Local culture | 30 October 2013 11:05AM
Of course, Mercer didn’t write “Skylark,” or the vast majority of his 1500 (!) songs alone. Johnny was a lyricist, the consummate lyricist, a conjurer of endlessly inventive images and wordplay. He was a musician, a good singer and composer in his own right, but he chose, wisely, to work with some of the best composers of his era—Hoagy Carmichael, Harold Arlen, Harry Warren, Henry Mancini—and produced some of our most loved songs. Besides “Skylark,” we heard about twenty of them, some only titles in a hit-laden medley. From the surprising dexterity of lyrics remembered only as ditties, like “The Glow Worm” and “Accentuate the Positive,” to the aching beauty of “Skylark,” “Moon River,” and “The Days of Wine and Roses,” to ”Blues in the Night” (according to Arthur Schwartz “probably the best blues song ever written,” they just keep coming.
Equally wise, Wann doesn’t sing and play alone either. As good as he is, he’s smart enough to “share the spotlight,” with two terrific, versatile musicians. Wann, Rideout and Henn are a trio born at Helsinki, and made in heaven. They never played together before, and sound as if they’ve been playing together forever. It’s impossible not to share their delight in each other.
Pardon My Southern Accent
The goofy, great Ritt Henn, on bass, is also a swell singer, and the extraordinary Leenya Rideout plays violin, mandolin, and her own soaring, simply beautiful instrument. (It’s a shame the planned Broadway revival of Wann’s wonderful “Pump Boys and Dinettes” was canceled. Rideout was to star.)
Accentuate The Positive
In any case, I’m grateful to Lee Tannen and Tom Wells for Helslnki on Broadway, and to Marc and Deborah for Helsinki. Wann and Mercer and friends are thrilling, funny, and so much fun.
And by the way, though Wann and his wife and collaborator, Patricia, still spend two months a year in Georgia, they spend the rest in Claverack, so he’s a local boy too.