June Christy: Ballads for Night People

Following the success of her signature recording Something Cool, originally recorded in 1953 as a ten inch and supplemented in ’55 with additional tracks for LP release, June Christy cut a number of long-playing albums with a loosely-based concept. The LP was still in its infancy, and many singers and musicians were experimenting with the form, creating new and interesting settings for the songs they performed and allowing the listener a more atmospheric listening experience.

1955 saw the release of Duet, recorded with Christy’s former boss Stan Kenton at the piano, and The Misty Miss Christy, another Pete Rugolo-arranged album that, while not quite as great as Something Cool, is absolutely classic Christy. In 1956 and 1957 came This is June Christy! and Fair And Warmer, both decent but not essential recordings.

In 1958 Christy recorded the first of two exceptional albums with her husband, saxophonist Bob Cooper, who also penned the arrangements for them. The first, June’s Got Rhythm, is probably her most unabashedly upbeat recording, featuring swinging tunes arranged for a small group that allowed Christy’s jazz side to come to the fore as it never had previously.

1959’s Ballads for Night People returned to the tried and true formula of featuring Christy singing primarily sophisticated ballads with much more lyrical complexity than the average popular singer was able to manage. It’s true that Christy doesn’t swing as hard as Anita O’Day, nor does she have the outgoing nature of an Ella Fitzgerald or the bluesy quality of a Dinah Washington, but her ability to perform complex songs with sophistication and confidence kept the focus on her singing, even though she worked with some of the most innovative arrangers around at the time.

On Ballads for Night People, Cooper arranges for two different groups which back Christy on various tracks. The first is a septet featuring trombonist Frank Rosolino, alto sax/flute player Bud Shank, Cooper on tenor, pianist Joe Castro, bassist Red Callender, drummer Mel Lewis, and harp player Kathryn Julye.

The other group features the same musicians (with Stan Levey replacing Lewis on drums) augmented by Jim Decker (French horn), Buddy Collette (clarinet), Norman Benno (English horn, bassoon), and Chuck Gentry (bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet). Both groups provide Christy with sensitive support that demands listening to all by itself. In fact, one of the great things about June Christy’s albums is that the music is just as good as the singing rather than being just as good as it needs to be.

As for the song selection, it is noted, quite rightly, in Will Friedwald’s liner notes that while Fitzgerald and Sinatra defined mainstream American popular song, artists like June Christy and Peggy Lee explored its outer fringes. For Christy that meant recording a series of songs that were generally not so well known by songwriters who were not necessarily as well known as Irving Berlin, Rogers/Hart, etc.

The best known tracks here are the opener, “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” two Duke Ellington numbers, “Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and the Weill/Gershwin number “My Ship.”

All of these get superior readings from Christy, but more interesting still are songs like the title track by Fran Landesman and Tommy Wolf. The song seeks to capture the restless urban underworld of the beat poet and the sophisticated martini-drinking lounge lizard, somewhat in the tradition of Frank Loesser’s classic “My Time of Day” from Guys and Dolls. Or check out “I Had a Little Sorrow,” Cooper’s setting of lyrics by Edna St. Vincent Millay, on which Christy is accompanied only by harp. Certainly not your normal 1950s songbird material.

Christy throws off the swingy “I’m In Love” and “Kissing Bug” with a great deal of verve, and tackles “Shadow Woman,” an ‘other woman’ song penned by Arthur Hamilton, composer of “Cry Me a River,” which sounds like it could easily have been an outtake from Something Cool.

This reissue tacks on five tracks from a third Christy/Cooper album, Do Re Mi. A less-than-successful show by Jule Styne, Betty Comden, and Adolf Green featuring Phil Silver and Nancy Walker, Do Re Mi provides Christy with some worthy vehicles, particularly the upbeat “Make Someone Happy” and the ballad “Cry Like the Wind.”

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