Jazz 88.3 Blog
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June Christy, affectionately known as The Misty Miss Christy (also the title of her 1956 release for Capitol Records), was a legendary voice in cool jazz. She was born Shirley Luster in Illinois and began singing professionally while still in high school. She changed her name to Sharon Leslie while working with the Boyd Raeburn Band. When Anita O'Day left Stan Kenton's band in 1945, Christy auditioned and won the vocalist spot, then changing her name one more time, to June Christy.
She and the Kenton Orchestra would have a series of hits from their collaboration, including "Tampico" which became Kenton's biggest selling record, reaching one million in sales and peaking at #3 on the record charts. Christy would go on to appear on several Kenton releases, among them "Artistry in Rhythm" and "Innovations in Modern Music." After two stints with the Kenton Orchestra, she embarked on a solo career in the late 1940s, and in 1956 released one of two signature albums for Capitol, "Something Cool" with arranger and bandleader Pete Rugolo. Rugolo had been an arranger for the Kenton band and would continue to work with Christy through the 1950s. The album "Something Cool" essentially launched the vocal cool jazz scene.
Christy continued to tour throughout the world until deciding to come off the road in the early 1960s to focus on her family and personal life. She would return to the scene in the late 70s and record one final album, "Impromptu" in 1977. Her sensual voice and the deep feeling of her style have secured her place in jazz vocal history.
Peggy Lee grew up in North Dakota and began singing on local radio as a young teenager. It was the program director at WDAY who suggested she change her name from Norma Egstrom to Peggy Lee and by age 17, she was off to Los Angeles to make her way in music. She landed a gig with Benny Goodman's band and she spent two years on the road with them from 1941 to 1943. As she got more into the jazz world, her vocal style would set her apart. Lee's sublte, sultry voice offered an understated, yet powerful presence in music...and led to a career that spanned seven decades.
Lee's string of hit songs included the definitive version of "Fever" which was released in 1957. But, her first Number 1 hit came in 1942 with "Somebody Else is Taking My Place", followed by another Number 1 chart topper in 1943, "Why Don't You Do Right?" The latter would make her famous. Lee then made her name as more than a girl singer. She was an acccomplished songwriter, penning such classics as "What More Can A Girl Do" recorded by Sarah Vaughan, "Mañana (Is Soon Enough for Me)", and music for the enduring Disney film "Lady and The Tramp" (a film for which she not only wrote music, but voiced four of the characters.) She was nominated for an Oscar for her work in the film "Pete Kelly's Blues" and also appeared alongside in the 1952 remake of "The Jazz Singer." She recorded for Capitol Records and Decca Records, Throughout her life, she was nominated for 12 Grammy Awards and was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995.
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Nancy Wison was a multi-faceted entertainer who enjoyed a lengthy career in music, television, film, and radio. She was singing in clubs while still in high school and gave her final live perfomance in 2011, seven years before her death. When it came to music, Wilson described herself as a "song stylist" and moved smoothly through jazz, blues, R & B, pop, and soul music. She worked with some of the finest musicians of her generation: Hank Jones, Ramsey Lewis, and, perhaps most notably, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley. Their 1962 Capitol Records recording "Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley" not only boosted her recognition at the time, but remains a classic among jazz fans.
Wilson would go on to have further recording success, including Billboard chart toppers for Capitol Records, and ultimately released over 60 albums and singles, earning 3 Grammy Awards in her lifetime. She was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2004 and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In addition to her success as a vocalist, Wilson also found success in television and film, appearing in shows like "I Spy" and "Hawaii 5-0." She brought her multiple talents to radio as the host of NPR's "Jazz Profiles" from 1996 through 2005.
As versatile as she was as a singer, actor, and radio host, Wilson is also remembered for her commitment to equal rights and human rights. She marched in Selma with Martin Luther King, Jr. and in 1993 received an award from the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in 1993; the NAACP Image Award – Hall of Fame Award in 1998. She was also awarded the NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award.
Helen Merrill's first recording was with the Earl Hines band in 1952 and would be the start of a busy recording and performing career lasting six decades. She signed with the EmArcy label (an offshoot of Mercury Records) in 1954, becoming the first artist to release a single on the newly-formed imprint, "Alone Together" with the B-side "This Is My Night To Cry." Her self-titled first album for EmArcy included trumpeter Clifford Brown and bassist Oscar Pettiford.
Merrill's debut found such success that EmArcy signed her for additional albums, including one produced and arranged by Gil Evans. It was expressive, emotional approach to songs that made her such a sought-after singer. Listening to her sing is almost like watching a film; her often heart-broken character coming alive through the song. She could swing just as comfortably as she caressed a ballad. She would work with the cream of the instrumentalist crop throughout her career...Frank Wess, Marian McPartland, Bill Evans, Quincy Jones, Hal Mooney, Gil Evans, Milt Hinton, and Osie Johnson. One of her most notable projects was "Duets" released in 1989 with bassist Ron Carter.
Throughout her lifetime, Helen Merrill has taken her music worldwide, even co-hosting a radio program while she lived in Japan. She is a first generation American and her 1999 release "Jelena Ana Milcetic" paid tribute to her Croatian heritage and blended jazz, pop, folk, and traditional Croatian music. Merrill was inducted as a Living Legend into ASCAP's Jazz Hall of Fame in 2014.
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Her legend includes being Miles Davis' favorite singer, worthy praise from a master musician who didn't offer such things lightly. Shirley Horn had an exquisite voice...a dusty, warm sound of her own, with plenty of swing and soul. Her style utilized the space that Davis sought in much of his own music. Horn was one of those rare musicians who was both master of her internal instrument, her voice, and master of her external instrument, the piano.
Her piano sensibility for jazz grew on top of her foundation in classical music. At one point in her early life, she was accepted to The Julliard School of Music, but her mother put the brakes on her daughter going off alone to New York City. Her ears turned to jazz and she said, "Oscar Peterson became my Rachmaninov, and Ahmad Jamal became my Debussy." She would record her first jazz album in 1960, "Embers And Ashes" for a small label in New York City. That was the album that caught the attention of Miles Davis. His invitation to play between sets during his stints at the famed Village Vanguard raised her profile significantly and she was signed by Quincy Jones to Mercury Records in 1962.
Shirley Horn would go on to record 25 albums as a leader, including collaborations with Miles Davis, earning nine Grammy Award nominations. In 1999, her tribute album to her friend Davis earned her the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance. In 2005, months before her death, she was honored by the National Endowment for The Arts as an NEA Jazz Master.
With one of the most distinct and recognizable voices in jazz, singer and pianist Blossom Dearie entertained audiences for nearly 55 years. She hit the scene just after high school singing with the Woody Herman Orchestra's Blue Flames and Alvin Rey's Blue Reys.
Dearie embarked on a solo career and, after some time in Paris, came back to the United States to record a half dozen albums for Verve Records from 1957 to 1960. These included her self-titled debut, as well as the classics "Give Him the Ooh-La-La" and "My Gentleman Friend." Her wispy, almost child-like voice set her apart from other singers and she worked with vocalist King Pleasure and longtime friend Bob Dorough. She even shared the bill with Miles Davis at The Village Vanguard. The 1970s would see a whole new generation introduced to her through the children's television program "Schoolhouse Rock." Dorough was doing much of the music for the series and Dearie would appear on several songs, among them "Unpack Your Adjectives" and "Figure Eight." The project "Multiplication Rock" with Dorough and other earned a Grammy nomination in 1973 for Best Recording for Children.
Not only was she a successful player and singer, she was also a pioneer in the record industry, by launching her record label Daffodil Records in 1973...she was the first woman to do so. Her early love of performing in intimate nightclubs continued through the remainder of her life. Dearie performed her last live show at the age of 82. Her voice continues to be one of a kind.
Julie London was one of the most versatile and talented women of her generation. Her more than forty-year career showcased her gifts not only as a singer, but also as an actress. Her film career spanned 35 years and included starring roles alongside Robert Mitchum and John Cassavetes. A later generation would know her by her role in the television show "Emergency." The show ran for six years and London's lead character, nurse Dixie McCall, appeared in every episode.
As a singer, London began in nightclubs in Los Angeles while still a teenager. Her vocal style has often been described as sultry and low-key...that was the style that lead to her first hit in 1955, the classic "Cry Me A River." The song went to #9 on the U.S. record charts and the album it was on, her debut recording "Julie Is Her Name," peaked at #2 on the charts. London had firmly made her mark and was named Billboard magazine's Most Popular Female Vocalist in 1955, 1956, and 1957. Throughout the late 1950s and 1960s, she balanced a busy schedule of singing, appearing in multiple films, and guest starring on popular television shows. During this time, she recorded 29 studio albums for Liberty Records, as well as live recordings.
When considering the breadth of her career, it's somewhat surprising that she was also noted as an introverted and very private person. But, when viewing the list of artistic endeavors and her success in each of them, Julie London's legacy speaks for itself.
Pat Launer's Center Stage
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