Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

The Subtle Style Of Chris Connor   Leave a comment

A lot of different words are used by music critics when describing a performer, but while gathering info for this piece I was a little surprised to see ‘subtle’ applied to the singing style of jazz vocalist Chris Conner. On the other hand, it does seem to fit the talented singer, who died in 2009 after a career that stretched for more than a half-century. She had a cool, laid-back singing style that complemented her smoky voice, and it helped her become a long-time favorite of many knowledgeable jazz fans.cc2

She started life in Kansas City, Missouri, as Mary Loutsenhizer, and was into music from an early age but not as a singer. Instead she spent many years studying clarinet, and by the approach of adulthood she’d become very proficient. However, at about the time World War II was ending she’d reached college age, and by then had become a singer. Over the next few years she gained valuable experience while performing with various groups near and around campus, including one led by future star Bob Brookmeyer.

By the late 1940s she was calling herself Chris Conner and had moved to New York to give professional music a try. Within a few years she had worked with big-name bandleaders like Claude Thornhill and Stan Kenton, who gave her a job after a recommendation by her friend and fellow songbird, June Christy. She also began finding success in the recording studio, continuing to do so through the decade of the 1950s, with solid sellers on songs like “Lush Life,” “Lullaby of Birdland,” and “I Miss You So.”

Although her career peaked during those years, Chris Conner was far from finished. She continued to be a favorite for many fans in subsequent years, and enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the 1970s. In her later years she continued to appear from time to time, and was still hitting the recording studio as late as 2002. She was 81 when she died a few years later.

cccdChris Conner – “Lullaby Of Birdland”


Marlene Dietrich The Singer   Leave a comment

Although we mostly think of Marlene Dietrich as an exotic and mysterious actress who began appearing in films way back in the 1920s, she had a surprising amount of success as a vocalist too. Although her singing voice might have been somewhat of an acquired taste for listeners, it was certainly distinctive, and music would play a big part in her long career.

The daughter of a police official, Marie Magdalene Dietrich grew up in turn of the century Berlin and was apparently quite a handful even as a teen, costing at least one professor his job in a way that foreshadowed a later movie. In any case, as she approached adulthood she began appearing in cabarets and eventually broke into the vibrant German silent film industry of the 1920s.

It was during this period that she married for the only time (although the bi-sexual entertainer would have a lifetime of high-profile affairs) and also gave birth to a daughter. By the end of the decade sound films had arrived, and her break-out role in the international hit Blue Angel not only made her a star, but also showcased her vocal style on what would become her signature tune, “Falling In Love Again.” The success of that performance helped her secure what would be the first of a series of recording contracts, leading to decades of strong record sales on an amazingly diverse list of songs, among them everything from “Lili Marlene” to a duet on “Too Old To Cut The Mustard” with Rosemary Clooney.

As was the case with many Germans of the pre-war era, Dietrich eventually relocated to America and turned against the rising Nazi threat. As her Hollywood star power rose in the 1930s, she continued to speak out and even became an American citizen. During the war years she entertained in USO shows, but her post-war movie career inevitably slowed as the years caught up with her. She continued to show up in choice film roles from time to time but mostly devoted herself to a triumphant return to cabarets. She was a smash hit for many years before finally retiring in the 1970s, and died in 1992 at age 90.

Marlene Dietrich – “Lili Marlene” 

Grant Green’s Legacy Has Endured   Leave a comment

For someone who’s been called one of the least-appreciated jazz guitarists of the modern era, Grant Green left behind an amazing amount of material. But he did seem to fly below the radar for much of his career, which was often stalled by drug-related causes. In the years since he died in 1979 (at just age 43) his legacy has risen to a position of respect among knowledgeable jazz fans.

Born and raised in St. Louis, Green was performing professionally during the war years while still in his early teens, beginning with a gospel group and later moving into blues and jazz. In the post-war years he eventually moved to New York and began working regularly with some of the best pros around, including Lou Donaldson and Harry Forrest.

Equally at home in blues, bebop (he was a great admirer of Charlie Parker) and R&B, Green was also well-suited to ballads and jazz standards. Like many other guitarists, he seemed to especially enjoy working with jazz organists, and some of his best collaborations included those with talents like Larry Young and Big John Patton.

During the 1960s Green’s career was flourishing, but he began to be slowed by drug-related problems. Later in the decade he fought his way back to renewed success and made some of his best recordings during the period. Unfortunately, he would continue to battle his demons into the 1970s and it all probably contributed to his eventual death from a heart attack.

Grant Green – “Lullaby Of The Leaves”

Toots Thielemans Still Dazzling Fans   2 comments

Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Isidor, Baron Thielemans (29 April 1922 – 22 August 2016)

Although I’ve written about a lot of musical stars on the ol’ GMC, I’ve always had a special fondness for those who have had long, successful careers and are still doing their thing and doing it well, even at an advanced age. One that comes immediately to mind is jazz harmonica legend Toots Thielemans, who is still entertaining fans at age 89.

Information about his early history is sketchy, but he was born in Brussels, Belgium, as Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Isidor Thielemans (later give the title Baron Thielemans by the King of Belgium). He first learned harmonica while in his teens but as a child he’d already mastered the accordion, and when he first began to play professionally during World War II, it was as a guitarist.

Nazi-occupied Europe might not have been the best place for a young jazz musician to prosper, but Toots made up for it in the post-war years. Influenced by jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, he was soon playing alongside touring American stars like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, and within a few years was even traveling around Europe as part of the Benny Goodman Sextet.

In the 1950s Toots moved to the US, and began what would become a decades-long career of appearing with jazz stars like George Shearing, Oscar Peterson, Billie Holiday, and just about everybody else (including Peggy Lee — see video below). Along the way he would move more and more from guitar to harmonica and at times even display his whistling ability, as he did on his composition, “Bluesette.” It would become his signature tune, and was often recorded on harmonica too — without whistling, of course.

Toots continues even now to be active, as you can tell from the schedule on his website. An amazing performer, still entertaining his fans.

Toots Thielemans (guitar & whistling) – “Bluesette”

Toots Thielemans (harmonica) – “Bluesette”

REVIEW: Lil’ Pookie – Just Want To Be Me   Leave a comment

Those readers who have been around since the earlier days of this blog (which is now over 4 years old) will recall that I used to regularly review new albums. Over the first 3+ years I generated well over 200 reviews, and had reached the point where I was pretty much flooded with review requests and sample albums.

I was ready to cry ‘uncle’ and accordingly began to advise all my media contacts that I was winding it down. Eventually the flood dried up and I began to devote my time to my first love — musical nostalgia. Of course, the occasional unsolicited sample album would still show up in my mailbox, but I mostly ignored them. However, I was intrigued by one that arrived recently, so I’m unlimbering my old reviewing muscles — but probably just this once.

I’ve never made a secret of my fondness for the music of South Louisiana, especially the kind that falls under the heading of Cajun/Zydeco. Enter Jimmy ‘Lil’ Pookie’ Seraile, whose new album, Just Want To Be Me, is now available on the Maison de Soul label.

Although he’s still relatively young, Pookie is a long-time veteran of the region’s music, and was born into a musical family that included his grandfather, Delton Broussard, a member of the pioneer zydeco group, the Lawtell Playboys. Pookie himself was winning squeeze-box contests before he even reached his teens, and followed a natural progression into a musical career. That career has taken a detour or two into other musical avenues, but he’s currently a popular draw at live shows and has a lot of fans of his brand of zydeco.

Those fans might like his interesting blend of zydeco and be ready to embrace this album, but it’s a mixed verdict for me. I enjoyed the few tracks that seemed a little closer to traditional zydeco sounds, like “She Lock Me Down,” and the instrumental, “Pookie’s Waltz,” but most of the songs here (all written by Pookie) were a little too unconventional for me. A good example is “You Better Treat Her Right,” which is a sort of fusion of a straight vocal with a zydeco accompaniment, and it didn’t really work for me.

Still, fans of the music of South Louisiana might find a lot to like here, and certainly might want to give it a listen. (You can hear samples of all cuts by clicking on the album.)

Posted September 11, 2010 by BG in Blues, Boomers, Music, Nostalgia, Retirement, Review, Seniors

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