Max Adkins

Mentor to Henry Mancini, Billy Strayhorn, Jerry Fielding, and Bud Estes

Max Adkins was hired in 1939 to be the leader of the pit band at the Stanley Theater.  He was a great saxophonist and clarinetist who had many offers to go on the road with the big bands but he wanted to stay in Pittsburgh.  He was noted as one of the best teachers of reed instruments on the East Coast and gave refresher lessons to touring musicians.  Max conducted the 25 piece orchestra that played for the acts that performed at the Stanley.  He was also an in demand arranger who wrote special pieces for Alvino Ray, Jimmy Dorsey, and others.

In a basement office under the Stanley Theater stage, Max taught arranging and composition to a set of students who went on to shape the music of the big band era, movies, and television.  He mentored them in music business and life.  He introduced them to the stars of the day who appeared at the Stanley and helped them launch their careers.

Henry Mancini in his auto-biography "Did They Mention the Music" thanked Max for being the most important influence on his life.  Henry wrote:

"The personal interest Max took in me made the difference between becoming a laborer in the steel mill and understanding there was something to work for out there that I could achieve.  He taught me social amenities, about which I knew nothing.  He opened doors to me professionally including the introduction to Benny Goodman.  He was a born leader.  And for me, in a very real sense, Max was a life saver."

Mancini says that one of the reasons that he, Billy Strayhorn, Jerry Fielding, and Bud Estes made it was because Adkins had a unique system for teaching the art of arrangement.  He made his student study the stock arrangements of the day and reconstruct them line by line for different ensembles of instruments.  Using that method they honed in on the most important structures of each composition.

Studying with Max at the Stanley, his students also had the opportunity to see all of the big bands and meet their leaders.  Max introduced Henry Mancini to Benny Goodman and told Benny "I'd like this kid to do an arrangement for you".  That introduction launched Henry Mancini's career.  Max did the same for his other students. 

Max died at the age of 43 in 1953.



Max in 1939 from the Post Gazette