Sep 06, 2012 - Pam Van Dyke Crosby Accentuates the Positive

Pam Van Dyke Crosby Accentuates the Positive With Here Tribute to Johnny Mercer

            Over the years, the OklahomaJazz Hall of Fame has offered well-received musical tributes to some of America’s greatest songwriters, including Duke Ellington, George & Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter. Missing from that list is Johnny Mercer – and Pam Van Dyke Crosby doesn’t think he should go missing any longer.

            To that end, she’s produced a star-studded show saluting Mercer, one of the most prolific and successful American songwriters of all time.

            “We haven’t ever done a Mercer show at the Jazz Hall, and he belongs up there with the others because of his huge body of work,” she says. “He started writing in the late ‘30s and kept up into the ‘70s. Jazz players all do Johnny Mercer songs, and I love both his words and his music.”

            Mercer, who died in 1976, was a Georgia native best known as a lyricist, penning the words for such evergreens as “Summer Wind,” “Blues in the Night,” “Skylark,” “Hooray for Hollywood,” and “That Old Black Magic,” among many others. Over his career he wrote music as well as lyrics and had a nice run as a performer, scoring such World War II-era hits as “Strip Polka” and “G.I. Jive.” A favorite of Hollywood, he won several Oscars for his movie themes, which included “Days of Wine and Roses” (from the 1962 film of the same name,” In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” (from 1951’s Here Comes the Groom), and “On the Atchison,Topeka, and the Santa Fe” (from 1946’s The Harvey Girls), in addition to his enduring co-creation (with Henry Mancini) from 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, “Moon River.”

            Since he wrote or co-wrote more than 1,000 songs, there are plenty of great Mercer compositions to go around. And that’s a good thing, since the Johnny Mercer Tribute will feature a baker’s dozen of vocalists – most of whom, like Crosby, are well known to area jazz aficionados.

            “Janet Rutland is going to be my co-host,” Crosby notes. “She did a Johnny Mercer show at the Performing Arts Center a few years ago, and I wanted her to play a major part of the show I’m producing.”

            Also on the bill are Cindy Cain, Sandy Gardner, Cynthia Simmons, Rebecca Ungerman, Angie Cockrell, Sarah Maud, Jeff Shadley, Tavis Minner, Booker Gillespie, and Jordan Hehl. Kathleen Kennedy, founder of the jazz venue the Primo Room at Ciao!, makes her Jazz Depot vocal debut.

            The band includes veterans Scott McQuade on piano, Billy Crosby (Pam’s husband) on bass, and Tony Yohe on drums.

            “The singers are picking their own songs, so I’m not choosing all of the music for them to do,” says Crosby. “We’re going to present it on a kind of timeline, though – each act will start with one of his earlier songs and end with a later one, so every performer will have a little bit of the new and a little bit of the old Mercer to do. We’ll talk a little about the songs as we go along, but we’re not going to slow things down.

            “We’ll do all this in two acts. Then, there’ll be a big finale with everybody on stage singing `In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening’ – I hope,” she adds with a laugh.

            Among the numbers patrons can expect to hear, she says, are many of the classics mentioned earlier, as well as “Satin Doll,” “Tangerine,” “One for My Baby,” “Autumn Leaves,” and “Too Marvelous for Words.”

            “The list just goes on and on,” Crosby says. “He has so many great songs to choose from.”

            Along with those familiar numbers, there’ll also be a few Mercer tunes that aren’t as well known. In fact, Crosby’s own set will feature one of them.

            “I’m singing `Ac-cent-tchuate the Positive,’ which everybody knows, and then one from the ‘60s called `I’m Shadowing You,’ which he wrote with [New York-based cabaret star] Blossom Dearie.”

            With all the performers in the show picking their own Mercer tunes, did Crosby simply choose from the leftovers?

            “Oh, no,” she says with another laugh. “Janet and I got to pick first.”

            “A Tribute to Johnny Mercer” is set to begin Sunday, Sept. 9, at 5 p.m. at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First St. Tickets can be purchased at the Depot or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10,and high school and junior high students for $5. Refreshments will be available for purchase.

            The show is a part of the Jazz Hall’s 2012 Autumn Concert Series.

            The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501©(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.