Tag: Louis Prima

Johnny Mercer: The Dream’s on Me

Though he was a rich man, an underrated singer in his own right, and the co-founder of Capitol Records, Johnny Mercer is, 34 years after his death, nowhere near as famous as the author of such brain-burrowing mid-century lyrics as “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)”, “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive,” “That Ol’ Black Magic,” “Satin Doll,” “Laura,” and “Moon River” really should be. Lyricists rarely get the respect composers do. Moreover, Mercer worked primarily in Hollywood, which in his day meant more money but less prestige than writing songs for Broadway. That’s show business.

“Johnny Mercer: The Dream’s on Me” suffers slightly from the ill-fitting inclusion of some new material featuring super jazz fan and executive producer Clint Eastwood chatting with film composer John Williams and others, but overall, this TCM documentary written by Ken Barnes and directed by Bruce Ricker is a massively engaging documentary look at Mercer’s often surprising career. The 90-minute film efficiently covers his personal riches-to-(not quite)-rags-to-greater-riches story and tumultuous personal life, including a lifelong affair with Judy Garland, but wisely focuses on the music and takes full advantage of some priceless archival footage. Performances and interviews featuring Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Louis Prima and Keely Smith, Julie Andrews, Blake Edwards, Ray Charles, a young Barbara Streisand, a middle-aged Bono, and new performances by Jamie Cullum, Dr. John and others (seen in their entirety on the DVD bonus disc), beautifully illustrate Mercer’s gifts and chart his extraordinary influence. An obvious labor of love, “The Dream’s On Me” is not exactly great filmmaking but it’s got great taste and is a must for fans of great popular music.

Click to buy “Johnny Mercer: The Dream’s on Me”

Drum Boogie

Continuing our A Blog Supreme-inspired series of great jazz-on-film moments, here’s a sequence featuring Barbara Stanwyck and legendary jazz/swing drummer Gene Krupa — pretty much the Keith Moon of his day — from one of my personal favorite classic-era comedies, Howard Hawks’ 1941 “Ball of Fire.” You’ll also notice Gary Cooper in there, playing an extremely sheltered professor researching the urban slang of the time.

One hallmark of classic era films is that you can be watching a noir mystery, a western, or a non-musical screwball comedy, and sometimes things will just stop for a song.  As you’ll see here, that wasn’t a bad thing if the right talent was available. And, whatever you do, don’t stop watching before seeing what Krup could do with a matchbook cover, starting at about 4:17 or so.

In case anyone’s wondering, no, that’s not Ms. Stanwyck singing. The terrific vocals are by Martha Tilton.

And here’s a bonus — Krupa with the Benny Goodman band in an amazing performance of their signature tune, Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing.”

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