19 December 2011

Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett Shares His Favorite Music on New CD
By Doug Levine
13 August 2003

Lots of people have their favorite Tony Bennett song. Maybe it's Because Of You or Left My Heart In San Francisco. Even today's younger fans, the ones who bought his Unplugged album by the millions, have a few of their own. But what are Tony's favorites? A new CD has been released of classic pop and jazz handpicked by Tony himself titled Tony Bennett: Artist's Choice.

It's no surprise that Tony Bennett's favorite music comes from the Great American Songbook, including Cole Porter's Too Darn Hot, performed by Mel Torme. Many of Bennett's own hits were drawn from the "golden era of music," peppered with pop standards by Johnny Mercer, "Yip" Harburg, Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen, and George and Ira Gershwin.

One of Tony Bennett's closest friends was crooner Frank Sinatra, whose version of Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's One For My Baby (And One More For The Road) is why Bennett calls him "quite simply, the best."

Of all the recordings of One For My Baby (And One More For The Road), Tony Bennett picked Frank Sinatra's for the new CD Tony Bennett: Artist's Choice.

Bennett is a lifelong fan of great jazz vocalists. One of his heroes was Louis Armstrong, who performs Mack The Knife on the album. Bennett agreed with the late jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie when he said, "Without Louis Armstrong there would be no me."

Tony Bennett regarded Judy Garland as the greatest entertainer that ever lived. Millions of music and movie fans think so, too. Her signature song is Over The Rainbow, from one of the greatest films of all time, The Wizard Of Oz.

And speaking of signature songs, how about Rosemary Clooney's Tenderly, Duke Ellington's Take The 'A' Train, Doris Day's Sentimental Journey, Billie Holiday's I Wished On The Moon, and Nat "King" Cole's Straighten Up And Fly Right, all featured on Tony Bennett: Artist's Choice.

Other releases in the Artist's Choice series include picks by Sheryl Crow, The Rolling Stones, Ray Charles, Lucinda Williams and Yo Yo Ma.

18 November 2011

Waitin' For The Evenin' Mail

18 November 2011 is the 102nd anniversary of the birth of Johnny Mercer.

Comments on this blog:

this is well done. it's cool to learn more about him.
lynn paden

On Dearly Beloved:
[Fred Astaire] looks so sexy in his white tux jacket, singing this song in the movie...
Chris Bamberger

Two 'Must Haves' for Mercer fans and all fans of pre R&R American pop music are 'Johnny Mercer: The Dreams on Me', a two disk TCM - Warner Bros. DVD documentary and 'The Great American Songbook' Warner Bros. DVD hosted by Michael Feinstein. Both are entertaining as they are instructive.

Thanks, Mark. I hadn't realized how productive he was as a songwriter. I suppose most of his work was for the lyrics.
Even if he hadn't written a word, he would be with the angels, having co-founded Capitol Records in the early 1940s.
Mike McGregor

On the death of Gene Lees, Johnny Mercer's biographer: ‎
Mark Carroll

A head-'em-off-at-the-pass note for the persnickety: I know, Waitin' For The Evenin' Mail is not a Johnny Mercer composition. It's by Billy Baskette, from 1923. But Johnny did sing it on the radio.

18 October 2011

Aaron Neville

Aaron Neville Releases Nature Boy: The Standards Album
12 August 2003

Grammy Award-winning rhythm and blues singer Aaron Neville has one of the most recognizable voices in modern music history. With his family group, The Neville Brothers, and as a solo performer, Aaron has recorded a diverse repertoire of funk, soul, R&B, rock, pop and gospel. Aaron Neville offers interpretations of classic American composers on his new CD, Nature Boy: The Standards Album.

Aaron Neville grew up in New Orleans, a city known for its rich jazz and blues heritage. "Jazz was as much a part of my musical education as blues or funk. My brother Charles hipped me [made me aware] to modern jazz when I was a kid. He's always been an inspiration," he said. "My dad, Arthur, was our first inspiration. He loved Nat 'King' Cole's brand of jazz, and 'Nature Boy' was his favorite song. I sing it in tribute to him."

During the 1960s, Aaron Neville recorded for a few small labels in Louisiana before hitting Number 1 on the pop chart in 1967 with his soul and blues tune, Tell It Like It Is.

Joining the Neville Brothers in the 1970s, Aaron helped them earn a string of successful albums. In 1989, Aaron's duet with Linda Ronstadt, Don't Know Much, reached the Number two position. On his new album, Nature Boy, Aaron reunites with old friend Linda on The Very Thought of You.

Aaron Neville's Nature Boy, features songs by legendary American composers such as George Gershwin, Oscar Levant, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer and Cole Porter.
Aaron says he wanted to recreate the mood of a small club, and use his voice like a jazz instrument. He also wanted to include ballads that "blurred the line" between jazz and blues.

In the studio, Aaron also called on an all-star line-up of jazz musicians, such as Ron Carter, Grady Tate, Michael Brecker, Roy Hargrove, and Aaron's brother, Charles Neville. "These are some bad cats [cool musicians]," he said. "They got the mood just right. For me, jazz is all about mood. Jazz is all about standards that are connected to your soul, connected to your life."

Aaron Neville feels it was a natural progression for him to record an album of standards. "To be singing these chestnuts [old songs] brings me back to my parents. These were the songs they danced to, and they were the songs of my youth," he said. "My folks taught me that music, love and God are all one thing. So, in singing these songs, I feel the spirit of all love."

In April, Aaron Neville was inducted into the Delta Music Museum and Hall of Fame at a ceremony in his home state of Louisiana. He's currently on a U.S. tour with The Neville Brothers.

[Listen to an excerpt of Aaron Neville's recording of the Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen song "Come Rain Or Come Shine".]

18 September 2011

Johnny Mercer's Music Shop

On August first of 1942, the 1942–44 musicians' strike began. No union musicians could record for any record company, but were able to play for live engagements and radio shows; the issue which prompted the strike was regarding record companies paying royalties to musicians. Many record companies had "stockpiled" recordings of their stars prior to the strike, planning to release them over a period of time. While the older, more established record labels were able to do this, the newly formed Capitol had no opportunity to do likewise. The strike brought the new company to a standstill until Johnny Mercer began his radio show, Johnny Mercer's Music Shop, in June 1943. The radio show was meant to be a venue for Capitol's talent during the Musicians' Strike. Mercer and Capitol recording artist Jo Stafford hosted the program, with Paul Weston and his orchestra providing the music for it.One small correction: "Wendell Myles" should be announcer Wendell Niles (1904–1994). He was an announcer on The Bob Hope Show, The Burns & Allen Show, and The Milton Berle Show. Wendell and his brother Ken Niles have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.An interesting promotional tie-in (circa 1943) for Johnny Mercer's Music Shop. Here's some additional information on the songs it contains:
*Blue Rain (written with Jimmy Van Heusen, 1939)
*My Shining Hour (with Harold Arlen, 1943) From the Fred Astaire/Joan Leslie movie The Sky's The Limit
*Skylark (with Hoagy Carmichael, 1942)
*Ooh! What You Said (with Hoagy Carmichael, 1939) from the Simone Simon/Mitzi Green/Mary Brian stage show Three After Three
*Mister Meadowlark (with Walter Donaldson, 1940)
*Love Of My Life (with Artie Shaw, 1940) From the Fred Astaire/Paulette Goddard movie Second Chorus
*I Thought About You (with Jimmy Van Heusen, 1939)
*On Behalf Of The Visiting Firemen (with Walter Donaldson, 1940) "Official Song New York World's Fair 1940"
*Make With The Kisses (with Jimmy Van Heusen, 1939)
*Strip Polka (1942)
*One For My Baby (And One More For The Road) (with Harold Arlen, 1943) from the R.K.O. picture The Sky's The Limit

18 August 2011

St. Louis Woman

St. Louis Woman: A Blues Ballet Combines Ballet With Broadway Musical
New York City
11 August 2003

A new ballet choreographed to the music of an old Broadway show opened recently at New York's Lincoln Center to outstanding reviews. The Dance Theater of Harlem's St. Louis Woman: A Blues Ballet, has revived interest in the 1946 musical from which it was inspired.

St. Louis Woman, the musical, had an unsuccessful run on Broadway more than half a century ago. But it has stayed alive in the minds of many for its dazzling score by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer. The new ballet revival of St. Louis Woman, is now on its national tour.

Critics are calling it "a visually dazzling fantasy," "sexy and inventive," and, "a triumphant piece of classical dance-theater." What St. Louis Woman: A Blues Ballet is, is a hybrid. Part ballet/part Broadway musical, the production combines ballet, jazz, and traditional folk dances with a story, all performed by classical dancers to some of the great standards of American popular song.

Anyplace I Hang My Hat is Home, sung by Ruby Hill in the original 1946 recording of St. Louis Woman is one of several songs in the Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer score that have gone on to have a life of their own.

And Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen thought it was the greatest score they had ever written, said theater writer and director Jack Wrangler, who conceived the idea of adapting Harold Arlen's music to a ballet. He says he approached Dance Theater of Harlem founder and artistic director Arthur Mitchell, who responded enthusiastically - even to the idea of seeing whether or not his ballet dancers could also sing."It's something that's never been done in the history of ballet," he said. "They did better when they had these three great [background] singers supporting them up there. So he [Arthur Mitchell] said 'Great.' We'll put lavalieres [body microphones] on all of them and they'll sing, which is the first time that's been done. Oh, there are so many 'firsts' in this show."

Jack Wrangler adds that everyone involved in the new St. Louis Woman ballet are leading professionals in the worlds of theater, opera and dance. From the set designer to costume designer - they all came together to work on this project, which had no guarantee of success.

"Our choreographer, who's very adventuresome, will try anything once," he said.

Choreographer Michael Smuin is an acclaimed artist who has worked in both theater and film and is founder of the Michael Smuin Dance Company in San Francisco. He says the music of St. Louis Woman "screamed to be danced to."

"The dance vocabulary is huge. The backbone of it is classical ballet. And we put that through the prism of this music, but it's eccentric, it's musical comedy, it's jazz, it's tap, it's vaudeville, it runs the gamut," he said. "It is what the music is. I mean the music tells you what it is. And if you stay out of the way and do what you're told, it comes out pretty well."

"Pretty well" is an understatement, based on Michael Smuin's observations of audience members on opening night.

"Oh, my God, the opening night was 'rock and roll,'" he said. "It was like, they stood up, they sat down, they stood up, there were three standing ovations and that was during the performance!"

But the real driving force behind the creation of St. Louis Woman: A Blues Ballet is singer Margaret Whiting. Ms. Whiting, who is married to producer Jack Wrangler, is president of the Johnny Mercer Foundation, an organization dedicated to nurturing young musicians. Ms. Whiting has recorded more than 500 songs over the years, introducing some of the greatest pop standards of all time. Her career was nurtured by lyricist Johnny Mercer who had worked with her father, composer Richard Whiting.

"I thought of Harold and Johnny who loved this show," she said. "I was very close to St. Louis Woman when it first opened. Johnny Mercer called me up on the phone and said, 'I have song for you to sing and see if you like it. He came in from Hollywood. So I sang and said, 'Like it? Whoah!' And they had me record it ahead of the show and we had big hit. And that helped with the show at first. But still, it didn't succeed as it should have."

But in spite of the beauty of Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's score, the libretto of St. Louis Woman was plagued with problems. Set in an African-American community at the turn of the 20th century, critics accused the musical of propagating racial stereotypes. Margaret Whiting describes the new Dance Theater of Harlem production as "perfect."

"It was written for the ballet company, I believe, from heaven," she said. "And I think Harold [Arlen] and Johnny [Mercer] are watching us."

Margaret Whiting says she is encouraged by the audience response to the expanded forms of dance presented in St. Louis Woman: A Blues Ballet. She says she thinks this "hybrid ballet" may have far reaching effects.

"Well, it's going to get every ballet company in the country or the world now to come up with new ballets," Ms. Whiting said. "There's been a kind of thing where people haven't been very creative. But this ballet opened and people are buzzing about it and talking about it. And I think, frankly, for the entire ballet world, this kind of ballet will stimulate the use of dancers from all over the world and from every country."

St. Louis Woman: A Blues Ballet, which premiered in July at New York's Lincoln Center as part of its annual festival, is touring now through 2004 throughout the United States and Europe. Talks are underway among Broadway producers to expand the ballet even more into a full-fledged musical. Almost 60 years after the failure of St. Louis Woman on Broadway, perhaps the fate of Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's favorite score will have a happy outcome after all.

21 July 2011

Helen Merrill

Helen Merrill (born 21 July 1930 in New York City), is an internationally known jazz vocalist. Her recording career has spanned six decades. Merrill has recorded and performed with some of the most notable figures in the American jazz scene.

Helen Merrill sings Johnny Mercer:

"Dearly Beloved" (1942, written by Jerome Kern & Johnny Mercer) can be found on the various artists album The Complete Jerome Kern Songbooks (1997).

"I'm Old Fashioned" (1942, written by Jerome Kern & Johnny Mercer) can be found on the Helen Merrill album American Songbook Series: Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern (2009).

"Laura" (1945, written by David Raskin & Johnny Mercer) can be found on the Helen Merrill/Gordon Beck/Stephane Grappelli/Steve Lacy album Music Makers (1986).

"Sounds Around The House" (1976, written by Alec Wilder & Johnny Mercer) can be found on the Helen Merrill/Torrie Zito/Tom Harrell/Art Farmer album Mixes (2003).

Music samples can be heard at each link.

18 June 2011

John Pizzarelli Trio Releases Double-CD for 10th Anniversary: Live At Birdland

By Doug Levine
22 July 2003

Forty-three-year-old jazz vocalist John Pizzarelli is one of today's top interpreters of the Great American Songbook. He's also a gifted composer and guitarist. This year John is celebrating two anniversaries: the 20th anniversary of his debut album, and the 10th anniversary of his acclaimed trio, featuring his brother Martin on bass and Ray Kennedy on piano. The John Pizzarelli Trio commemorates their first 10 years with a new live CD.

John Pizzarelli is a generous performer. Not only does he give 100 percent on stage, he credits his fellow musicians for a decade of overwhelming success both on the road and in the studio. John says, "Without the incredible talents of Ray Kennedy and Martin Pizzarelli, I would be hard-pressed to find musicians who can swing so hard, play so delicately on a ballad, and put up with me at a sound check."

John Pizzarelli was born the son of renowned jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli. Bucky taught John to play guitar, and years later invited his young son to perform with him on-stage. John's earliest influences were guitarist Django Reinhardt, The Beatles, and singer Michael Franks. But, it wasn't until his father introduced him to the music of Nat "King" Cole that he decided to devote himself entirely to jazz.

"I think his introduction to me of the Nat Cole Trio's CDs, records actually, in 1980, was what laid the foundation of what I wanted to do," he explained. "That's when I discovered Route 66, Straighten Up And Fly Right, and most notably Paper Moon. It was a record that my father always talked about."

John released his first solo album, I'm Hip, Please Don't Tell My Father, in 1983. The eight selections featured his father, Bucky, on guitar. John continued to appear with his father in concert and on records until forming his "drummer-less" trio in 1992.

The trio's new double-CD was recorded at the legendary Birdland nightclub in New York City in September 2002. One disc is a so-called "greatest hits" collection, and the other contains all new material. John says he enjoys composing but will always owe a debt of gratitude to America's master songwriters.

"I love George Gershwin's writing," he said. "There's something extremely rhythmic about it. I love Johnny Mercer's lyrics. And I love Yip Harburg's lyrics. Everyone is like a little gift. I find them to be fascinating that way."

John will pay tribute to another one of his musical heroes, Frank Sinatra, when he stars in an upcoming show called His Voice, His Song. John will perform some of Sinatra's best-known songs with a 40-piece orchestra at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.The Songs Of Johnny Mercer: Too Marvelous For Words, Starring Johnny Mathis, Melissa Manchester, John Pizzarelli Trio, Margaret Whiting and Music Director Peter Nero

14 January 2011

Margaret Whiting

Johnny Mercer and Margaret Whiting's recording of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" (written by Frank Loesser) is found on the Johnny Mercer album Capitol Collectors Series, the Margaret Whiting album Capitol Collectors Series, and the various artists album Crooner Styles.

The recording by Margaret Whiting and Johnny Mercer was recorded on 18 March 1949 and released by Capitol Records as catalog number 567. It first reached the Billboard Best Seller chart on 6 May 1949, and lasted 19 weeks on the chart, peaking at number four.

Johnny Mercer, Peggy Lee, The Pied Pipers, Margaret Whiting and Benny Goodman perform "The Freedom Train" (written by Irving Berlin) on the Peggy Lee album The Lost 40s & '50s Capitol Masters.

Margaret Whiting performs "One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)" (written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer); and Rod McKuen, Margaret Whiting and Petula Clark perform "Dream" (written by Johnny Mercer); both from the album Dream - Lyrics & Music Of Johnny Mercer, 18th S.T.A.G.E. Benefit.

 Margaret Whiting is also mentioned in this message: St. Louis Woman

Margaret's dad Richard Whiting is briefly mentioned in this message: Lester Young.