Home » Improvisation » JEAN SHEPHERD–and Mitch Leigh

JEAN SHEPHERD–and Mitch Leigh


The obituary of Mitch Leigh brings forth in me again, the frustration for all the unsuccessful attempts to contact people who would have been able to provide info on the life and career of Shep. Jim Clavin and I each tried and failed to get through to Mitch Leigh, composer of the jazz in Shep’s “Jean Shepherd Into the Unknown with Jazz Music”:



Here are the beginnings of two obituaries of the composer of the Broadway super-hit, “Man of La Mancha.” Neither contained an important piece of info (IMHO). Fortunately, through the good graces of Wikipedia, a dogged Shep-fanatic (me) rectifies that problem.–eb


Mitch Leigh, ‘Man of La Mancha’ Composer, Dies at 86

 By  MARCH 16, 2014

One day in 1964, a New York advertising-jingle composer in his early 30s received an unlikely job offer.

The composer, Mitch Leigh, the Brooklyn-born son of a Jewish furrier from Ukraine, had no theater experience to speak of. All he had ever done was compose incidental music for a couple of short-lived Broadway comedies — “Too True to Be Good” (1963) and….


Mitch Leigh From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Mitch Leigh (born Irwin Michnick; January 30, 1928 – March 16, 2014) was an American musical theatre composer and theatrical producer best known for the musical Man of La Mancha.


Leigh was born in BrooklynNew York as Irwin Michnick. He graduated from Yale in 1951 with a Bachelor of Music, and in 1952 received his Master of Music[1] under Paul Hindemith.

He began his career as a jazz musician, and writing commercials for radio and television. In 1955 the little-known LP recording of Jean Shepherd Into the Unknown with Jazz Music was produced with Leigh writing the music for the jazz interludes between radio broadcaster Jean Shepherd‘s improvisations.


May the gods above and the devils below

keep this truth from harm.

Especially as it was composed on St. Patrick’s Day.




  1. The notes on the album cover are interesting. I suspect they were written by Shepherd. I wonder how he made the connection with Leigh for this recording? Is the album available in digital reproduction? I don’t think I’ve heard it. I imagine it sounds a lot like Shep’s early programs where he wove progressive jazz around his monologues. He didn’t tell stories as much then as later, but kind of riffed in conversations with imaginary women or a friend.


    • ebbergmann says:

      I also do believe Shep must have written the album notes. See more on the album in my EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD! page 143-4 and also the album cover among the illustrations for my book. Also see Jim Clavin’s for more info. Your thoughts on what the content must be like are very close to it. I got my digital copy, I believe, from Jim but I’m very awkward about the technology to reproduce it–try Jim and/or Max–they can probably get you a copy. Wondering how Shep connected with M. Leigh is but one of the questions I wish I’d been able to ask him. I assume that Mitch and Jean were both intermingled in the NYC jazz scene way back before Man of La Mancha was even thought of.

  2. Barry says:


    What a shame we can’t have the information about it was like to do an artistic collaboration with Jean Shepherd. It likely would have provided great insight since most of the time Shepherd appeared to work alone. What was it like? Did they work together? Was the music provided first and the script provided later or the other way around? Were they in the studio together? separate? It would be fascinating.

  3. We know that Shep collaborated with Mingus on The Clown and at a later time, I thought the two were pretty alienated from each other. I am not sure if it was Mingus or it went both ways.

    • ebbergmann says:

      We can’t really know where the blame might lie, especially knowing Shep’s sometimes difficult “people skills.” I do remember him once saying in a broadcast that they were such good friends until Mingus abruptly became anti-white–Shep said that was the cause of the falling out.

  4. I read or heard that somewhere. BTW, Jim came through!

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