24 April 2010

Gene Lees, Johnny Mercer's biographer

Gene Lees, author of the definitive biography of Johnny Mercer, has died.

Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times:
"Gene Lees, a jazz historian and critic known for his pugnacious, highly personal essays and biographies of such jazz greats as Oscar Peterson, Woody Herman and Johnny Mercer, died Thursday [22 April 2010] at his home in Ojai."

Matt Schudel, Washington Post:
"Much of Mr. Lees's writing grew out of his friendships with leading musical figures, including trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, singer Peggy Lee and songwriter Johnny Mercer."

"He wrote biographies of bandleader Woody Herman, Mercer and the composing team of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe and was the co-author of Henry Mancini's autobiography."

"As for songwriting," he said, "the best training I know is to sing -- and study the works of the great writers such as Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, and Harold Arlen, who gave us an astonishing body of masterpieces before rock-and-roll brought our musical culture crashing down."

Peter Keepnews, New York Times:
"In addition to seven collections of Jazzletter essays, Mr. Lees's books include biographies of Woody Herman, Oscar Peterson, Johnny Mercer and the songwriting team Lerner and Loewe."

A Kind of Poet
Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal:
"Most of the essays that went into his books were originally published there [in his Jazzletter], and many of the best of them are matchlessly vivid profiles of the artists whom he knew, including such giants of jazz and prerock pop as Jobim, Sinatra, Paul Desmond, Bill Evans, Dizzy Gillespie, Peggy Lee and Johnny Mercer. Such volumes as "Meet Me at Jim and Andy's," "Singers and the Song," "Waiting for Dizzy" and his biographies of Mercer and Woody Herman are now part of the permanent literature of American popular music."

"He idolized Mercer, whom he thought to be "the finest lyricist in the English language," and when I heard the news of his death I thought of a line from one of Mercer's best songs, "One for My Baby": "You'd never know it, / But buddy, I'm a kind of poet, / And I've gotta lotta things to say." Even when he was writing prose, Gene Lees was a kind of poet, and what he had to say will be worth hearing a hundred years from now."

London Times:
"This [writings on Gillespie, Benny Carter, Shaw, Peterson] was followed (in parallel with further collections of shorter pieces) by lives of Woody Herman, Lerner and Loewe, and Johnny Mercer."

Michael Posner of the Toronto Globe and Mail did not mention Johnny Mercer in his obit for Gene Lees.

Rube Bloom

Songwriter Rube Bloom, born 24 April 1902. He collaborated with a wide number of lyricists, including Johnny Mercer, Ted Koehler, and Mitchell Parish. He wrote "Fools Rush In" and "Day In, Day Out", each with lyrics by Johnny Mercer.
Another post that mentions Rube Bloom:
Mail Call

18 April 2010

All-Star Recording Pays Tribute to Johnny Mercer

That old Mercer magic is back, working wonders on the soundtrack from a recent documentary film marking the composer's 100th birthday, "Johnny Mercer: The Dream's On Me."
Doug Levine, Washington, 12 April 2010

Lyricist Johnny Mercer was one of the world's most prolific composers, turning out more than 1,500 songs, including a classic he co-wrote with Harold Arlen, "That Old Black Magic." Over the years, it's been recorded by Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Sammy Davis, Jr., and, for the new Johnny Mercer documentary, by British jazz star Jamie Cullum.

With a running time of nearly two hours, the film covers Mercer's award-winning career through new and archival interviews, and performances by the some of the greatest entertainers of the past century. Among them, is crooner Bing Crosby, who appears on the soundtrack singing a previously unreleased version of "Something's Gotta Give."

Music and lyrics by Johnny Mercer, recorded in 1955 by Bing Crosby with Buddy Cole and His Trio, that's "Something's Gotta Give." It was first performed by Fred Astaire in the 1955 musical film "Daddy Long Legs."

Georgia native Johnny Mercer, who died in 1976 at the age of 66, crafted one of the most enduring chapters of the "Great American Songbook." His songs were featured on stage and screen, and, of course, on countless recordings. Tapping into the his vast collection of jazz melodies and pop standards on "Johnny Mercer: The Dream's On Me," are Ella Fitzgerald on "Midnight Sun," Ray Charles singing "Blues In The Night," Chet Baker with "I'm Old Fashioned," and Mercer himself alongside Bobby Darin singing "Two Of A Kind."

Several generations of stars are featured on the soundtrack, from the Tony Bennett and Bono duet "I Wanna Be Around," to a wistful remake of "This Time The Dream's On Me," sung by Clint Eastwood's 13-year-old daughter, Morgan Eastwood. Clint served as executive producer on the album.

Also included is the title track from Queen Latifah's album of jazz standards "Travelin' Light," composed by Johnny Mercer, Jimmy Mundy and Trummy Young in 1942.