The song of the day for Thursday, November 20, 2014 is “Blues in the Night.”
About This Song
“Blues in the Night” was written in 1941 for the film of the same name by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer. Arlen wrote the music first and wrote a true blues song. Johnny Mercer, who later wrote the lyrics, drew on his southern heritage to write the exceptional blues lyrics. When Mercer was working on the lyrics, he brought in a version to show Arlen. In the margin he had scribbled “my mama done told me,” but hadn’t meant to use that in the song. Arlen saw it and knew immediately it was perfect. And so it was and still is.
The movie Blues In The Night showed up on Turner Classic Movies a while back and I rather enjoyed it, if for no other reason than the music. It’s not the greatest film ever made, but I related to the group of musicians who were determined to play the kind of music they wanted to play, no matter what.
About This Version
Today’s version of “Blues in the Night” is from Tony Bennett’s third LP album: The Beat of My Heart. It features Jo Jones on drums.
We pick up our story of the life of Johnny Mercer in 1928 when, at the age of 19, he moved to New York. He was able to find a few acting jobs and pursued his songwriting in his Greenwich Village apartment and a beat-up piano. He sold his first song in 1930 to the Garrick Gaieties: “Out of Breath (and Scared to Death of You).” It was also when he met Ginger Meehan, whom he married in 1931 and stayed married to until his death.
Mercer had the opportunity to go to Hollywood on assignment for a film called Paris in the Spring and was able to meet both Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong while there. Upon his return to New York he was able to apprentice with Yip Harburg on the score for a revue called Americana, which featured one of Harburg’s most famous songs “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” He also sang with the Paul Whitman Orchestra and generally learned the business in those years. It was during this time he and Hoagy Carmichael first worked together, on a song called “Lazybones,” which did quite well and earned each songwriter the rather large (at that time) royalty check of $1250. This enabled Mercer to join ASCAP and was recognized a songwriter of great promise.
In 1935, Hollywood called again. This time it was RKO, known for its low-budget musicals. Johnny and Ginger made the move to Hollywood.
… tomorrow … Mercer starts writing for the movies …
“Blues in the Night,” as well as The Beat of My Heart, is available from iTunes.