Golden Oldies is a collection of partial studies of highly skilled musicians who are performing in public beyond the age of 90. Its ultimate focus is to identify both cognitive and physical factors contributing to the preservation of musical memory.
Subjects are identified by initials only. Materials found here are not available for re-use without express written permission of the subjects or their next of kin.
Roberta Mandel (29 December 1920 - 5 September 2017) performed as a jazz pianist for 75 years. She was also an arranger and composer. She had a special gift for transcribing by ear the arrangements she heard on recordings. She credited the extensive knowledge of harmony that she gained from studies of classical music. Her facility enabled her to arrange big-band numbers for solo piano. She held two degrees from the California State University at San Francisco (where she was raised). Her first teacher was her mother, a pianist.
Mandel's longest engagement (32 years) was with the 18-member Junius Courtney Big Band, which was noted for its arrangements. Mandel is the rightmost figure in the Big Band photo (2011). A frequent venue was the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley. This venue, which offers open nights for jazz improvisation, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018.
Among her other credits, Mandel was the first female pianist to sit in with Count Basie's band. Her 1982 transcription of Billy Strayhorn's "Blood Count" from the Duke Ellington Orchestra's recording is preserved in the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian. No copies of her book of compositions, Jazz Tunes for Friends (2001), are publicly accessible. This memoir from Jazz Now appeared in 1990.