Sarah Moule writes
For the past three years Simon Wallace and I have been working with bassist Mick Hutton and drummer Paul Robinson performing and recording the songs that Simon writes with lyricist Fran Landesman alongside jazz interpretations of classics from the ‘great American songbook’. We have tried to introduce audiences to new material by integrating it with more familiar songs that have resonances and musical challenges for both me and the band. When it came to selecting songs for a new CD I wanted it to reflect this mix of familiar and contemporary material. The Landesman/Wallace catalogue provided over 300 new songs to choose from while at the top of my list of all time classics was the 1954 hit ‘Something’s Gotta Give’ introduced by Fred Astaire with words and music by Johnny Mercer.
A couple of months before the scheduled recording dates Simon and Fran came back from doing their show in New York with a copy of ‘Our Huckleberry Friend: The Life, Times and Lyrics of Johnny Mercer’, which had been given to Fran by its author Bob Bach. One afternoon at the Landesmans’ I started leafing through the book and practically every page revealed songs that I had known and loved all my life. At this point I decided to make this a CD featuring the lyrics of Johnny Mercer and Fran Landesman. After much deliberation and rehearsal I finally settled on seven out of my many favourite Mercer lyrics. ‘Jeepers Creepers’ was originally a film song written with Harry Warren in 1938 for Louis Armstrong to sing to a horse. In the 1940s Mercer teamed up with composer Harold Arlen producing ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’, ‘That Old Black Magic’ and many other fabulous songs. ‘Trav’lin’ Light’(1943) is an example of Mercer putting lyrics to an existing jazz tune by Jimmy Mundy and Trummy Young, while ‘I’m Old Fashioned’, written with Jerome Kern, very quickly became one of the best loved jazz standards of all time. A more modern standard, ‘Days Of Wine and Roses’, was written with Henry Mancini for a 1962 film starring Jack Lemmon, about how alcoholism can destroy a marriage (although apparently when he wrote the lyric Mercer was under the mistaken impression that the film was to be a swashbuckling romantic comedy).
Fran Landesman met Johnny Mercer in the 1950s and they kept in touch until his death in 1976. A lifelong fan of Mercer’s work, Fran first came to his attention through songs she wrote with composer Tommy Wolf in the mid 1950s such as ‘Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most’. She met Simon Wallace in 1994. The song ‘Down’, one of their early collaborations, has been recorded by a number of singers in Europe and the USA, however their other songs on this CD are recent compositions appearing on record for the first time.
On the recording sessions I was very lucky to once again have been able to augment my regular trio with the great Jim Mullen on guitar and the indefatigable Gary Hammond on percussion. Simon’s arrangements also feature three of the finest young soloists on the British jazz scene: saxophonist Pete Wareham and trumpeters Mark Armstrong (left hand side of the stereo mix) and Steve Fishwick (right hand side and solo on ‘Trav’lin’ Light’). I'm very happy to have found myself in such sympathetic and inspiring musical company.