All about...

Chris Connor

Press

A Heartfelt, and Tuneful, Tribute
by Kevin Lowenthal, The Boston Globe, August 16, 2007

Ran Blake Every year since 1986, pianist, composer, and educator Ran Blake has taught a Summer Intensive course at NEC focusing on a different musician. Past courses have spotlighted likely suspects Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, and Charles Mingus, as well as worthy if less obvious ones such as Abbey Lincoln. This year's choice was of the latter sort: singer Chris Connor.

Connor is, indeed, a beguiling artist. It begins with her smoky, affecting voice. The title of a 1999 CD anthology of her 1956-63 stint with Atlantic Records, "Warm Cool," hints at her many contradictions: distant yet intimate, restrained yet emotional, tense yet relaxed. Her phrasing can be extremely eccentric, yet somehow ends up sounding as natural as breathing. And though her repertoire is mostly drawn from the American Songbook, in 1962 she recorded a version of free-jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman." Read full article…

A Jazz Date With Chris Connor
from The DailyOM, August 9, 2007

Chris Connor - A Jazz Date With Chris Connor/Chris CraftIf you’re wondering what the women were up to in the ’50s and early ’60s while Dean and Frank jazzed up their nights on the town as the leaders of the Rat Pack, look no further than jazz singer Chris Connor. With a voice that defined cool, Connor, along with a few others, carried the pop-vocal torch for women in the 1950s. But even if Connor’s persona is laid-back and stylized, her performance here is far from removed. In fact, as the jazz date title implies, this is an intimate and emotional affair.

Though it is Connor’s record first and foremost, the strongest tracks are the ones where her excellent backing band gets involved. “All I Need Is You” finds each member shining, in particular Oscar Pettiford with his nimble stand-up bass. Arranger Ralph Sharon even gives “It’s a Most Unusual Day” a Latin flavor, adding percussionist Mongo Santamaria, sometimes as the only backing for Connor’s refrain. Connor’s best performance may be on her striking rendition of “Poor Little Rich Girl.” Over a quick tempo, Connor croons “in lives of leisure, the craze for pleasure steadily grows / Cocktails and laughter, but what comes after? / Nobody knows.” Connor then dances around a tenor sax gracefully and finishes the song with a bang.

The thing about Connor’s voice that is immediately recognizable is of-the-moment it must have felt. Like listening to great pop from any era, Connor’s style is so welcoming in its warm playfulness that you can’t help but feel caught up in the fashionable moment. In the closer, “My Shining Hour,” Connor tells the audience “this will be my shining hour.” Thanks to this record, it never has to end.

Jazz in Search of Itself (Yale University Press) by Larry Kart

Cool, breathy, and almost barren of vibrato, Chris Connor's voice is a haunted house. Its tone color alone would be enough to freeze the soul, and the way each phrase seems to be exhaled more than sung only increases the impression that in her music Connor must contend with ghostly powers-either that, or she herself is a spirit summoned unwillingly from beyond

It's easy to mistake Connor's otherworldly aura for a chic, dry-martini hipness, which is why she became a star in the 1950s, first with the Stan Kenton Orchestra and then on her own-"the Kim Novak of the jazz set," as one writer put it. But even though she appeared to be a second generation disciple of Anita O'Day and June Christy who took those singers' mannerisms to near-absurd extremes. Connor was a very different type of artist. O'Day and Christy were her models, but Connor inhabited their detached, emotionally oblique style of singing in a way its originators never dreamed of, transforming an attractive show business commodity into an attitude toward life-a desperate wrestling with herself and the world. That such battles could not be won on a nightclub stage actually contributed to the power of Connor's music. Barely contained within the boundaries of performance her losses were so deeply felt and nakedly expressed that communication seemed a paltry word for what took place. While the pain she gave voice to (and the numbness that followed in its wake) must have had an innersource, to be moved by Connor's music was to recognize that her distress was public as well as private-the advance-guard of an emotional void that might swallow us all. In that sense the Kim Novak comparison is perfect, for Connor; as film critic David Thomson said of Novak, has "the desperate attentiveness of someone out of her depth but refusing to give in."

Connor now appears far more confident and optimistic than she used to be. But much of the essential Connor tension remains, the feeling that music is a dangerous medium that must be plunged into at the point of maximum threat. "The Thrill is Gone" is one of Connor's signature tunes, and last night at Rick's Cafe Americain she sang it much more swiftly than in the past-perhaps because, with her vocal technique in fine shape, she needed the challenge of speed to make the emotional content come alive. On "If I Should Lose You," extreme slowness played the same role, forcing Connor into those harrowingly awkward rhythmic corners that only she dares to explore.

Impressive throughout, and altering one's image of Connor to some extent, was the sense of control she displayed on every piece. "Out of her depth" may have been an apt description on her in the past, but now the depths are entered into more out of choice than helplessness. Chris Connor's wounds apparently have healed, perhaps more than she or anyone else dared to expect. But the memory of pain still shudders through her music, creating a dialogue between self and soul, public performance and private meditation, that is as strange as it is beautiful.

FIVE DECADES OF RAVES FOR CHRIS CONNOR

"I'm convinced she'll soon be one of the great song stylists of our day."

Stan Kenton, 1953

"Jazz singing at its best."

Bill Coss (Metronome magazine columnist), 1953

"Chris Connor [makes] last night's modernists sound almost old-fashioned. Miss Connor, a stubborn individualist if there ever was one, takes more chances than any other singer who preceded her."

Robert Sylvester (N.Y. Daily News columnist), 1956

"… among the few (to be counted on one hand) real jazz singers of our day."

Symphony Sid, 1959

"Without exception, no other singer of non-ethnic material but Chris Connor has the fire and imagination to create a mood of pathos with such intensity"

Ran Blake, (composer-pianist-educator), 1961

"Chris, at her best, is one of the most unique (and under-rated) singers, and I am especially fascinated, at least in her recent work, by the emotional intensity with which she delivers a song."

Gunther Schuller (noted composer-educator), 1961

"You had to stand in a line that circled round the block if you wanted to hear her [CC in the late 1950s]"

Prof. Richard Dyer, University of Warwick, Coventry

"Chris Connor is one of the most profound and astonishing lyric interpreters and vocal stylists in this popular music era."

Philip Elwood (San Francisco Examiner), 1971

"She had a slant on this familiar music that made it sound as exotic and hypnotic as a Balinese waterbowl band."

Albert Goldman (Life Magazine), 1971

"When you've heard Chris Connor, you know you've heard not just good, but great singing."

Rex Reed, 1971

"My favorite jazz singer… I've always loved the warmth of her voice, her great sense of time and swing, her taste in songs and the uncompromising honesty that shines through her work."

Composer-arranger-pianist Richard Rodney Bennett, 1988

"In the past year, Connor's concert appearances at Carnegie Hall and The Kennedy Center, as well as her jazz club engagements and recent recordings have revealed an artist at the peak of her creative powers."

Jazz Online, 1999

"Last night I heard Chris Connor at Birdland. She is fabulous… phrasing, tricky intervals, low register… all gorgeous. And she swung so hard on Strike Up the Band!… The whole evening was a joy."

A fan's internet post, 2/17/01

"Perhaps no one since Billie Holiday has sung with a greater sense of calm, of unmovable strength, of pure nerve."

Lloyd Sachs (Chicago Sun-Times), 2001

"The tense energy of her youth has given way to a quiet confidence… Ms. Connor's vast experience is the fulcrum on which Haunted Heart is balanced. The disc opens with a defiantly up-tempo "By Myself" that finds the singer's formidable command of time undiminished… Without the use of any discernable dramatic devices, she sharpens the edges on lyrics, and, bypassing sentimentality, uses them to cut away at real emotions… Haunted Heart is probably Chris Connor's finest album since 1986's Classic. It is a compelling and deeply satisfying record by a singer who long ago earned her place in the pantheon of great jazz singers."

Matthew Bahl, All About Jazz, 2001

"Her voice is as vibrant and pure as it ever was."

Marian McPartland (NPR's Piano Jazz, 2002)

"She is one of the Keepers of the Flame."

Jim Lowe

SOME REVIEWS FOR CHRIS' 1986 ALBUM, CLASSIC

"The intimacy. the heart stopping tremble at the close of a line. the cool dignity: Connor's fragile but seemingly incontrovertible delivery of a lyric has endured through 35 years of singing."

Richard Cook, Wire Magazine

"She makes the songs the stars, and they in turn make Connor glow."

Down Beat

"Classic is her best [LP) in years. . . . [She] is one of the great singers of so-called 'torch' songs---songs of lost or unrequited love. And she can swing! {Her] voice glides faultlessly and seemingly without effort over really fast tempos that would frighten most singers to death."

Bob Protzman, St. Paul Pioneer-Press

"Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan are among the very finest jazz musicians, artists who meet any standard of creativity and emotional strength one might care to apply. Chris Connor. . . belongs in that same exalted company. .. . A dominating vocal presence whose music is full of hard-earned wisdom and truth. The most striking aspect of [her] style has always been the nature of her voice, a kind of icy breathiness that has grown warmer through the years but still sounds unique."

Larry Kart, Chicago Tribune

"A first-class vocal improviser (who] has always been in command of her art. She is an original talent, uniquely herself."

This Month (Monterey, CA)

"The beauty of [Classic] is in its simplicity: Connor wisely relies on her seasoned jazz voice to interpret an array of Tin Pan Alley tunes, giving them her own personal touch. She does a fine job on every cut. This album reaffirms the feeling that [she] has been absent from the public's eye far too long."

Milwaukee Journal

"[Her] voice is a bit deeper now than in the 1950s when she, June Christy and Anita O'Day---a troika of honey-voiced, beautiful singers out of the Stan Kenton Orchestra---were riding the crest of success with their sensuous song styles. Throughout Classic. it's evident that Connor's style has matured and gotten better. It's deeper not only in range but also in expressiveness."

Owen McNally, Hartford Courant

"A tine interpretive singer who can take standards and make them her own. [She) has lost the archer mannerisms of her youth and has evolved into a sensitive singer who brings a sense of hard-bought wisdom to her tunes."

Ellis Widner, Tulsa Tribune

"A superior balladeer."

Cam Miller, San Diego Union

"Veteran jazz singer (Connor) is a whiz at personalizing a love song. … [She] achieves her sometimes dizzying effects through inventive phrasing and a sometimes bewildering sense of control. She makes a lyric say precisely what she wants it to say by nudging it in this direction or that. There are a few genuine jazz singers around. a handful at best on the entire planet, Connor belongs in that select company. Her experience, her life-long accumulation of know-how and her cultivated ability to glide gracefully over the most difficult line mark her as one of the greats."

Jim Keiton, Everett (WA) Herald

"It is the ballad which has always been Connor's forte. Using the verse effectively, she is adept at getting inside of a song, spinning a seductive web of love and romance."

Gerald J. Futrick, Coda

"(Her) deep, smoky voice hasn't changed much since she sang with the bands of Claude Thornhill, Jerry Wald and Stan Kenton in the late '40s and early '50s. And she has always had the ability to phrase intelligently, 'create and sustain a mood and project emotional honesty. Transmitting the meaning of lyrics is where it's at with Connor. "

Georgia Urban, Knickerbocker News (Albany, NY)

"Classic is a superlative set of standards from one of the greatest jazz singers ever."

Jared Rutter, Players

"…On ballads, including [Classic's] 'In Love in Vain' and 'Blame It on My Youth,' Miss Connor is in complete command. The promise inherent in her shaded, slightly throaty voice has never been realized on records as successfully as it is in the stretched, deliberately spaced phrasing of these songs."

John S. Wilson, New York Times

"There is, quite simply, no one who lives and breathes a ballad as deeply or chillingly as Connor. And as she always proves with 'Lover,' she's no slouch on the uptempo stuff, either." "One of jazz's truly special talents."

Lloyd Sachs, Chicago Sun-Times

"The entire album [Classic] vibrates with Connor's joy in singing with jazz people---something she's done since breaking in with Stan Kenton in the early '50s. Her 'Ten Cents a Dance' should be in a hall of fame as an instant classic. Love it all!"

Chris Colombi, Jr., Plain Dealer (Cleveland)


Quotes provided by Bill Reed. Magazine covers provided by Jason Perry.