Wednesday, September 09, 2009


While Chris Connor was cool enough to be making albums for over 40 years, selling mostly to jazz fans, she left the average listener cold. The average music fan was more likely to buy swingin' Ella Fitzgerald for accessible hipness or sultry Julie London for a sexy album cover.

Chris admittedly favored the understated style of chilly blondes like June Christy, Anita O'Day and Jo Stafford, while the general public preferred the warm smiles and friendly lilt of Doris Day and Patti Page...or Peggy Lee, who hinted at a feverish torch underneath her smouldering exterior. As for album covers, the tough broad wasn't the most photogenic or hetero-friendly girl singer on the planet.

With her father over 60 when she was born, and her mother dying at 13, young Mary Loutsenhizer (November 8, 1927 – August 29, 2009) probably grew up with a view of men as being unpleasant and cranky, and with a longing for a strong, loving female figure in her life. She worked for big bands in her native Kansas City before coming to New York in 1948. She joined "The Snowflakes," the vocalists for Claude Thornhill's band, but didn't get to sing leads until 1952 when she recorded for band leader Jerry Wald. Her big break came when June Christy left Stan Kenton and suggested Chris Connor as a replacement. Kenton, who also worked with Anita O'Day, favored female vocalists who were technically perfect and could enunciate the lyrics.

"My voice seemed to fit the band,” Chris recalled, “with that low register like Anita’s and June’s." She learned not to "over sing," as she put it.

Thanks to the Kenton exposure, Connor was able to make her move as a solo artist, getting away from hectic travel, big band bombast, and perhaps the unpleasantness of being in an entourage of mostly horny males. Bethlehem signed her in 1953 and she became one of their best selling artists. Three years later, she leaped to Atlantic, becoming their leading (actually, their first) white female jazz artist. She left the label in the 60's when even major artists like Ella and Peggy were no longer selling well. By the 90's, she was looking to Japan for contract deals, as many American jazz artists were, and her last string of CDs turned up on small labels Alfa Jazz and Highnote.

On her website, run by her "longtime partner and manager" Lori Muscarelle, there's an audio section, which states: "Click on any underlined song title to hear a sample of the song. These albums and others are available in stores and on iTunes and other digital download sites." Chris did not seem to believe that if one of her albums was out of print, it should be given away free, nor did she seem to think that giving away her music was a valuable publicity move.

Over 40 years of making music...leads to the appropriate if cliche choice of "As Time Goes By," as recorded in 1991, for what may be your first hearing of Chris Connor. It might lead you to becoming a rabid fan, although "rabid" is hardly the term any critic used to describe her style. For example, jazz authority Will Friedwald appraised her with the same clinical detachment you'll often find in Connor's singing:

"Think of a warm, assured voice...that values dynamics so much that it only uses them sparingly and meaningfully...of an unbeatable sense of time and an ear perfect enough to guide her through..."

AS TIME GOES BY, by Chris Connor

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