Sep 19, 2011
The first of a series of reissues of albums recorded by singer Chris Connor in the mid-Sixties appeared this week, giving us a chance to rediscover an artist whose work is often overlooked. Just A Memory Records gives us Chris Connor Sings Gentle Bossa Nova, and it’s worth a listen, if only to reacquaint listeners with Ms. Connor.
Her 1963 live recording At the Village Gate showed she had the vocal chops, and her work in the late forties and fifties with Claude Thornhill, Jerry Wald and Stan Kenton’s Big Bands were both critical and popular hits. She had been the first white female jazz singer signed to Atlantic Records in 1956, and had worked with the best session musicians in the business for almost a decade. However, she made a bad decision to leave the label in 1963, and she bounced from label to label.
The Bossa Nova craze had been ignited by Stan Getz in a big way in 1964, so it was only natural for ABC/Paramount, who signed Ms. Connor after her latest label went bust, to try to match her with pop material and get a hit. The result may have been big news in 1965, but almost fifty years later, there is a pretty high cheese quotient in the song selections and arrangements of ditties like “Downtown”, “Strange On the Shore” and especially “Can’t Get Over the Bossa Nova”.
However, her Broadway tune selections, especially the oft-neglected Sondheim tune “A Quiet Thing” and a sexy take on “A Taste of Honey” show that there was a talented singer there, in search of the right material and band. Unfortunately, she never again found either for any period of time.
Chris Connor died of cancer in 2009 at the age of 81, with much of her work out of print. If Chris Connor Sings Gentle Bossa Nova makes you want to find out more about her, grab one of the top Stan Kenton reissues and take a long listen to her versions of , "And The Bull Walked Around, Ole”, "Baia” or “Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen". Then pick up her first album for Atlantic, the self title Chris Connor, which finds her singing arrangements by Ralph Burns, and backed by the likes of John Lewis, Milt Hinton and Zoot Sims.