Under the animated direction of the personable and charming conductor Steven Reineke, the New York Pops orchestra celebrated what would have been the one hundredth birthday of the prolific and well loved music master, Johnny Mercer.
A renowned lyricist and composer from Savannah, Georgia born November 18, 1909 who died at the age of 67. A poet with a sharp wit and insight into that universal condition called love. A man who wrote over 1500 songs, most of them hits with an assortment of composers (Harold Arlen, Richard Whiting, Johnny Mandel, Hoagy Carmichael and Henry Mancini et al) who make up the Great American Songbook. It was a delightful and entertaining evening Friday November 20, 2009 at Carnegie Hall.
Of course, Johnny Mercer was the star of the evening, even making a vocal appearance on a rare recording of a song cut from Daddy Long Legs which sounded terrificBut there were other stars as well. Ann Hampton Callaway with her silken voice, wonderful control and artistic majesty simply tore the house down with her set which included “That Old Black Magic”, a lustrous “Skylark” and an unforgettable, pull-out-all-the-stops-fantastic “Blues in the Night” which ended the first act.
Making a surprise and very welcomed guest appearance was Michael Feinstein, the ultimate cabaret performer who sang “Something’s Gotta Give” a touching “I Remember You” and a show stopping “I Wanna Be Around/Goody Goody” revenge medley.
Supporting these two major stars were James T. Lane a Broadway performer with enough energy to light up the Issac Stern Auditorium AND the Ronald O. Perelman Stage with his fine singing and dancing abilities, N’Kenge who also lit up the room with her eye popping sparkling gowns, beautiful smile and extraordinary range. And Camp Broadway Kids.
Camp Broadway Kids. One hundred youngsters (ages 10-17) from eighty cities across America were invited by the Johnny Mercer Foundation for the weekend to learn about Johnny Mercer, what it takes to be a writer and the Great American Songbook and to sing at Carnegie Hall. What a wonderful way to keep this music alive.
During intermission, I struck up a conversation with a couple seated behind me. It turned out that Susan Lee is a part of this inspired program aptly named “Accentuate the Positive” which instills in these youngsters the love for this endangered species of songwriting. As they performed you could see the excitement beaming from their faces.
The New York Pops has a lush, beautiful sound that sent shivers down my spine with their arrangements of “Emily”, “Charade” and “Moon River” and most importantly a program called “Kids in the Balcony” which allows thousands of public schoolchildren to participate in concert and music-making experiences at Carnegie Hall. Kids from a couple of High Schools cheered from up there when introduced. It’s a good place to start. www.newyorkpops.org