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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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Johnny Mercer: A Centennial Tribute

Arbors Jazz ARCD 19388



1. I'm Shadowing You
2. Little Ingenue
3. Midnight Sun
4. Jeepers Creepers
5. Come Rain or Come Shine
6. The Bathtub Ran Over Again
7. Lazybones
8. Peter Piper
9. I Thought About You
10. At the Jazz Band Ball
11. Charade
12. Dream
13. Twilight World
14. Here Come the British

Daryl Sherman - Piano, vocals
Jerry Dodgion - Alto sax
Wycliffe Gordon - Trombone, vocals
Howard Alden - Guitar, banjo
Jay Leonhart - Bass, vocals
Chuck Redd - Drums, vibraphone
Barbara Carroll - Piano (track 9)
Marian McPartland - Piano (track 13)


It's so comforting to be right occasionally! My previous review of a Daryl Sherman album - Guess Who's in Town! - was spot-on in picking out the special qualities of this singing pianist. For example, I said that "Daryl is unique, particularly in the way she considers and savours every word of a lyric, telling a story as if for the first time".

Daryl Sherman's respect for the words of a song is a vital element in this album, which is a tribute to Johnny Mercer, one of the finest lyricists in 20th-century music. Mercer supplied the words for more than 1000 songs, collaborating with such composers as Jerome Kern, Hoagy Carmichael, Harold Arlen and Henry Mancini. His words enhanced such songs as That Old Black Magic, I'm Old Fashioned, Skylark, Days of Wine and Roses and Moon River. So it is appropriate that the centenary of Mercer's birth, in November 1909, should be signalled by an album of songs he had a hand in.

My previous review also said that another winning feature of Daryl Sherman's work is her "choice of material, ranging from the familiar to the virtually unknown". That is undoubtedly true of this new album, where familiar songs like Lazybones and Charade rub shoulders with little-known numbers like Little Ingenue and The Bathtub Ran Over Again. The latter is a wonderfully wacky song about a woman letting the bath run over because she is thinking about her boyfriend. Wycliffe Gordon makes the song a vocal duet with Daryl and he adds a deliciously witty trombone solo. The song was actually Johnny Mercer's very first recording under his own name - with a jazz combo in 1934. Mercer was a good singer as well as a lifelong devotee of jazz.

The opening song - I'm Shadowing You - underlines the comparison between Daryl Sherman and Blossom Dearie, who co-wrote it with Johnny Mercer. Daryl and Blossom both have little-girl voices and accompany themselves with gently sensitive piano. Howard Alden supplies a nice solo. In fact part of this album's appeal is the expertly sympathetic playing of Daryl's fellow musicians.

Altoist Jerry Dodgion solos radiantly on the poignant Little Ingenue, and Wycliffe Gordon's contributions are all of top quality, often including plenty of humour. In Jeepers Creepers, Wycliffe's trombone emits some horsey sounds, perhaps in remembrance of the song's origin in a film where Louis Armstrong sings it to a horse! You can see Daryl and Wycliffe performing the song as a duet on YouTube.

Daryl is brave to take on Lionel Hampton's chromatic Midnight Sun but she manages to pitch its difficult intervals with reasonable security. Chuck Redd's vibes solo evokes the spirit of Hampton, with hints of Red Norvo. Other standout tracks include Johnny Mercer's first collaboration with Hoagy Carmichael: Lazybones (which Daryl prefixes with the verse); Peter Piper (which uses nursery rhymes as the basis for a love song); At the Jazz Band Ball (with a little-known lyric and Howard Alden supporting the period feel with his banjo); and Dream, one of the songs for which Mercer wrote the music as well as the words.

Pianists Barbara Carroll and Marian McPartland make guest appearances on (respectively) I Thought About You and Twilight World. The latter is yet another neglected song, co-written by Marian with Johnny Mercer and here conjuring up a magical scene as the sun sets. The album climaxes with an even rarer item: Here Come the British, a satirical song which describes how the British have been shooting guns at people for ages. Jay Leonhart and Wycliffe Gordon help out with the vocals and Wycliffe starts his solo with an amazing downwards glissando.

Some vocalists I find hard to take but I can take Daryl Sherman in as many doses as she wishes to offer.

Tony Augarde

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