Mercer's ‘I’m old-fashioned ...’ defines trumpeter Joe Gransden

This story was originally published in 2009

Johnny Mercer’s song “I’m Old Fashioned” describes Atlanta-based trumpeter Joe Gransden, perfectly.

He has been mesmerized by the trumpet and big-band music since age 14.

On Saturday, the 38-year-old, straight-ahead trumpeter performs at the “Johnny Mercer Centennial Celebration Event” at the Rialto Center for the Arts. The show also features Verve Records vocalist Lizz Wright and the Georgia State University Jazz Band.

Born in Savannah, Mercer’s songbook includes numerous classics, including 18 Academy Award nominated songs and lyrics that roll off your tongue. Mercer died in 1976. His birthday centennial is Nov. 18.

Gransden organized the Rialto show and selected nearly 20 Mercer songs, most of which have new arrangements.

Gransden’s popularity is growing. He has a new CD, “Close to My Heart,” produced by saxophonist Kenny G. His bimonthly big-band show has drawn standing room crowds at Cafe 290 in Sandy Springs. And he has a popular Christmas show at Spivey Hall at Clayton State University.

Thus, the trumpeter is rooted in both the straight-ahead and smooth jazz worlds. He also has a singing voice likened to Michael Buble.

The Yonkers, N.Y., native honed his music skills touring Europe with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, and later worked New York City’s jazz club scene. He settled in Atlanta, where his parents live, shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Gransden met Kenny G in 2007 through a gutsy introduction to Clint Eastwood, who produced a new documentary, “Johnny Mercer: The Dream’s on Me,” airing this month on Turner Classic Movies.

Gransden recently talked about the Mercer show and his musical journey.

Q: Can you give us a preview of the Mercer event?

A: Wes Funderburk and Eric Alexander, who arrange music for my big band at Cafe 290, created new arrangements for some of Mercer’s song. There were songs with Nelson Riddle arrangements that were done for [Frank] Sinatra that we kept the same.

Q: Lizz Wright seems like a perfect fit for this show.

A: Yes. Lizz [who was born in Georgia] and I are old friends.

We used to sit in on each other’s sets at Churchill Grounds. We’ll do a couple of duets together. She sings a song that Barry Manilow put music to from Johnny Mercer’s lyrics called, “Just Remember.”

Q: What is your Clint Eastwood connection?

A: My friend suggested I send my CD to a celebrity who likes jazz. He mentioned Clint. I said, ‘That’s impossible.’ I wrote a letter to Clint and his wife. I found an address on the internet, and two weeks later his wife called. They wanted me to come out to California and play a party. So much stuff has come out of that.

Q: How did you meet Kenny G?

A: In 2007, I was hired to open for Kenny G at a private party at Clint’s golf club. During rehearsal Clint suggested we play a song together. We chose “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” That sparked a nice friendship, and Kenny decided to help me.

Q: Will you play both smooth jazz and straight-ahead music in the future?

A: Yes, when I perform with Kenny, I will try to bridge them a little and play smooth jazz with a little straight-ahead vibe on it.

I’m old-fashioned at heart. I’m hoping someday in the near future to record my big band with all these new Mercer arrangements.

Concert event

The “Johnny Mercer Centennial Celebration”

Features Atlanta-based trumpeter Joe Gransden, Lizz Wright and the Georgia State University Jazz Band at 8 p.m. Saturday. $22-$48. The Rialto Center for the Arts, 80 Forsyth St., N.W. Downtown. 404-413-9849, www.rialtocenter.org. Also visit www.joegransden.com .