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Space Age Music Maker

Sy Mann


  • Born 13 June 1920, Binghamton, New York
  • Died 23 March 2001, Miami, Florida

Sy Mann was a prolific, if largely unknown, worker on the New York City pop music production line for over thirty years. According to the liner notes from his Switched-On Santa, he "showed his earliest musical talent at age 6 when he began to correct mistakes, made by his older sister who was then a cello student, by reaching up to the keyboard of the family player-piano and striking the 'right notes'." Soon after, a piano teacher told his parents he had perfect pitch, and he liked to show off this talent as he went through school.

He entered the music program at New York University in 1938, but his studies were cut short by World War Two. Mann spent four years in the U.S. Army, most of it playing in, arranging for, and conducting Army bands, including one that toured the European Theater with a USO show.

After his discharge, he returned to New York and finished his degree in Music Education. He spent a couple of years as a travelling musician, playing with Alvino Rey and Benny Goodman's bands. But with a wife and young son at home, he preferred the stability of a studio job, and in 1949, he joined the staff of New York's top independent radio station, WNEW, as a pianist and arranger. He stayed with WNEW for four years, and during that time, wrote an arrangement of "That's All" that was used as the station's end-of-the-day theme for many years.

He moved from radio to television in 1953, joining CBS. His primary duty while with CBS was as the lead pianist and arranger for its popular "Arthur Godfrey Show," replacing another musical chameleon, Dick Hyman. Mann indulged his taste for showing off by playing a variety of instruments on the show, including the trumpet, vibes, and assorted keyboards.

Most of his credits can only be found in the logbooks of studios and the records of Musicians Union Local 802 in Manhattan, but Mann's name pops up all over the world of Space Age Pop. He arranged and conducted for numerous singers, from Streisand and Connie Francis to Tiny Tim and Melanie. He and Nick Tagg recorded a duo organ album for Enoch Light's Grand Award label, and a few years later, he can be heard playing the Ondioline on Lew Davies' Strange Interlude. He played piano on a number of recordings by Three Suns, and appears to have been Hyman's alter ego, since his keyboard credits through the 1960s and early 1970s include piano, electric, electronic, and pipe organs, clavietta, electric harpsichord, Ondioline (as already stated), and Moog.

On the last, he recorded what was perhaps first Christmas album to feature the Moog, Switched-On Santa, for the budget label Pickwick. Despite the label's disingenuous claim that "Anybody who plays piano can play the Moog," it took hundreds of hours of studio time (all of which I'm sure he was happy to book) for Mann to record the thirty-plus minutes of holiday tunes, since Moog albums at the time were masterpieces of tape splicing and multi-tracking. Mann's name also shows up on another great Pickwick product, its rip-off of the soundtrack to "Shaft!"--credited in this case to "Soul Mann and the Brothers"--which, in true Pickwick fashion, contains two covers of the originals and the remainder of sound-alike filler tracks, probably all composed and arranged by Mann.

Hey, it put bread on the Mann table, folks.


Recordings

  • Everybody's Christmas Favorites, Palace XM 901
  • The Artie Malvin Carolers with Sy Mann at the Wurlitzer, Palace XM908
  • Sy Mann and Nick Tagg, Two Organs and Percussion, Grand Award GS 256
  • As Soul Mann and the Brothers, Shaft!, Pickwick SPC-3290
  • Switched-On Santa, Pickwick SPCX-1007


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