Monday, November 18, 2013
Chris Connor Chris Bethlehem 1955
Kansas City Native, Chris Connors was born Mary Loutsenhizer. She started going by Chris Connor while working as a stenographer and performing as a singer in the Kansas City area. She stuck around KC for awhile but would later move to New York City with the intention of making it as a super star vocalist. Of course, hitting the big time right away was a bit far fetched and she had to start small. She sung harmonies in a background capacity with local New York big bands until she was heard singing on the radio by June Christy. Christy had been singing with Stan Kenton's band and was leaving to pursue her own solo career. She recommended Connor to Kenton and Connor was booked singing for Kenton's big band in the early 50's. By 1953, Connor grew tired of constant touring with Kenton and abruptly quit. She stayed in New York City and was able to secure a gig at Birdland. Legend goes, that during her stay at Birdland the owner of Bethlehem records, Gus Wildi, heard her and offered a recording contract on the spot.
She stayed on Bethlehem for a number of albums before leaving to Atlantic Records in 1956. The Bethlehem albums are far stronger. The Atlantic stuff is a bit toned down, less swing, more pop, whereas the Bethlehem catalog offers more punch and showcases Connors' cool jazz delivery far better. It's still vocal jazz, so the differences sound slight and torch songs are found throughout her catalog.
This album also features some key players, Kai Winding, J.J. Johnson, Osie Johnson, and a young Herbie Mann on flute to name a few. Her early music education from the University of Missouri pay dividends as she's a signer that is in tune with her supporting band, not just bashing out vocal tracks. She finds the tone of the band and replicates it vocally, distinguishing herself not just as torch singer, but a cool jazz vocalists.
I Hear Music