For those of you…

… living or vacationing in the D.C. Metro area, the Smithsonian has a very cool seminar set for tomorrow (11/27) evening on Johnny Mercer’s life and songwriting.

Titled Johnny Mercer: He Wrote The Songs, the presentation is lead by Smithsonian American Music specialist Robert Wyatt and includes Mercer recordings and film clips … sounds fun.

As a card carrying Mercer super freak (evidence here and here) this is a can’t miss event … that sadly I will miss (short notice and long distance conspired against me).

Digging into the Ella Fitzgerald Songbook series, with it’s array of songwriter gods (Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, the Gershwin’s, Arlen, Kern…) has only served to instill even more appreciation for JM.

The lowdown on tomorrow nights Mercer seminar from Smithsonian.com’s Around The Mall section:

Whether or not you know the name, you know the work. Johnny Mercer, lyricist, composer and co-founder of Capitol Records, left an indelible mark on the music industry. He wrote hundreds of songs, including the lyrics for “Moon River” for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and won four Academy Awards. Robert Wyatt will discuss the work and legacy of Mercer, who was also a singer in addition to all his other roles. Learn more about the man who penned some of the most popular songs of the 1930s, 40s and 50s for both stage and silver screen. Tickets $30 members, $42 non-members. 6:45 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. American Indian Museum.”

Sorry for the short notice, but if you’re in the neighborhood, grab some tickets and take in Johnny Mercer: He Wrote The Songs tomorrow night; you can get tix from the Smithsonian here.

[If anybody does make the Mercer-Smithsonian scene, please ping me back with the details!]

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I’m not sure why…

…hearing Nancy LaMott’s version of “Blue Skies” on the radio last weekend hit me so hard, but it did.

I was deep into editing/prepping for transcription the audio files from my recent Luca Ellis interview — for an article planned for late this month — when Nancy’s “Blue Skies”  spun up and wrenched me right out of my editing session.

I remember staring at her name as the growl popup faded away, and then just leaning back and listening.

Being a fan of Nancy’s cabaret styled interpretations for years, I have heard her sing that number many times — it was different this time.

Known to me for years, the tragic end to Nancy’s too short life (marrying the love of her life just hours before losing her bout with cancer — an end only Shakespeare could appreciate) washed over me again and settled on my psyche like a ton of bricks.

I stopped prepping Luca (so to speak) and queued up both of Nancy’s excellent “Best of…” LPs.

That Saturday afternoon was now lost as I steeped in the sweet evocative vocal interpretations of Nancy LaMott … at once celebrating her life and career, (re)mourning her loss, and contemplating the wonderful music that we were never to hear from this lady — the blank pages in the American Songbook Nancy was meant to fill.
[Read more…]

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Emerged from a bit of vacation…

…to the sad news of Hal David’s Saturday passing. Though I never met Hal (would have loved to) I feel like I owe him an apology.

Of course Hal David and Burt Bacharach teamed up for some of the most iconic music of the 60’s and 70’s — they fundamentally wrote a new chapter in The Great American Songbook.

“Walk on By”, “The Look Of Love”, “Promises, Promises”, “A House Is Not A Home”, “There’s Always Something There To Remind Me”, “Alfie”, “Raindrops”… far too many songs to note here.

The reason for my seeking forgiveness from Mr. David?

As often as not upon hearing one of the plethora of wonderful David/Bacharach numbers, I would exclaim, “What a great Burt Bacharach song”. There was no slight intended to be sure, but one was rendered just the same … and for that Mr. David, I am truly sorry.

Like his contemporary Johnny Mercer, Hal David was a rare talent — a true poetic genius that was able to capture powerful emotion and sentiment in his lyrics… and then together with Burt Bacharach those lovely poems were rendered as beautiful songs that both stand iconic for their era (60’s/70’s) and have only gotten better with age.

Many deserving tributes…

…but one of the best I think came from Bill DeMain over at the Performing Songwriter website. “Farewell, Hal David” is a very nice tribute piece wherein Bill captures Hal David’s legacy and includes a very cool slice of a Hal David interview where he share’s insight into his relationship with Burt Bacharach and the songs they created. Please link through and give it a read.

Before you head off to read Bill’s fine work, listen* to this great Steve Tyrell rendition of Mr. David’s poetry (featuring Burt Bacharach on the Piano). Sort of sums up how I feel today … Godspeed Hal David.

“I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” off  Tyrell’s excellent LP: Back to Bacharach


[* Please remember that all songs streamed here are for REVIEW PURPOSES ONLY and are NOT intended as a substitute for properly purchased original record company product. Give a listen and then please support the artists via iTunes, Amazon or your favorite music store. Artists/Record Labels — NO DOWNLOADS ARE SUPPORTED on this site; please contact me directly regarding the removal of any potentially infringing material.] 

 

 

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Can you ever really have enough Mercer?

I’ve been catching flack from from friends and strangers alike for my recent Johnny Mercer: ” The Dream’s on Me” DVD review.

It appears my plan to treat the documentary as a DVD review of JM’s life rather than a Mercer music review was utter folly … folly I say!

Well, I really wanted to review the DVD for the superb documentary that it was and shower appropriate accolades on Clint Eastwood and team for the fine work they did in the offing.

That said, I DO see how pretty much any discussion of Johnny Mercer’s life that doesn’t at least highlight favorite numbers from his prodigious 1500+ song catalog is indeed missing the point of Johnny’s life. [Read more…]

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Dean Martin was born…

…95 years ago today, and the world’s been a cooler place ever since!

As I’ve mentioned previously, Dean was my mom’s favorite — quite literally — until her dying day. Mom’s fascination with Dino meant my brother and I grew up on a steady diet of Dean Martin TV, movies and records.

I realized the full effect of this childhood Dino immersion while I was working on the Johnny Mercer DVD review earlier this week.

“Dream” was one of the Mercer numbers that was featured … They played snippets from Nat King Cole’s wonderful version — which I love —  but all I could think about was how Dean really sang the definitive version of the song!

It’s nearly impossible for me to name my favorite DM tunes … like my mom, whatever “Dean song” is playing is my favorite.

But my dad had a favorite Dean Martin number … [Read more…]

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 The life story of an amazing man…

…woven into a superb documentary. In Johnny Mercer: The Dream’s on Me Special Edition DVD, Clint Eastwood and Bruce Ricker simply perform magic.

Eastwood and Ricker distill Johnny Mercer’s almost unimaginably  successful career, and life into an immersive 90 minute “Mercer Experience” theme park ride … rich with the nuance and anecdotes of Johnny’s contemporaries and ambient with the music that made Mercer THE singular singer/songwriter of an era.

I’m saying it…

So, I think we should get this out of the way right up front … Johnny Mercer was the best, the absolute best singer/songwriter in the Great American Songbook era (from the ’30s to the ’70s) and — in my opinion — still remains atop the long and distinguished list of great popular standards lyricists.

Johnny may not have written the Great American Songbook single handedly, but he had lots to say in virtually every chapter. Whether swing or jazz; Broadway or Hollywood; waltzes or war ditties; love songs, torch numbers or the blues … whatever page the book falls open to Mercer is there. [Read more…]

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I just heard “Pineapple Pete”…

… on my Pandora “Mercer Channel”. Johnny Mercer was just a kook!

And I mean that in the nicest way possible — truly, I have nothing but admiration for JM and stand in stunned amazement by the body of his work … he wrote damn near everything! [Read more…]

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