Chris Connor - vocals; Bob Kaye - piano; Bill Douglass - bass; Eddie Marshall - drums
One of the great female jazz vocalists of the 1950s, Chris Connor was the first to record for the major label Atlantic Records (1956's superb Chris Connor). Following her last release on Atlantic, 1962's Free Spirits (which included a haunting vocal rendition of Ornette Coleman's mournful "Lonely Woman"), Connor faded from the scene somewhat, recording for the far more obscure Bainbridge and FM labels (the latter, owned by her manager, went bankrupt after just one year). By 1976, at the time of this Great American Music Hall performance, she was on the comeback trail at age 49. Her return to the limelight with 1978's Sweet and Swinging on the Audiophile label revealed a singer with a deeper, coarser tone than she exhibited on classics like 1958's Chris Craft, though her performances are imbued with an inherent soulfulness in her phrasing and all-knowing sense of cool that comes with maturity. This is the Chris Connor we hear on this GAMH performance.
Before Connor appears on stage, her trio of pianist Bob Kaye, bassist Bill Douglass, and drummer Eddie Marshall, opens the concert with a swinging rendition of the jazz staple "Stella by Starlight" that has Kaye stretching considerably. Connor makes her entrance with "I Hear That Music Now," a tune associated with her '50s colleague Peggy Lee. And while her voice is markedly lower than in the earlier part of her career, her phrasing is still silky smooth and swinging. "I'm All Smiles" is a decidedly darker, dissonant take on the bubbly waltz-time number sung by Barbra Streisand on her 1964 best-selling album People. She puts her own stamp on the dramatic Billie Holiday number, "Good Morning Heartache," then does the same with her personal take on "I Love You More Today Than Yesterday," a pop tune introduced in the late '60s by the band Spiral Staircase, which she handles as a bossa nova feel at first before segueing to a straight swing groove. Similarly, she cleverly rearranges Anthony Newley's dramatic show-stopper "I've Got to Me" as a buoyant 6/8 swinger, underscored by Kaye's earthy soul-jazz that is right out of Ray Charles' "I'm Busted."
Connor is particularly effective on ballads, as she demonstrates on a touching rendition of Rod McKuen's "I'll Catch the Sun." Then she channels her inner hipster on a smoldering, blues-tinged version of the Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer number "Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home." Connor kicks into high gear on an all-out swinging rendition of Richard Rodgers "The Sweetest Sounds" before immersing herself in the melancholy torch song, "The Love I Can't Forget." The mood shifts suddenly on the buoyant swinger "I'm Riding on the Moon," which closes Connors' potent GAMH set.
Born Kansas City, Missouri, on November 8, 1927, (her birth name was Mary Loutsenhizer), Connor first sang publicly in 1945, at her high school graduation. While in college she decided to pursue a singing career full-time, and in 1948 she moved to New York City. Initially, she stayed within the parameters of the Kansas City area, working during the day as a stenographer and singing on weekends. She landed a job with orchestra leader Claude Thornhill, touring the States with his vocal group, the Snowflakes. By 1952, she joined Jerry Wald's big band and recorded five songs - "You're the Cream in My Coffee," "Cherokee," "Pennies from Heaven," "Raisins and Almonds," and "Terremoto." She also reunited with Claude Thornhill in October 1952, for a radio broadcast from the Statler Hotel in New York City. She sang four songs: "Wish You Were Here," Come Rain or Come Shine," "Sorta Kinda," and "Who Are We to Say."
Through the recommendation of her singing colleague June Christy, Connor then landed a job in Stan Kenton's big band in February 1953, touring and recording with his ensemble. By the end of '53, she signed as a solo artist with the small Bethlehem label and the following year released two albums, Chris Connor Sings Lullabys of Birdland and Chris Connor Sings Lullabys For Lovers. Following her swan song for Bethlehem, 1955's This Is Chris, she signed with Atlantic Records, debuting with 1956's Chris Connor. Previous to her signing, the brothers Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun ran their Atlantic Records primarily as a rhythm and blues label, with artists such as Ruth Brown and Ray Charles on the roster. Connor was their first vocal jazz artist on the roster.
During her Atlantic period (1956-1962), Connor recorded prolifically, and her albums featured such prominent jazz artists as John Lewis, Phil Woods, Maynard Ferguson, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Kenny Burrell, Herbie Mann, Lucky Thompson, Hank Jones, Milt Hinton, and Oscar Pettiford. After leaving Atlantic, she recorded the live Chris Connor at the Village Gate for the small FM label. She followed up with 1964's A Weekend in Paris before the label declared bankruptcy. Connor recorded sporadically through the '60s, '70s, and '80s for a variety of small labels, then had something of a renaissance toward the end of her career with a string of three potent albums for the High Note label - 2001's Haunted Heart, 2002's I Walk with Music, and 2003's Everything I Love. She died on August 29, 2009, from cancer at age 81. (Milkowski)
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