A Johnny Mercer lyric always comes across as something authentically by him, a part of his real person, as lived and experienced by him - and us ! He always strikes the right balance between nostalgia and optimism, between tenderness and passion; genuine emotions that we all can relate to and that accompany us through life.
And beyond that, a wonderful singer himself, he is a singer's lyricist. His ambition was to write “a song that everybody loves and all the artists can’t wait to sing and record it”. That never failed. Every vowel is in its perfect spot, the intricate, often interior rhymes fall into place naturally and the lyric hugs the music in a way that makes every tune a shere joy to sing.
I prepared my centennial tribute for several years, choosing out of the hundreds of songs the two dozen I find I truely cannot do without. They range from some of his very early lyrics ("Goody Goody") to some of his last ones ("The Summer Wind"), from the very famous ("Autumn Leaves", "One for My Baby") to maybe lesser known pieces like "Let's Take the Long Way Home" or "My Shining Hour". Out of all this wealth, personal highlights of my tribute CD are "Blues in the Night", "Fools Rush In" and my alltime favourite "Skylark".
Before I started recording, I felt I just had to go to Mercer's hometown to walk in his steps, see the places that inspired him and talk to his friends and family. In my imagination, Savannah already existed as a dreamland, where a blossom covered lane leads toward a meadowland on the banks of the Moon River ... But its reality, its loveliness and the warmth and friendliness of the people by far surpassed my imagination and spurred my inspiration.
All the immediately evocative countryside images that Mercer conveys in his lyrics are romantic in the original sense of the word. As a Berlin native, I consider them on a par with the poetry written by the great German romantics, where landscapes and emotions reflect and influence each other.
"Autumn Leaves" is to my mind on the same level of greatness as Rilke's famous "Herbstlied" ("Autumn Song"), and the love, lust and longing tumbling in a spin in "That Old Black Magic" are as compelling as in Goethe's masterpiece "Gretchen am Spinnrad" ("Margaret at the Spinning Wheel").
To Mercer, writing songs was “an exciting, stimulating experience like an adventure in love”, and that’s exactly how I feel singing those songs. It is always a great thrill for me to make the audience aware that one great poet wrote such a varied range of timeless words and I'm very happy to have contributed a little bit to the celebration of his centennial.