability and you-are-there verite than any other form of music available to the otherwise carefully controlled and meticulously assembled mise-en-scène of the silver screen.

So while jazz on film would continue to be a popular subject in and of itself — think the nightclub-world confines that Frankie Machine haunts in The Man With the Golden Arm, or the prominence of the all-star combo that plays throughout the party that animates All Night Long — it would become almost inseparable from a succession of cinematic trends that brought each new development in jazz along for the ride. Film noir would find such a memorable expressive outlet through the presence of a jazz score that dark, fatalistic crime stories and sultry horn sections would, at least to future generations, seem inseparable to the point of total symbiosis. And as jazz evolved from bebop to newer forms, its role in film expanded accordingly: post-bop hybridization would develop alongside an arthouse movement that saw increasingly autonomous, studio-flouting European and American directors deconstruct the old tropes of Hollywood; free jazz would find purchase in the avant-garde wake of the New Wave; fusion would inject New Hollywood’s neo-noir stories of inner-city tension and corrupt power brokers with a careful balance of funky groundedness and glossy sophistication.

As “cinema jazz” is such a broad category, this guide’s operating under a few specific parameters of the definition. First, these films cover a roughly two-decade span, from the mid-1950s to the mid-late ’70s, where jazz was a major enough commercial genre and its presence didn’t seem like a statement on the relevance of jazz in itself. The films that gave us later works like Branford Marsalis and Terence Blanchard’s score to Spike Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues or Justin Hurwitz’s pieces for Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash approach jazz-as-subject from a different vantage point, as music that follows and struggles with its traditions (though, it should be emphasized, not to their detriment). This also goes for period pieces like Robert Altman’s Kansas City or Roman Polanski’s Chinatown — reiterations of jazz movements past, however exciting, that aimed to recreate sounds that history had already written the book on. Nonetheless, it remains a broad category that can lead you down any number of paths, and these albums all offer their own kinds of narrative immersion — whether or not there’s visuals, dialogue, or a three-act structure to drive it.

Nate Patrin

Alfie [Original Music from the Score]

Sonny Rollins
Alfie [Original Music from the Score] cover

Lewis Gilbert’s 1966 comedy vehicle about a self-absorbed lothario might’ve given Michael Caine one of his most definitive early roles, but it’s also noteworthy for capturing saxophone colossus Sonny Rollins at the tail end of one of his most revolutionary periods as a bandleader. Alfie was recorded months before the East Broadway Run Down sessions that feinted towards a new free jazz direction for Rollins — a direction that his subsequent six-year hiatus left unresolved — so this more centered and accessible yet still subtly provocative session was a strange outlier in his career on multiple fronts. While the original soundtrack was centered around a group of British musicians, Rollins’ Oliver Nelson-conducted ensemble here assembles a more post-bop-savvy group of American jazz players who put the film’s Bacharach-David sentiment on the back burner in favor of some arrestingly restless journeys. The choice diptych here is “Alfie’s Theme” — a suspiciously easygoing jaunt cut through with solos that toy along the margins of chaos and tumult, especially Kenny Burrell’s bluesy guitar fusillades and Roger Kellaway’s fluttering, tumbling piano, not to mention Rollins’ own bemusedly cascading tenor — and “Alfie’s Theme Differently,” which reiterates that buoyancy with a Rollins solo that cuts even deeper to the quick. “Street Runner With Child” is its own exercise in tweaking pace and momentum: Rollins’ soloing sprints madly through uptempo running-not-walking bass, pauses for a piano-driven reverie, then breaks back into fifth gear before that reverie resurfaces as a sly counterpoint to Sonny’s hyperventilating swings between melodic accessibility and progressive abstraction. But that kind of controlled-explosion energy also lends nuance to two of the soundtrack’s more presumably relaxed moments, the introspective, sorrowful “He’s Younger Than You Are” and the slow-burn waltz-gone-wandering “On Impulse,” where his playing explores the boundaries of intensity without overwhelming the subtler emotional breadth of his framework.

The Cool World [Original Score]

Dizzy Gillespie
The Cool World [Original Score] cover

Shirley Clarke’s 1963 documentary-style drama about Harlem teen gang life remains an elusive watch, in part because producer Frederick Wiseman kept it out of home video circulation for so long — and maybe if it hadn’t been, far more people might know just what a remarkable soundtrack Dizzy Gillespie brought to life for it. The score for The Cool World was written and arranged by Mal Waldron on the road to recovering from a 1963 breakdown caused by a heroin overdose, and it’s rolling thunder right from the start: Dizzy’s trumpet playing in the opening theme captures an off-the-cuff power that embodies cool in the absence of calm, pushing the boundaries of bluesy hard bop until they buckle. But it’s the way the music navigates the film’s need to reconcile a lot of emotional arcs that carries the album beyond that first impression. There’s power-struggle ambition and pained determination in “Duke’s Awakening,” alongside the hopeful hood-mentorship aspirations conveyed by the cheerfully freewheeling “Enter, Priest.” There are desperate escapes both literal (the sprint-paced “Duke on the Run,” featuring astonishing, unpredictably agile solos from Gillespie, tenor sax player James Moody, and pianist Kenny Barron) and figurative (the deliberately disjointed swings from somber reflections and bristling running-in-place outbursts of “Duke’s Fantasy”). There’s the sorrow of loneliness (“Bonnie’s Blues”) and the diverting escape from that loneliness, however temporary (“Coney Island”). And in the end, there are consequences — “Duke’s Last Soliloquy” concludes the original LP with all the gravity of a prison sentence. Waldron’s deeply reflective compositions and the Gillespie quintet’s embodiment of their personal pain tell their own remarkable story, all while soundtracking another one in desperate need of being reintroduced into the world.

Taxi Driver [Original Soundtrack]

Bernard Herrmann
Taxi Driver [Original Soundtrack] cover

Two years after the crusader-with-a-gun smash hit Death Wish scored one man’s violent street justice to the not-entirely-sympathetic sounds of Herbie Hancock at his most tense, Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader had their own jazz-scored take on the urban revenge fantasy. Taxi Driver stripped away what little righteousness might’ve existed in that fantasy and replaced it with a horror-struck examination of a man whose vigilantism is far more a symptom of a social poison than a cure for it. That extended to Scorsese’s choice of film score composer, Bernard Herrmann, whose most famous works were in the service of Hitchcock’s most intense psychodramatic thrillers — and Herrmann, who passed away almost immediately after he completed Taxi Driver‘s score, went out on one of his most harrowing works. Maybe it fits the film so well because its biggest recurring motif — a theme tune that leans headlong into a sort of ironic-romantic noir jazz that sounds more lonely than threatening — hints at the almost naive sense of hope and yearning for connection that Travis Bickle buries under a stream of contempt and invective. When that invective comes to the forefront, as it does when the white-knuckle trudge-march of “Diary of a Taxi Driver” features the audio of Robert De Niro’s Bickle condemning the “sick, venal” underbelly of New York, it refuses to reduce Herrmann’s work to mere ambient background music. And while some soundtrack enthusiasts like to complain about Dave Blume’s arrangements on the “dated” fusion selections that bolstered Side 1 of the original LP, it fits the tenor of the time, the place, and the film, subverting any potential upscale associations with soul-jazz smoothness and invoking a distinctly claustrophobic mid ’70s sense of anxious squalor.

Bullitt [Original Soundtrack]

Lalo Schifrin
Bullitt [Original Soundtrack] cover

Some people might be content to let the dueling engines of a Mustang and a Charger provide all the soundtrack they’d ever want for a chase scene as legendary as the one in Bullitt. Lalo Schifrin knew better. The score to Peter Yates’s Steve McQueen cop thriller has a few down spots — the lite bossa-jazz of “Room ’26’,” “The Aftermath of Love,” and “The First Snowfall” is a lot more pleasantly mellow than it is memorable in any way — but when the mood rises to meet the film’s feeling of action and suspense, its sense of swing connects straight to the jaw. And while the album’s soundtrack release saw the music re-recorded to work a little better as a home-listening LP than a pure film score, the retooling works — in part because Schifrin had the ruthlessly accomplished genre-polyglot Wrecking Crew session players backing him up, letting Schifrin’s compositions breathe like the upbeat pop-jazz it really was. The biggest glow-up goes to the main title theme, which gets an uptempo jolt wrapped around a mile-deep bassline, and a lead guitar that’s gradually unmoored from its smooth groove and spirals into a barely-controlled freakout in the face of an increasingly insistent horn section. (The seething last-moment Hammond B-3 sting in its waning moments is just the chef’s kiss.) That cinematic dynamic’s also well translated through the brassy freneticism-a-go-go of “Hotel Daniels” and the spacious jazz-rock tension-building of “Ice Pick Mike,” but it’s that reconstituted chase theme, “Shifting Gears,” that really pulls it all together: the ready-to-snap highwire strings, the sour taunts and brisk scrambling exclamations of the horn section, the way the rumbling bass sounds like it’s about ready to spring off the line in a tire-smoking burnout.

Anatomy of a Murder [Original Soundtrack]

Duke Ellington
Anatomy of a Murder [Original Soundtrack] cover

If Otto Preminger’s Elmer Bernstein-penned score for The Man With the Golden Arm used jazz to the obvious end of telling a story about the jazz world, his decision to hire Duke Ellington to score the small-town courtroom drama Anatomy of a Murder seemed a bit counterintuitive by comparison. It wasn’t just the presumed tonal mismatch — it was the fact that Ellington, despite a recent career renewal off his band’s legendary 1956 Newport Jazz Festival performance, was still a big question mark when it came to working with Hollywood. But Duke and songwriting partner Billy Strayhorn rose to the occasion with the ease of artists who could make any adapted outside influences seem fully their own, composing a score so evocative of the film’s moral ambiguity and high-stress stakes that it might as well have doubled as its screenplay. The main title theme and its concluding bookend “Upper and Outest” stir up moods of self-assured power, looming menace, arch retorts, and shifty-eyed guilt, all while they siphon a orchestral prewar big band sensibility into something more slippery in its bluesy momentum — and then elaborates spectacularly on that atmosphere until you’re immersed in the sound of a hectic situation where you don’t know who to believe, much less trust. Ellington’s band on this recording, most of whom were part of that revitalizing Newport gig, are in similar form here: alto player Johnny Hodges plays the sleazy sax to end all sleazy saxes on the over-the-top burlesque caricature of “Flirtibird,” though the full brass section’s interplay on more subdued selections like the quietly fuming “Hero to Zero” and the sideways-glance-at-Thelonious “Midnight Indigo” does just as much with a pared-back melodic subtlety; it’s restrained, but it doesn’t need a Jimmy Stewart or a Lee Remick in front of you to evoke the tension of their roles. This soundtrack was a commercial hit, a career highlight, and a pioneering venture for Ellington all at once; Anatomy of a Murder was one of the first high-profile Hollywood films where a Black composer was given the role of creating primarily non-diegetic music. But it’s also a simple, direct, easy-to-love distillation of everything Ellington had grown to encompass by the time the ’60s approached.

Ascenseur Pour L'Échafaud

Miles Davis
Ascenseur Pour L'Échafaud cover

Kind of Blue and Milestones may have earned all the sales and acclaim, but at some point the retrospective view of Miles Davis’s late ’50s work grew to appreciate this 1958 Louis Malle film score on a comparable level — and not just because it seemed to fit a certain ideal of “noir jazz” and its connection to cinematic cool. Released as a 10” EP/mini-LP in France and given its own LP side for the 1959 compilation Jazz Track, Davis’s music for Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud was recorded with no real recurring themes or even a pre-composed score, just a few chord progressions he’d worked up after the screening and gave to the group of Parisian musicians he’d been touring Europe with to improvise around. (Early Miles Davis Quintet drummer and ex-pat Kenny Clarke was one of them, joined by Barney Wilen on sax, René Urtreger on piano, and Pierre Michelot on bass.) Its improvised spontaneity came through Miles’ emerging developments in adapting modal jazz’s scales-over-chords priority to his own ends, those ends being an ensemble performance featuring some of his most distinctly melancholy and even harrowing melodic forays. Opening theme “Générique” might as well be the standard at which all evocative doomed-romance crime thrillers of the time are held — a keening search for meaning, transmitted through the blues, aching with negative space and basking so evocatively in its minor-key mournfulness that it’s almost startling when the music briefly diverts into a major key. (Further variations on that feeling, especially the subtly bitterer closer “Chez le photographe du motel”, wind up conveying a sort of exhausted fatalism on top of it.) “L’Assassinat De Carala” plays like both the stalking of a murder victim and the victim’s descent into the grave, with a minimalist, crawl-paced tension that embodies anticipatory dread and after-the-fact sorrow all at once; it’s the kind of evocation of fear and guilt that Davis’ more open-ended modal playing gave fluid nuance to. And even the uptempo numbers like “Sur l’autoroute” and “Diner au motel” nail a certain on-the-run desperation with fusillades of trumpet/sax solos and interplay that scan like they’re scrambling for purchase — it sounds like a sardonic yet sympathetic response to the ennui and frustration of schemers going nowhere fast.

The Man With the Golden Arm [Original Soundtrack]

Elmer Bernstein
The Man With the Golden Arm [Original Soundtrack] cover

Sure, the primary motif’s a monster — a broad-shouldered explosion of boastful yet malevolent brass that was adapted by rockers as far-flung as Sweet and Barry Adamson. But Elmer Bernstein’s score to Otto Preminger’s junkie drummer noir, featuring Frank Sinatra as the titular lead, goes a bit further beyond that swaggering intial impact. West Coast drummer Shelly Manne was coming into his own as a major component of Hollywood’s increasing reliance on jazz-scored soundtracks, and his beat drives the heart of Bernstein’s score and Shorty Rogers’ arrangements as they grapple with the transitions between classic big band jazz, bebop, and its evolving post-bop forms. It makes for some dynamic medleys — the opening “Clark Street,” which shifts from that swinging-turned-spiralling theme to quieter, small-combo reverie and then back to an upbeat dancefloor mode, or the frantic “Breakup” sequence that fuses sting-heavy orchestral cues to the kinds of cold-sweating piano chords (played by longtime Hollywood hand Ray Turner) and untethered boogie-woogie/blues that sounds halfway to the early avant expeditions Sun Ra would go a few years later on Jazz in Silhouette. The more traditional orchestral cues — the sentimental romantic overtures of “Molly,” the cold-turkey nightmare “Sunday Morning,” the downer resolution of “The Cure” — wind up shining by proximity, too. But the real big thrill is “Audition” — a thwarted moment of failure in the film, but an absolute barn-burner of mid ’50s late swing on record.

Last Tango in Paris

Gato Barbieri
Last Tango in Paris cover

While it’s not always easy to separate a troubling film from its soundtrack, there’s a certain disconnect that comes into play when Gato Barbieri’s wildly acclaimed score to Bernardo Bertolucci’s bleak sexual psychodrama Last Tango in Paris is left to stand on its own. The Argentine sax player had been slowly transitioning from a free jazz milieu to more distinctly Latin-inflected forms of commercial-friendly fusion in the early ’70s, and the Last Tango score only accelerated the process, paring back some of his more intense tendencies to capture the essence of a desperate romance — even if the music accompanied depictions of it that ranged from tenderness to abuse. In the way that a familiar sax tone can shift from signifying sultriness to loneliness with the slightest adjustments, Barbieri’s playing here relies on the weight of his emotional expression finding the spaces between those degrees. It’s evident enough in the genre-befitting title theme, which evokes international intrigue and luxury through its Oliver Nelson-orchestrated Argentine-via-French trappings, but takes on a deeper sense of longing and ache once Barbieri’s tenor sax insinuates itself into the mix. And while it’s not uneasy listening, per se, the soundtrack on the whole has a way of gradually turning up the heat to the point where it’s hard not to feel the roiling unrest beneath the surface. Check out the way his lead in “Jeanne” escalates into a piercing wail that makes the languid backbeat feel like a cage ready to be broken out of, or how his insistent energy gives otherwise placid cues like the breezy “Vuelta” or the flighty waltz “Picture in the Rain” that extra dose of heightened yearning, or how the wistful comedown “Why Did She Choose You?” lingers in this odd space between borderline exotica and spiritual jazz until his solo wrings maximum pathos in ways that fit both modes. That makes the soundtrack an album as dedicated to capturing the difficulties of its desires as the movie does in exhibiting its sexually-loaded tragedies — peaking with an astonishing, cathartic reprise of the title theme that wordlessly yet conclusively summarizes it all as a delirious struggle of the heart.

$ [Original Soundtrack]

Quincy Jones
$ [Original Soundtrack] cover

Quincy Jones’ film soundtrack portfolio was full to bursting within a few years of his breakthrough scoring Sidney Lumet’s The Pawnbroker in 1965 — he had no less than five of them in 1969 alone — so by the time he hit the early ’70s, it seemed like he was starting to give himself enough breathing room to get a bit weird with it. And this half-remembered Warren Beatty/Goldie Hawn heist spoof was as startling as he got for his cinema gigs. The title theme “Money Is” and deep cut “Do It - To It” are recognizably of their time, more or less — both ride on a funky backbone that nods to the up-and-coming emergence of R&B-rooted Blaxploitation scores — and scoring lead vox from Little Richard during one of his temporary returns to secular music pushes things straight into rock’n’soul crossover turf. (That said, “Money Is”’s wah-wah-soaked, Clavinet-driven instrumental reprise “Money Runner” is only a notch or two less flamboyant without him.) A simultaneously cheery/heartfelt pop-soul update of old standard “When You’re Smiling” needs only a minute 45 to give Roberta Flack’s voice enough space to run that emotional gamut, a resonance that keeps it from coming across as tossed-off. But the strangeness lies in the margins, the brief cues that are too prickly and odd to count as aural wallpaper. Check out the surreal vocal choir droning over the lurching heavy-horn trudge of herky-jerky suspense-builder “Snow Creatures,” or the comedic nudging of “Rubber Ducky” and “Shady Lady.” Special honors go to legendary cratedigger favorite “Kitty With the Bent Frame” — made famous from a brief synth/string sting that Mobb Deep turned into a pivotal sample for the “Shook Ones, Pt. II” beat, but a strange beast in itself, all creeping lower-than-low basslines and distorted ghostly wordless voices and glimmering keyboards that feel ready to shatter in your hands and cut your fingers open.

Les Stances à Sophie

Art Ensemble of Chicago
Les Stances à Sophie cover

Moshé Mizrahi’s 1970 film Les Stances a Sophie was a witty, often amusing post-New Wave study of French gender politics. It was also criminally underseen, and might’ve been almost entirely forgotten after a three-week art house run if it hadn’t happened to have been blessed with one of the most memorable avant-jazz soundtracks to ever eclipse its source material. After Art Ensemble of Chicago took their playful-yet-perceptive take on advanced internationalist free jazz to Paris in 1969 and embarked upon their most creatively fulfilling and productive period, their colorfully eclectic and tonally unpredictable sound found one of their biggest breakthroughs through this soundtrack. The Fontella Bass-fronted J.B.’s-meet-the-Arkestra “Theme de Yo Yo” became their most recognizable song through an almost uncanny ability to balance avant-garde jazz’s tonal rule-flouting with to-the-gut funk in ways that never entirely give full reign to either mode — and feel all the more powerful for it, thanks in part to Bass’s total commitment to the surrealism its lyrics evoke with a sort of dream-logic vividness (“Your eyes are two blind eagles/That kill what they can’t see”). The other extended piece on the soundtrack, the rollicking “Thème Libre,” is the Ensemble at their most vibrant, careening through Don Moye’s tumultuous drumming with a breathtaking Lester Bowie/Joseph Jarman/Roscoe Mitchell freeform horn-section interplay — bracing stuff, but it breaks down defenses with a sense of exciting chaos you can get your arms around, played with unremitting power and joy. (It’s no less bracing in a shorter dose via “Theme de Céline.”) Meanwhile, a casually irreverent yet still heartfelt pair of brief, bop-warped pieces adapted from Monteverdi’s opera L’Arianna and the two-part late-Coltrane variations of “Proverbes” prove that free jazz can be at its most revelatory when it comes in brief, impressionistic flurries that continue inside your head long after they conclude on record.

Death Wish (Original Soundtrack Recording)

Herbie Hancock
Death Wish (Original Soundtrack Recording) cover

Hancock’s side gig scoring motion pictures netted him a classic out of the gate with his take on London’s Swinging Sixties for Michelangenlo Antonioni’s ’66 mod thriller Blow-Up, but the real surprise gem in his filmography comes from a significantly less countercultural movie. Michael Winner’s vigilante fantasy Death Wish might’ve been a reactionary take on the state of urban crime in a decaying New York — a major tonal shift from Hancock’s previous film-score job, the Black Power deep state spoof The Spook Who Sat By The Door — but in the wake of the commercial smash success of Head Hunters, his score gave him an opportunity to imbue his funk-crossover moves with a sense of anxiety and suspense that Jerry Peters’ orchestral flourishes don’t need to strain to heighten. The opening title theme — punctuated by both vertigo-inducing skyscraper strings and some of Hancock’s most caged-tiger electric piano playing — shifts from dread to calm and back so restlessly that it captures the kind of thematic underlying paranoia that Charles Bronson couldn’t fully embrace as a leading man. And the way “Joanna’s Theme” transforms from romantic soul-jazz idyll into a gathering-storm sense of looming tragedy is an unsettling account in itself. The rest of the album is rounded out by a handful of context-heavy cues (the stalker-paced proto-disco groove “Do A Thing”; the cavernous, almost droning queasiness of “Party People”), a selection of tension-building symphonic pieces given the snarky title “Medley: Suite Revenge”, and the bristling closer “Fill Your Hand” — the latter featuring Hancock reaching back to the more cathartic and intense tendencies of his Mwandishi sextet to make Paul Kersey’s fate feel more traumatically doomed than a restoration of law and order.

3 Days of the Condor [Original Soundtrack]

Dave Grusin
3 Days of the Condor [Original Soundtrack] cover

It took veteran bandleader and film composer Dave Grusin a while to raise his profile higher than just being the guy who wrote the Graduate soundtrack jazz pieces most people skipped to get to the Simon & Garfunkel songs. But if any work really made his name as a key figure of ’70s cinema jazz, it was his score for Sydney Pollack’s 1975 CIA conspiracy thriller 3 Days of the Condor — a pairing of paranoia-tweaking political-intrigue espionage and upbeat, smooth-yet-sinister jazz-funk that turned out counterintuitive yet oddly effective. The title cut (glibly truncated as “Condor!”) has all the hallmarks of hip, urbane, post-Head Hunters synth-laced fusion, and instills it with a sense of grand scale where the deep rhythm takes precedence enough to carry any symphonic flourishes. That thrives elsewhere in the score, too — the slap bass-driven rumble that serves as the crescendo of “Yellow Panic,” the fidgety proto-boogie of “Out to Lunch”, and the theme-variation “Sing Along With the C.I.A.” — though another key highlight, the Jim Gilstrap-sung “I’ve Got You Where I Want You,” places its deep soul a bit further back to the turn of the decade. It’s a fairly lean LP: its dozen tracks play out in less than a half hour, with most of the cues clocking at under 2 ½ minutes, and counting a skippable if mordant-by-association version of Christmas chestnut “Silver Bells” in keeping with the film’s ironic holiday setting. But it still captures the movie’s potent blend of Beame-era NYC luridness and post-Watergate anxiety to a T.

The Pink Panther [Music From the Film Score]

Henry Mancini
The Pink Panther [Music From the Film Score] cover

The slinky tiptoe-rhythm theme to Blake Edwards’ 1963 blockbuster comedy (and its subsequent sequels and Saturday morning cartoon spinoffs) might be the single most recognizable piece in Henry Mancini’s incredibly prolific career. Hell, it might even be one of the five most recognizable pieces of music ever performed on a saxophone; Plas Johnson did gigs with Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke and that cartoon cat ditty is still going to be first and foremost in his obit. But beyond that, Mancini’s full score to The Pink Panther is a remarkable curiosity of postwar international chic — a British-led, European-flavored film set in the upscale villas and resorts of Italy, scored by the American-born son of working-class Italian immigrants. So it follows that its material subsequently careens wildly throughout that jet-set socialite milieu with tongue-in-cheek eclecticism. Johnny Mercer co-write “It Had Better Be Tonight (Meglio Stasera),” which appears in both instrumental and Fran Jeffries-sung Italo-English bilingual form, even complicates things by introducing au courant Brazilian bossa rhythms into the mix, capitalizing on one of the early ’60s’ biggest international-beat movements and bringing its lively mood to life as an integral ingredient without reducing it to a hip cliche. And the other pieces that fit the title theme’s hilariously unsubtle sense of big-band swankiness — like the merging of lowbrow American dance-craze grooves and Euro-continental quasisophistication in the accordion-and-sax workout “The Tiber Twist,” or the cha-cha permutations in “Something for Sellers” — pull off the remarkable feat of making the era’s accessibly upscale lounge-jazz sound both untouchably cool and irreverently ridiculous. That really makes the moments of pure unironic sentiment feel like ambushes: most people might not come to the Pink Panther soundtrack of all things in search of moments of heartbreaking melancholy or sincere stabs at elegance, but pieces like “The Lonely Princess” and “Champagne and Quail” serve as reminders that Mancini was a maestro in those moods, too, no Clouseau pratfalls necessary.