MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “MOONGLOW”
Welcome to Afterglow, a show of vocal jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
She was born Shirley Luster in 1925, but you know her better as June Christy, one of the influential cool jazz singers of the 1950s. She got her start singing with Stan Kenton’s Orchestra in the mid 1940s, and that’s where she established her fame. But in the early 1950s, Christy broke away from Kenton’s Orchestra to pursue a solo career, helping to establish the “vocal cool” style of jazz singing. This week, we’ll explore some of those early solo recordings Christy made for Capitol Records in the 1950s, including Something Cool and The Misty Miss Christy.
It’s June Christy’s Early Capitol LPs, coming up next on Afterglow
MUSIC - JUNE CHRISTY, “INTERLUDE”
June Christy from the 1957 album Gone For The Day with “Interlude,” a song written by the arranger of that album Pete Rugolo. Rugolo wrote it as an instrumental for Stan Kenton’s Orchestra, Christy’s old band. Bob Russell later added lyrics to the tune.
MUSIC CLIP - STAN KENTON AND HIS ORCHESTRA, “INTERLUDE”
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, we’re featuring some of the early solo work of June Christy.
June Christy got her start as the singer in Stan Kenton’s Orchestra in 1945, replacing Anita O’Day, and she stuck around with that orchestra for about five years. But beginning in the 1950s, she began to emerge as a solo singer with a remarkable gift for nuance and intimacy, a far cry from the brash, bold sounds of Kenton’s Orchestra.
She actually began recording as a solo artist in the late 1940s, while still employed by Kenton. She first recorded radio transcriptions for Capitol Records, and then later, some actual singles for Capitol. Even on these early recordings, that intimate style that would later become her signature could be heard. However, she didn’t distance herself from Kenton too much—the arranger on many of her solo singles (and later solo LPs) was Kenton’s primary arranger Pete Rugolo.
Let’s now hear a solo single for Capitol Records from 1949, featuring an arrangement by Pete Rugolo. This is June Christy with “I’ll Remember April,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JUNE CHRISTY, “I’LL REMEMBER APRIL”
The Gene DePaul, Don Raye and Patricia Johnston song “I’ll Remember April,” recorded there in 1949 by singer June Christy, with an arrangement by Pete Rugolo and his Orchestra. That comes from the compilation CD Day Dreams, released by Capitol Jazz in 1995.
June Christy’s solo career gradually emerged in the late 1940s and early 1950s. She continued to record with Stan Kenton’s Orchestra until 1950, and at that point, pushed ahead with recording more singles and EPs for Capitol Records.
But the early 1950s was also when the era of the LP began, and Christy’s first LP was one for the history books. The LP Something Cool, a 10 inch LP released in 1954, is considered one of the masterworks of vocal jazz. The song choices are smoky and mysterious, and feels almost like a film noir set to music, combining Christy’s cool voice with Rugolo’s unique orchestration.
The album was not only artistically a triumph, it was also commercially successful, and was one of the seminal albums that set the template for what a jazz vocal record should sound like. The success led Capitol to re-issue the album twice, once as a longer 12-inch LP in 1955, where she recorded a few new songs, and again in 1960, when she re-recorded all the songs in stereo instead of mono. The clarity and quality of the mix on the stereo version is a vast improvement, but I much prefer Christy’s delivery on the original mono recordings, so I’ll play those for her now.
We’ll start with the title track, a storytelling song told from the perspective of an older woman sitting at a bar, striking up a conversation with the gentleman next to her. This is June Christy in 1954 with “Something Cool,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JUNE CHRISTY, “SOMETHING COOL”
MUSIC - JUNE CHRISTY, “SOFTLY, AS IN A MORNING SUNRISE”
Two songs from the June Christy LP Something Cool. Just now, we heard the Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein song “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise,” given a film noir treatment. That was one of the songs added to the 1955 12” LP of Something Cool. And before that, the title song from the original 10” LP from 1954, written by songwriter and actor Billy Barnes.
The success of Something Cool basically gave June Christy free rein to pursue all kinds of different album projects for Capitol. And from 1955 through 1959, she recorded a number of concept albums, essentially, with each album evoking a different overall feel and mood. And on many of these albums, her primary collaborator was, again, Pete Rugolo.
Let’s turn now to her 1956 album The Misty Miss Christy, a melancholy collection of love songs, backed by some dreamy strings. This next song was recorded in January 1956. Here is June Christy with the Duke Ellington and Bob Russell tune “I Didn’t Know About You,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JUNE CHRISTY, “I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT YOU”
MUSIC - JUNE CHRISTY, “A LOVELY WAY TO SPEND AN EVENING”
June Christy with two songs off of her 1956 Capitol LP The Misty Miss Christy, arranged by Pete Rugolo. Just now, we heard the Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson song “A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening,” before that the Duke Ellington and Bob Russell song “I Didn’t Know About You.”
June Christy and Pete Rugolo’s next collaboration was a less melancholy affair, the 1957 album Fair And Warmer. All of the tunes of this album are light and upbeat. They even take some songs that are usually slower ballads and give them the swing treatment. Here’s one such song now.
This is June Christy with the Frank Loesser song from the musical Guys And Dolls, “I’ve Never Been In Love Before,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - JUNE CHRISTY, “I’VE NEVER BEEN IN LOVE BEFORE”
MUSIC - JUNE CHRISTY, “I WANT TO BE HAPPY”
A song that eventually became her concert opener for her live performances. That was June Christy with “I Want To Be Happy,” a Vincent Youmans and Irving Caesar song. Before that, Frank Loesser’s “I’ve Never Been In Love Before.” Both of those tracks come from the 1957 Capitol LP Fair And Warmer, with arrangements by Pete Rugolo.
MUSIC CLIP - STAN KENTON AND HIS ORCHESTRA, “INTERMISSION RIFF”
We’ll hear more from June Christy’s early Capitol LPs in just a moment.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - STAN KENTON AND HIS ORCHESTRA, “A THEME FOR MY LADY”
MUSIC CLIP - STAN KENTON AND HIS ORCHESTRA, “HOW AM I TO KNOW?”
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been exploring some of the early solo LPs for June Christy this hour, looking mostly at her work in the 1950s.
In 1950, Christy made her final studio recording with Stan Kenton’s Orchestra, the orchestra where she first became famous as a singer in the mid 1940s. However, the shadow of Kenton still loomed large over her output as a solo artist. In 1959, for instance, she recorded an entire album of her old hits from the Kenton years, which we’ll hear from at the end of this hour. And in 1955, just as she was breaking out as a solo artist, she recorded an album with Stan Kenton.
Technically, it’s not a solo album: it’s a duet album between the two of them. The album itself is titled Duet, with Christy the singer and Kenton the pianist taking equal footing. This kind of stark singer/pianist collaboration foreshadows the Tony Bennett and Bill Evans duet albums from the 1970s.
Here’s a track from that Duet LP now. This is June Christy and Stan Kenton with Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - JUNE CHRISTY AND STAN KENTON, “EV’RY TIME WE SAY GOODBYE”
June Christy with her old bandleader Stan Kenton on piano, from their 1955 Capitol LP titled Duet. That was the song “Baby Baby All The Time” by Bobby Troup and before that, the Cole Porter song “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.”
June Christy continued to record with arranger Pete Rugolo for the remainder of the 1950s, adding her smoky voice to his bold and innovative arrangements. They worked on two more LPs together, Gone For The Day, an album featuring songs about being peaceful and isolated in the country, and The Song Is June!, an album featuring a mix of standards and newer songs.
Christy and Rugolo always sought out rarer songs as well as tunes from new songwriters, and I’m going to feature two of those songs right now, one from each of those albums. First up, from the 1957 album Gone For The Day, this is one of the perhaps less familiar songs from the great songwriting pair of Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, the tune “When The Sun Comes Out,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - JUNE CHRISTY, “WHEN THE SUN COMES OUT”
MUSIC - JUNE CHRISTY, “NIGHT TIME WAS MY MOTHER”
June Christy in 1958 with “Night Time Was My Mother,” a song by the songwriting pair of Connie Pearce and Arnold Miller. Three years later, Christy would record a Christmas album filled entirely with new songs by Pearce and Miller. Before that, we heard the tune “When The Sun Comes Out,” by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, from the 1957 album Gone For The Day. Both of those albums were arranged by Pete Rugolo.
June Christy’s other primary arranger in the 1950s was tenor saxophonist Bob Cooper. Cooper, like Christy and Rugolo, also came from Stan Kenton’s Orchestra. His style was far less experimental than Rugolo’s, but rather he brought a swinging and bluesy West Coast cool jazz sound to his arrangements. Not only was Bob Cooper one of Christy’s arrangers, he was also her husband. June Christy and Bob Cooper got married in 1947, and stayed married for 44 years, until Christy passed away in 1990.
The couple recorded two albums together in the 1950s, and I’ll sample from each of those now. First up, from the 1958 album June’s Got Rhythm, this is June Christy with the Gershwin song “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - JUNE CHRISTY, “THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME”
MUSIC - JUNE CHRISTY, “DO NOTHIN’ TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME”
June Christy in 1959 with Duke Ellington and Bob Russell’s “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me,” from the LP Ballads For Night People. Before that, we heard her in 1958 with the George and Ira Gershwin song “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” from the LP June’s Got Rhythm. Both of those LPs were arranged by her husband, the tenor saxophonist Bob Cooper.
I said earlier in the hour that even on June Christy’s early solo LPs, she couldn’t escape the shadow of her former bandleader Stan Kenton. One of her final LPs in the 1950s was a retrospective LP titled June Christy Recalls Those Kenton Days, featuring many of the songs that made her famous in the 1940s, revised and rearranged here in clearer stereo sound.
I want to close off this hour with one of the songs from that album, a song she recorded back in 1947 for Capitol Records with Stan Kenton’s Orchestra. This is June Christy with “How High The Moon,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JUNE CHRISTY, “HOW HIGH THE MOON”
June Christy from her 1959 Capitol LP called June Christy Recalls Those Kenton Days, with a song she originally recorded with Stan Kenton’s Orchestra back in 1947, the standard “How High The Moon.”
Thanks for tuning in to this look at some of June Christy’s early solo LPs on Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - STAN KENTON AND HIS ORCHESTRA, “EV'RY TIME WE SAY GOODBYE”
Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.
Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.
I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow.