Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Sept. 30, 2009 : Muziekcentrum Eindhoven - Eindhoven
Fri. Oct. 2, 2009 : Muziekcentrum - Enschede
Oct. 4, 2009 : Philharmonie - Haarlem (Amsterdam)
Oct. 6, 2009 : De Lawei - Drachten
Oct. 9, 2009 : Stadsschouwburg - Middelburg
Oct. 10, 2009 : Vredenburg - Utrecht
Oct. 13, 2009 : De Tamboer - Hoogeveen
Oct. 14, 2009 : Stedelijk Concertgebouw - Leiden
Yes, it's true, the return of Chi Coltrane on tour starts TOMORROW.
You can go to YouTube and check out her bold first appearance in public...at an outdoor concert in Vienna, where she is in total command of the crowd. Any tweens and 20-somethings wondering "Who's this Hot Lips Houlihan with a black jazz man's last name..." will see that Chi smacks a piano harder than Ray Charles and her "sweet shout" Gospel-tinged delivery can still lash into roars and snarls. It was proof she's ready to try a tour.
This long overdue illfolks tribute was delayed because I knew she was planning a return, and I wanted to salute it when it happened.
Coltrane's early 70's hit "Thunder and Lightning" blazed up the charts. Then critics took a closer look, and apparently were surprised that the woman belting that song was a beautiful blonde...someone "too white" to be authentic. Chi (pronounced "shy") was, after all, from Wisconsin, part of Lawrence Welk land. She has never lost the tendency-ah to end a sentence-ah with an extra vowel...a trait also uncomfortably associated with the Swaggart style used to preach religion-ah.
Perhaps some of the Archies who saw her album covers, expected a sweet Betty to Linda Ronstadt's Veronica, and were unprepared for someone who could growl. Listen to the way she sings "what am I to do" on "You Were My Friend" - she sounds the way a wet cat looks.
Even on a passionate ballad, such as "Ooh Baby," Chi will not stay pretty and passive. That song is an emotional roller coaster of hushed sighs and powerful yearning, and it's easy to understand how people could be a little surprised and alarmed by it...it's like cuddling an ocelot...it's furry, it's kissable, but it can turn dangerous, too. Chi's snarling vocals on some notes make you almost think she might grow fangs. We want our ladies to sing soft songs vulnerably, ala Billie Holiday, or powerful songs strongly, ala Aretha, but Chi was doing both.
Some of her best songs have that mixed message; sweet vocals that turn into Gospel "whoa ho ho" whoops, pretty melodies punctuated by fierce full-bodied chords...it makes for a unique, individual and challenging artist. Publicists, writers and disc jockeys couldn't categorize her as easily as Ronstadt or Aretha...
....so after two Columbia albums (and despite the enthusiasm of Clive Davis), Chi slipped off the label, and remained adrift for three years until 1977's "Road to Tomorrow." This was a brilliant album, but unfortunately on Clouds, a small subsidiary of T.K., a label that pushed disco junk such as "K.C. and the Sunshine Band."
When that album, and its gorgeous cover photo, failed to re-ignite her career here, Coltrane moved to Europe, finding a strong following in Holland and Germany, where an attractive white woman could sing with black gospel influences and be lauded for it. Europeans were also enthusiastic about her very American, Evangelical approach to lyrics of life and love. In concert, she could mention "Jesus, my lord" without getting groans.
You can hear that line on "You," from her lone live album, one of three she recorded for Germany's Teldec label in the 80's...albums that fetched big prices from American fans fighting to out-bid each other on eBay for them.
Through the years there were whispers about Chi's emotional fragility, which is part of the temperament of singer/songwriters. The pressures of coming up with another "Thunder and Lightning" were great, the end of her two-lp deal with Columbia had to be painful, and the lack of interest in "Road to Tomorrow" a major disappointment. Yet, Chi's years in Germany, and the albums she made, retained her trademark energy and drive.
So what happened? Where was she for the past two decades?
"I had a debilitating illness for many years, similar to chronic fatigue syndrome, which left me too tired to tour. But I was fortunate enough to find a doctor who uses herbal treatments, and who has helped me overcome this affliction. I'm completely recovered and ready to resume my recording and performing career."
You can buy her new CD via her website. Last time I checked, she even had autographed copies available. While there aren't many new songs on it (it's mostly a "best of" tracks from the Teldec albums of the 80's) her recent works show that she's as dynamic and sensitive as ever, and that's quite a combination to have fighting inside anyone's mind and body.
Her "best of" the Columbia era is still around on CD, but she's surprisingly hard to find on iTunes, eMusic and the usual suspects. Her self-made "best of" (with the two fresh tracks) is a good place to start, especially since you can probably still get an autographed version of it...try autographing an mp3 file!
The photo above? Vintage Chi on her "Road to Tomorrow" album (she autographed it, "I hope you like it...") and the new CD.
Your introduction to the vast tapestry of Chi Coltrane greatness: four live tracks. "You Were My Friend" with its honest pain, "You," a ballad that her powerful voice makes one of strength more than subservience, "Leavin' It All Behind," a typical piano-pounding song of joyous contradictions ("Christmas, in the middle of May") and the rousing "Go Like Elijah." You, go, Chi. And if any of you can go to a Chi Coltrane concert...don't be shy. You won't be converted into anything but a fan.
Update: Nov, 2011. Rapidshare's annoying "30 days without a download kills it" policy killed the original link. It's back via a better company.
CHI COLTRANE LIVE
Download or listen on line. No capcha codes. No porn ads. No percentage going to the blogger for his "hard work." The hard work was done by the artist.
BANBURY : October 02
CANTERBURY: October 03
BEWDLEY : October 15
DARTFORD: October 16
BRAINTREE: October 17
LIVERPOOL: October 21
Beverley Craven's released her first album in ten years. (The last one, "Mixed Emotions," was recorded at Abbey Road). "Close to Home" on her own Campsie Music label, is available direct via her website. Two highlights are the captivating "Is it Only Me?" which has a bit of the minor key pop-hook magic of ABBA (pardon the expression) and the cutting "Fun, Fun Fun," which are purely Craven-crafted, with her softly urgent vocals seasoned by varying influences, from R&B (she was once a back-up singer for Bobby Womack) to the flights of fancy associated with Kate Bush.
Beverley took her long hiatus to raise her family. Her career started with one of the most spectacular debuts in British pop history. Her first album went double platinum (over a million sold) and stayed on the U.K. charts for a solid year. Her breathy phrasing is unique; nobody sounds like her. The warm, wistful and romantic "Promise Me" was a big International hit, and while there were tasty numbers on her next two albums, trying to live up to the first had to be frustrating.
To be honest, some of her material is definitely girly-girl, or "View"-worthy ("Woman to Woman" and a number about the "tick tock of her biological clock.") Some of her new songs are candy-coated, but it does seem that many Beverley fans crave that side of her. At the Illfolks blog, the first track, the McCartneyesque "Rainbow," is always skipped. It opens: "Look at that bird, sitting in a tree, singing its little heart out! Look at that cloud, a picture in the sky, and the sunlight through the leaves. All I know, it's beautiful...there are no rainbows without the rain!"
In America, with an overwhelming number of jazz-pop women on the charts, from Basia to Whitney Houston to Carly Simon, Craven made less of an impression, and that first album didn't stay on the charts anywhere near the year it did in the U.K. I knew nothing about her when I happened upon her CD in a store, and her slightly melancholy cover photo (and her last name) plus the stamp of Epic made it seem well worth a gamble.
Your introduction to Beverley Craven is the last cut on that first album from 1990. It's atypical, really, since she's using more of her smooth groove voice. A dirge ballad with more than a dash of New Orleans funeral music to it, "Missing You" is the kind of song of sweet sorrow that recalls romantic writers of the past, include Edgar A. Poe. (Poe fans no doubt wish that Beverley was somehow related to Dr Erasmus Craven, as played by Vincent Price in "The Raven.")
MISSING YOU. But fans missing Beverley Craven for 10 years...she's BACK!
It was easy to get a novelty single released by Columbia ... if you happened to be an executive there!
"Smooth Lundvall," aka Bruce Lundvall (Bucknell graduate, class of 1957), managed to push Columbia into issuing TWO novelty singles. One was a cover of "Winchester Cathedral" b/w "I'm Gonna Spoil You Baby" (billed as The New Happiness, vocal refrain by Smooth Lundvall) and the more disturbing coupling of "Dear Chester"
and "Ode to Larson E. Whipsnade" credited to Smooth Lundvall and The New Happiness.
Adopting a W.C. Fields cadence, but sounding more like Rudy Vallee, Lundvall attempted to be part of the "Fields cash-in" that included new books, pop posters, and the arrival of "Uncle Bill" (imitating the Great Man in both TV commercials and on a novelty album). Columbia issued four albums of W.C. Fields radio shows...and a few years later, 1976, "Smooth" Bruce Lundvall had worked his way up to become president of CBS Records.
Jazz fan Lundvall switched over to Elektra in 1982, boosting Elektra's new "Musician" label, and two years later, went to EMI, where he revived Blue Note and signed Norah Jones, which immediately let the world know that this aging executive still knew how to bring in talent.
Lundvall was once chairman of the RIAA, and also held high positions at other alphabet soup groups; Country Music Association (CMA) and National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS). He received a presidential award (whatever that is) from NARM (whoever they are...the National Association of Record Merchants, whose job apparently is to wave farewell every time a Tower, HMV or Virgin closes.)
"Dear Chester" references "Chester Fields," a mythical son W.C. loved to mention on radio just to annoy his sponsor, the rival cigarette company Lucky Strike. Lundvall recites a script that goes from copping familiar Fields jokes into inventing lesser ones...a distracting piano offering what is supposed to be some period flavor. If you've ever tasted a period, this is not a compliment.
Lundvall, now 73, is still the CEO over at Blue Note, and despite signing more acts, including Cassandra Wilson, and having certifiable hits with albums by Al Green and Wynton Marsalis, people want him to step aside for somebody younger. In a February 2009 article in the NY Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/07/arts/music/07blue.html) "Smooth" Bruce said "“I don’t want to sit around the house and mow the lawn. I don’t want to be a crossing guard for the Wyckoff, N.J., school system. I want to keep doing this.”
If you were listening to New Zealand Top Ten radio in 1981, you remember something strange happening.
In a year when the #1 song was Olivia Newton-John's "Physical," Sheena Easton's "Morning Train," Blondie's "The Tide Is High," or John Lennon's "Woman," for a few weeks, the top spot was something completely different.
It wasn't rock at all. It was...
Howard Morrison singing "How Great Thou Art."
It proved that Howard was not just a major influence on NZ music, he was a Maori influence.
While the New Zealand #1 spot back then could belong to some diverse music (the ethnic ballad "Bridge" by Deane Waretini or the odd Island rhythm-disco "Say I Love You" from Renee Geyer), the success of a traditional and religious song was remarkable...
....although the novelty twist was that Howard didn't sing all of it in English.
Morrison, part Maori, part Scots/Irish, first gained attention back in 1956 with the Howard Morrison Quartet, formed when he was just 21. That group continued in the 60's. Morrison continued to win fans through the 70's as a solo singer, peaking with his 1981 hit rendition of "How Great Thou Art."
Just how great was his art? In 1990 he was knighted. He grew frail but his legend grew strong. Asked what his legacy was, he simply replied, "Let the people decide."
Prime Minister John Key issued the following statement: "Sir Howard was a New Zealand success story. From humble beginnings he became an international success, first with the Howard Morrison Quartet, and then in an illustrious solo career. But more than that, Sir Howard was one of New Zealand's best loved entertainers, his appeal spanning every age group. I pay tribute to a real gentleman...Sir Howard Morrison will be greatly missed."
Sir Howard Morrison, O.B.E. died on September 24th. He's survived by his wife Rangiwhata, and three children.
HOW GREAT THOU ART, Sir Howard Morrison
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Today (September 19th) is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
A New Year implies regeneration, and Bob's noted for revitalizing his old songs when he revisits them. Bob's newest version of "Tangled Up in Blue" (this soundboard version is from a July 2009 show) features a sneaky blues that does a chromatic strut up and down the scale. It turns a formerly bitter folk tune into some kinda jitterbug rag. He's also rhyming "Tropicana" with "Atlanta" where we once heard "Topless place" and "Side of her face."
Those thinking Bob's voice is a bit shot will not find that much evidence here; he sings this one with sly enthusiasm and less of a morbid croak. Bob will be releasing a holiday album shortly...of Christmas songs. Which makes about as much sense as putting tinsel on your tegelach. But Bob has always had a unique vision that, over time, is usually proven to be wise and/or profound. So a cheerful Muppet growl of "Here Comes Santa Claus" from the former Mr. Zimmerman, could just be the surprise hit of the season. If it isn't, he may have something to atone for next Yom Kippur.
TANGLED UP IN BLUE 2009 VERSION
Dave Guard had left The Kingston Trio (replaced by John Stewart) to forge new trails in folk music. The trail got muddied. The name of his new group suggested that he was going to booze it up and sing numbers even stupider than "Tijuana Jail." The group's cover of "Railroad Bill" suggests as much
Most of the other tracks on their ill-fated album veer wildly from irritating unauthentic ethnic tripe ("Salomila") to the morbid ("Plane Wreck at Los Gatos") to nitwit novelty ("We're the World's Last Authentic Playboys") to the lone highlight, Big Judy Henske's solo on the traditional blues, "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out."
There were high hopes for the group. They were given a strong build-up and were featured in Life Magazine (photo above, lightly colorized, referencing "Railroad Bill.") Aside from that song, nothing was too funny and Judy fled the group while they were recording material for a second album (which was never released).
She turned up on Elektra with a first album recorded live and brimming with the eclectic tastes, wild humor, and bold musicianship that somehow had not come together for "The Whiskeyhill Singers."
Performing live, you can hear that they could put the hoot into hootenanny, and if nothing else you'll get a sense of their ebullience as they roar through the ridiculous ("Railroad Bill") and the overripe ("Salomila") with a little something extra in between.
WHISKEYHILL SINGERS LIVE IN 1962
Vibrant performers in their prime, welcome friends as they aged into an act that parents, children and grandparents could all enjoy, Peter Paul & Mary managed to stay together (sans the break-up years 1971-76) for a lifetime. Despite her weight problems in the 90's and health issues over the past few years, Mary Travers was able to keep to the touring commitments and not disappoint all those worldwide fans.
She'd had a bone marrow transplant to deal with the leukemia diagnosed in 2005, and was still undergoing chemotherapy, but was performing until just a few months ago. On her website, Peter Yarrow began his eulogy: "In her final months, Mary handled her declining health in the bravest, most generous way imaginable. She never complained. She avoided expressing her emotional and physical distress, trying not to burden those of us who loved her, especially her wonderfully caring and attentive husband, Ethan...."
And after mentioning aspects of her "vexing" personality (Mary, surprisingly enough, was the most political of the three, and known for her sharp wit), Noel Paul Stookey ended his statement with: "I am deadened and heartsick beyond words to consider a life without Mary Travers and honored beyond my wildest dreams to have shared her spirit and her career."
Her passing naturally stirs nostalgia in those who remember when the trio was, along with the Kingston Trio, the most polished and commercials stars of the folk revival. Appealing to most everyone, the PP&M set list and albums included Christian songs, Jewish songs, delicate ballads, rousing sing-alongs and even novelty tunes. Plus there was a certain sad and charming kiddie song about a magic dragon that even hippies loved, convinced it was actually about pot.
Not quite the darlings of the critics, despite their brilliant harmonies and impeccable taste, one wag dismissed them as looking like "two rabbis and a hooker." The two rabbis (one Jewish, one Christian) were sometimes hard to tell apart, but there was no doubt about the hooker...Mary was an eye-catching hippie chick with her full-lipped smile and shimmering, long straight blond hair.
It was her voice that gave the trio its distinction, melding so beautifully with the two guys, and no doubt influencing future mixed folk groups such as "The Mamas and the Papas" and "Spanky and Our Gang."
Mary once admitted, "I'm not sure I want to be singing 'Leaving on a Jet Plane' when I'm 75, but I know I'll still be singing 'Blowin' in the Wind.'" PP&M's cover was the first time most people on the planet ever heard of a songwriter called Bob Dylan.
After a series of successful albums ("Moving" being the Illfolks favorite) the trio split at the turn of the 70's, and boldly offered three simultaneous solo albums (a pioneering idea later borrowed by KISS among others). All it proved, was that they all were pleasant on their own, and could even write or co-write some good songs...but the sum was greater than the individual parts.
The Peter Paul & Mary material is easy to find, but the solo works...most of them still exist only in the out of print vinyl editions. It's a bit odd that Mary's solo work didn't find a wider audience, since she did stand out when she had solo opportunities on a PP&M tune ("Tiny Sparrow" among many others). The Illfolks salute features a song from her first solo album, the Paul Simon classic "Song for the Asking."
Mary Travers, Song for the Asking
A FAREWELL TO HENRY GIBSON. BY ILLFOLKS.
"Verrrry interrresting" wasn't his line.
Whimsical poetry suited him fine.
On "Laugh-In" they didn't want Henrik Ibsen...
Just literature spoken by Henry Gibson.
Timid and mild, he was never a swinger,
But then he made "Nashville." Henry's a singer!
On "Boston Legal" he was not to be dissed.
He played a wise judge, but now he's dismissed.
Well, those are the obvious highlights. First was "Laugh-In," (where he held a flower and recited poetry, and also played the quipping priest in "party" segments...not to be confused, though he was, with the equally diminutive Arte Johnson's "Tyrone" character and "interresting" catch-phrase). Later, "Nashville" and "Boston Legal." Cultists would point to "The Burbs" or "The Blues Brothers," and stand-up fans would tell you it was a damn brave thing to appear, years before "Laugh-in," in nightclubs softly drawling poetry to a bunch of drunks who wanted wife jokes. His album of stand-up on Liberty arrived well before "Laugh-In."
Henry was a smart, funny and nice man. Few have even one of those traits. As the Illfolks blog is a musical one, we'll salute this little giant via "200 Years," a song from the "Nashville" soundtrack that some embrace as patriotism, and others as satire.
Henry, not as frail as his comic image (he was in the Air Force), succumbed to cancer, and just missed making it to his 74th birthday (September 21, 1935 – September 14, 2009). He leaves behind three sons. His wife Lois died in 2007.
HENRY GIBSON sings "200 YEARS" from the soundtrack "NASHVILLE"
Via theme songs, the Illfolks blog pays tribute to Paul Burke (died September 13th) and Larry Gelbart (died September 11th).
Back in the late 50's, if you wanted gritty drama, you either ate crackers in bed against wifey's orders, or you both tuned in to "Naked City." Most of us are just catching up to that show, thanks to the DVDs. For those who actually watched it way back when, the news of Paul Burke's death is more depressing, 'cause you're nearly as old as he was when he died.
Paul was a solid leading man so after Burke's law drama ended, he was soon cast on the war drama "12 O'Clock High." After that, he appeared in a variety of guest star roles until he was put on trial with Harry Connick Jr's father, in some kind of influence-peddling scam. Paul was cleared, but he found that the phone stopped ringing for acting assignments, and soon declared an official retirement. Here's the obscure Mundell Lowe version of the "Naked City" theme, which is on a highly collectible Living Stereo RCA album of TV themes.
As for Larry Gelbart, if only he was like his plays; he could've been easily revived. Aside from helping to adapt MASH for TV and writing so many classic episodes, he was responsible for stage and screen masterworks such as "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" (revived a number of times on Broadway) and "Tootsie."
Even a lesser item, like "Sly Fox" won a fairly recent revival, with the George C. Scott role going to Richard Dreyfuss. I saw it twice, first with Dreyfuss, and then understudy and well known typing error Rene Auberjonois in the lead (and thanks, Rene, for recommending "Zen Palate" for dinner). I was backstage talking with the cast, and they were all proud and delighted to flex their skills at the nice combo of wit and farce that Larry'd put together.
Larry, like most writers (Neil Simon) or writer-actors (Carl Reiner), was laid back, unassuming, with no need to prove he was a comic genius by being constantly on. "Suicide is Painless," the lyric version of the MASH theme, was not used on the TV show, so it's rarity makes it a worthy musical tribute here. Using "Comedy Tonight" from "A Funny Thing..." would've been way too gauche, and you don't want Larry rolling over in his grave.
NAKED CITY THEME
SUICIDE IS PAINLESS, lyric version. Instant download or listen on line
The sad news on September 11th this year...the death of Jim Carroll (August 1, 1950 - September 11, 2009).
If you ever met Jim, his presence was as indelible as his poetry, prose and songs. I remember an hour, just Jim and I, and I was thinking that on looks alone, you had to know he'd been through a lot...the incredibly pale complexion, a look that suggested he'd just gotten out of a sick bed or from behind the gates of a cemetery.
As for his voice, it held a frail throb, as if he was getting over being maced. I suppose it's not that much of a surprise that he had a heart attack at 60, when odds probably had him dying a lot earlier.
Glossing over his poetry and prose for this music blog, let's note that when he signed to Atlantic, he was given great production, a great push, and on "People Who Died," a band and backing vocalists who threw a universe of frenzy around his lost-soul vocal. Like Patti Smith, an obvious influence, Jim tended to speak more than sing, but he did get a bit more melodic for his next two albums, each having haunted highlights, and quite often, a very intentional shot of mordant humor. Jim spent most of the past 15 years in the world of poetry readings, lectures and writing. While his musical output was sporadic, most anything he did was welcome and interesting, and that includes his limping cover version of Del Shannon's "Runaway."
His song "People Who Died" lives...like a vampire does, or the living dead. It grabs you on the first listen, chokes you, pounds at your heart, and when it's over, you take a deep breath because you're still alive. Wish Jim still was.
Your download features thirteen songs that aren't on Rhino's "Best of" album...
Three Sisters, Nothing Is True, Crow, Judy, Barricades, Evangeline, Rooms, Still Life, Sweet Jane, Hold Back the Dream, Freddy's Store, Black Romance, Runaway...
...plus "People Who Died." Well before there was such as thing as "rap," Jim Carroll was there, and there is no rapper who could cover this song, no rapper who could touch this song, and no rapper who has come up with anything better than this song.
JIM CARROLL 14 SONGS
Update November 2011: Rapidshare deletes files if they aren't uploaded often enough to suit them. "Runaway" has been re-upped individually via a better service:
JIM CARROLL "Runaway"
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
It's an outrage...The Beatles albums have gotten re-mastered, but Doodles Weaver's "Eleanor Rigby" has been forgotten.
The dude named Doodles has been championed before at Illfolks, but obviously not enough to lead a major label into remastering and releasing his stuff.
To briefly offer the highlights of the tragic comedian's life: while his brother Sylvester "Pat" Weaver was a fairly reasonable looking guy who ended up as president of NBC, brother Winstead was so odd looking that his own mother called him "Doodle Bug," which got shortened to "Doodles." Doodles began and ended his career as a strange looking character actor getting half a minute to play someone kooky, dazed or confused.
For a few brief years, he was a successful corny comic, most notably in the Spike Jones band, and for kids, as the star of "A Day with Doodles," a low-budget series of cornball TV shorts in which he played all roles. He favored ridiculously bad jokes told with manic glee ("He said to me, 'Doodles, your hair is getting thin." I said, 'Who wants fat hair!' Haa, isn't that a killer???") He turned up on Groucho Marx's "You Bet Your Life," as a mere contestant, with Groucho asking him his profession. When Doodles admitted he was a comedian, and told a few jokes, Groucho sympathetically declared that he should be working more, because he was an amusing guy.
The last most people heard of Doodles was when he self-pressed "Feetlebaum Returns," an album that revisited some old jokes and routines, and tried to find more modern tunes to fracture.
For "Eleanor Rigby," Doodles dusts off his inimitable spooner-spazzing:
"Eleanor Rigby picks up the dice - raises the price - chops up the ice - traffics in vice- oh no no no! Kills all the mice..."
He takes a page out of the Frank Fay playbook as well. Fay, a well-loathed comedian once married to Barbara Stanwyck, used to get snickers by taking apart pop tunes and pointing out the absurdities in the lyrics. Here, Doodles sings about Father McKenzie writing the words to a sermon that no one will hear, darning his socks in the night...and stops for analysis:
"What a weirdo priest this guy is! Heh heh heh. First he writes a sermon for a bunch of deaf people, then he turns out the lights in his room and darns socks!"
Darn it, the song didn't climb the charts with a bullet, and eventually Doodles ended his spiral downward with one.
ELEANOR RIGBY by DOODLES WEAVER
Download or listen on line. No capcha codes. No porn ads. No percentage going to the blogger for his "hard work." The hard work was done by the artist.
Erich Kunzel, who died on September 1, led the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra since its formation in 1977.
Every "pops" orchestra has the same assignment: provide light entertainment for the hefty masses. That involves turning familiar overtures by Rossini or Mozart into easy listening movie soundtracks and turning Tiomkin or Waxman movie scores into portentious classical music. Either way, the arrangements will be gaudy and overdone and the cymbal player is going to have very damp armpits.
While he lacked the folksy gentility of Arthur Fiedler, and was not a name-brand ex-Tonight Show conductor ala Skitch Henderson or Doc Severinsen, as a "pops" conductor Erich Kunzel achieved great success with his endless Telarc CD's, the local concerts and world tours (first pops orchestra to hit China). He got national exposure every Fourth of July, leading his orchestra's live televised version of "The Star Spangled Banner," with the sky itself a music video of rockets red glare.
Pancreatic cancer was diagnosed in Kunzel just five months ago, and despite chemotherapy, it spread to his liver and colon. That's such an unpleasant demise, there will be no puns about the name Kunzel sounding like a brand of female-flavored pretzel. Well, only one.
In case you've forgotten what "Pops music" is all about, get a bowl of cereal and let it snap and crackle and get soggy through the 8 1/2 minutes it takes for Erich and Orch to turn "Gunfight at the OK Corral" into something epic. This thing is classic "light classic," with an arrangement full of cliche (you'll love the razzing horns and heart-thumping bass drum). It's blown over the top by gunshot sound effects, a gender-challenged choir ("The Men of the May Festival Chorus"), a professional whistler (Ron McCroby), and the great Frankie Laine himself, having the formidable challenge of being heard above Kunzel's sturm and drang.
GUNFIGHT AT THE OK CORRAL with Frankie Laine and the Cincinatti Pops Orchestra
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, http://www.chrisconnorjazz.com/p/audio.html 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