Harry Warren won three Oscars, partnered with the cream of lyricists—Johnny Mercer, Ira Gershwin, Mack Gordon and Al Dubin among them—and helped add “I Found a Million Dollar Baby,” “Lullaby of Broadway” and “Jeepers Creepers” to the pop-culture lexicon. So how is it that one of the Great American Songbook’s most prolific contributors also ranks among its least appreciated?
Two years ago, trumpeter and bandleader David Berger attempted to amend Warren’s unfair anonymity when he and his octet released I Had the Craziest Dream, a collection of a dozen of the composer’s brightest gems. Berger’s research for that project unearthed a trove of lost Warren treasures, most lacking titles and all but one (“There Is No Music,” written with Ira Gershwin) lacking lyrics. Working with his full orchestra, enlisting vocal assistance from Freda Payne and Denzal Sinclaire and commissioning new lyrics from Paul Mendenhall, Berger brings 10 of these “undiscovered standards” to vibrant life.
Payne lends a Rosemary Clooney-esque quality to the bouncy “I Wonder Who,” effervescent “Sing Me a Love Song” and sexily furtive “But Here We Are.” Sinclaire, strongly reminiscent of Nat Cole and Johnny Hartman, beautifully navigates the forlorn “I’m Sorry,” haunted “There Is No Music” and sultry “Positano Afternoon.” But top marks must be reserved for Berger, whose arrangements authentically suggest the soundtrack to some obscure musical from MGM’s golden years, and Mendenhall, whose lyrics are equally evocative of Warren’s heyday.