Thursday, November 5, 2009

That Johnny Mercer guy

Last night I flipped on Turner Classic Movies just in time to catch most of a documentary on Johnny Mercer.

This is a lame thing to say since I have watched a boatload of old movies in my day and listened to almost as many jazz recordings of great songs, but my primary awareness of Johnny Mercer's song list was from reading (about a million times) Midnight in The Garden of Good and Evil. And many of the ones mentioned in that book, I did not know well.

Turns out I know (and love) a ton of his songs, just not that he wrote them. He worked with so many other composers, and sometimes the other guy's name was the one I heard - for example, Moon River is Henry Mancini to me, but in fact - also Johnny Mercer. Now I think of it, I probably read that in the Good and Evil book and promptly forgot it, the Mancini connection is so strong.

I didn't know Johnny Mercer was such a fabulous singer, either. I don't think I knew he could sing at all. But he had a wonderful voice.

Speaking of which, I got a much better sense too of the real power of a singer that puts a song over. You listen to enough recordings of a song, you get used to the idea that there's one good way to deliver it. See different people singing it in person, on the other hand - with expression, with emotion, with phrasing and pacing, in front of a live audience - you see them selling that song.

Why I didn't appreciate that to this extent before is another mystery, or maybe it's just that it was a really good documentary.*

*(available on DVD, just in time for Christmas!)

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