The Memphis Symphony Orchestra's pop concert "Mancini & Moonlight: A Tribute to Henry Mancini & Johnny Mercer" is being billed as a Valentine's treat for lovers. It's also a gift to lovers of instrumental space-age pop, witty wordplay, and sophisticated songcraft.
It's tempting to say that Mercer, a Georgia-born singer and lyricist, was slumming when he teamed with Mancini to create "Moon River," the love theme from the Audrey Hepburn film Breakfast at Tiffany's. By the time the film was released in 1961, he'd already worked with the likes of Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington, and Harold Arlen, collaborating on classic songs such as "Blues in the Night," "Anywhere I Hang My Hat Is Home," and "That Old Black Magic."
That's not to suggest that Mancini was any slouch. On the contrary, the Academy Award-winning composer defined crime-jazz with "Experiment in Terror" and exuded cool with the rocked-up theme to the television show Peter Gunn. Likewise, the lurking saxophone bomps in Mancini's theme to The Pink Panther changed forever the way we sneak around.
To sweeten the pot, the MSO is importing Broadway's Leah Hocking and Gerald Steichen (pictured) to handle the vocals.
"Mancini & Moonlight," 8 p.m., Saturday, February 16th, at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $15 to $78.