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The Pink Panther

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The Pink Panther Theme by Henry Mancini

If I were to play you four notes, two pairs of adjacent semitones, a tone apart in the rhythm, da-rum-da-rum, you’d instantly be able to identify the track, wouldn’t you? I wager that many would be able to identify the tune from just the rhythm alone.

Theme tunes hardly get more iconic than ‘The Pink Panther Theme’, written by Henry Mancini for the 1963 movie, The Pink Panther. The actual Pink Panther is the name given to a diamond, the subject of a robbery, but for the film’s title sequence, an animated Pink Panther was planned. Mancini composed the theme with the animators in mind and they timed all the accents in the music to the panther’s movements. The film was nominated for an Oscar for best original score at the 37th Academy Awards, but sadly lost out to Mary Poppins by the Sherman brothers.

The melody line, composed in the key of E minor, with its chromatic da-rum-da-rums, is played on the tenor saxophone. Mancini had a player in mind when he composed it, something he often did. Plas Johnson was the man for the job, a regular in Mancini’s orchestra. Johnson recalls, “We only did two takes, I think… When we finished, everyone applauded — even the string players. And that’s saying something… They never applaud for anything.”


Johnson as a top session musician of the 1950s and 1960s has played with everyone – from B.B.King to the Beachboys, Frank Sinatra to Steely Dan, recording into the noughties (he’s 90 now!). While he’s remembered primarily for playing tenor, he also played both alto and baritone sax, plus clarinet and flute.

Plas’s tenor sax setup is a metal Berg Larson 160/0/M soft reeds at 2 strength.
He played a Selmer VI until changing to a Yanagisawa in 2005.
A large proportion of tenor players in the 60s used Berg Larsen mouthpieces, especially if they played rock and roll.
Plas used a particularly soft reed which gave him a very silky sound, and often notes blended into each other.

How to play the tune step by step for alto sax

Here is the full backing track video

Project Band arrangements are in easy 5 part harmony arranged for -Saxes, Brass, Woodwind, rhythm section, guitar/bass includes tab parts. All parts match the video for rehearsal and practice.

Here is the Improvisation backing track

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