Even though they were often writing for low budget exploitation films, the new wave of 1960s and '70s Italian soundtrack composers were a massive influence on film soundtracks across the globe. Piero Umiliani wasn't as well-known as his contemporaries Ennio Morricone or Nino Rota, but was a prodigious talent. Learning to play the piano at the age of five, he later spent several years in a jazz band touring across Italy, Norway and Europe before producing some wonderfully jazzy soundtracks to a series of horror, spaghetti western, action and even soft pornography films. His early credits include "Big Deal on Madonna Street" (1959), Lucio Fulci's comedy adventure "Two Public Enemies" (1964) and the bloody western "Return of Django" (1966).
Umiliani's most famous composition, the bouncy nonsense song "Mah Ná Mah Ná," had an ignoble start, first featuring on "Sweden: Heaven And Hell" (1968) a saucy pseudo-documentary about the Swedish underworld and sex trade. However, the song was appropriated by The Muppets, who first performed a memorable sketch involving the song on "Sesame Street" (PBS 1969- ) in 1969, making the song famous to a generation of toddlers. Jim Henson's creations performed the nonsense hit again on "The Ed Sullivan Show" (CBS 1948-1971) and on "The Muppet Show" (ATV 1974-1981), it has since become associated almost exclusively with Kermit and company.
Umiliani's later films include Mario Bava's "5 Dolls for an August Moon" (1970) and the sequels "Django Defies Sartana" (1970) and "Viva! Django" (1971). In 1982, Umiliani chose to retire from scoring films to return to his first love of playing jazz. Unfortunately, Umiliani suffered a stroke in 1984 and didn't get to tour again. Although Umiliani died in 2001, modern directors continued to rework his classic themes; for example, Steven Soderbergh used Umiliani's "Twilight of the Sea" in his heist caper "Ocean's Twelve" (2004).