June Christy ‘Four Classic Albums’ 2CD (Avid Jazz) 4/5

Jazz singer June Christy belonged to the 1950s ‘cool school’ and came of age during a period when vocal jazz was reaching its popular zenith. Her early influences included Anita O’Day and inevitable comparisons will be made with Peggy lee. However, by the mid-1950s when Christy was already thirty and had a fully matured voice, the singer had worked with the big band orchestra of Stan Kenton and for four years running had topped the Downbeat jazz magazine poll as ‘best singer in the big band category’. A first 10″ solo album surfaced in 1954, re-issued a year later in the new 12″ LP format. However, on this 2-CD set, the story begins in 1955 with the seminal, ‘Something cool’, with fine renditions of the Great American Songbook such as, ‘Softly as in a morning sunrise’, ‘It could happen to you’, and, ‘Midnight sun’. Orchestrations were expertly arranged and conducted by Pete Rugolo. That partnership continued successfully on, ‘The Misty Miss Christy’ from 1956, which is arguably the most consistent of the four recordings, following the same formula as its predecessor with another winning selection of standards including, ‘That’s all’, ‘For all we know’, and, ‘A lovely way to spend an evening’. The cream of West coast musicians were on board with Shelly Manne on drums, Pete Condoli and Maynard Ferguson on trumpet, Bud Shank on alto saxophone, and Laurinda Almeida on guitar. Naturally, commercial success demanded a repeat of the previous albums, but, ‘Gone for the day’ (1957), was more pedestrian, though it still had its moments as with, ‘(love’s got me in a) lazy mood’. In some ways, a better example of Christy’s craft would have been the 1960 album, ‘Cool school’, which fits in naturally with the rest. A final album showcased is, ‘Ballads for night people’ (1959), which, viewed from the vantage of sixty or more years, seems like a blatant attempt to market June Christy as a Julie London wannabee, given the success enjoyed by the latter, though it is equally true to say that June Christy epitomized the ‘late night’ sound that appealed to a wider audience beyond strictly jazz fans. A fine rendition of Gershwin’s, ‘My ship’, is a highlight and it is a pity that Christy never cut an entire album dedicated to that composer. On the more uptempo material, Christy impresses on, Bewitched, bothered and bewildered’, a number that Ella Fitzgerald, among others, similarly covered.

Tim Stenhouse