Saturday, December 12, 2015

June Christy's Radio Transcription Sessions with Johnny Guarnieri, 1949

Born Shirley Luster in Springfield, IL, in 1925, June Christy was one of the best female vocalists to come out of the Big Band Era, thanks in particular to her classic work with Stan Kenton in the mid-1940s. Subsequently, she would go on to carve out a successful career as a solo recording artist throughout the 1950s, producing such memorable albums as Something Cool, Ballads for the Night People, and The Misty Miss Christy, all of them recorded for Capitol. Before hitting the big time with Kenton, via smashes like "Tampico" and "How High the Moon," Christy honed her vocal skills working with the orchestras led by Boyd Raeburn and Benny Strong. But it was during her rather brief tenure with Kenton that her career would be changed forever: not only did she make some enduring records with the band, but it was the bandleader himself that persuaded her to adopt the stage name of June Christy. Kenton disbanded in 1948, and one year later Christy began making a series of radio transcriptions accompanied by a quintet led by pianist Johnny Guarnieri.

Guarnieri, who had been born in New York and was about eight years Christy's senior, had made a name for himself working alongside Benny Goodman and playing harpsichord, of all instruments, on recordings by Artie Shaw's Gramercy Five. As these sessions show, he was a sensitive accompanist who understood Christy's cool, boppish approach to singing perfectly. Though when these transcription sessions took place Christy's classic Something Cool album still lay five years ahead, we can already hear more than hints of the style that would make her such an instantly recognizable singer during her tenure with Capitol. Christy sounds extremely relaxed on these sides, both coolly sensual on ballads and gently swinging on uptempo numbers. The small-group setting is ideal for her, and although not much information is available regarding the identity of all the musicians involved, it seems that besides Guarnieri on piano, we can hear Leo Guarnieri on bass, Frank Garisti and Morey Feld on drums, Charles DiMaggio on saxophone, and George Walters on trumpet. Since these discs were produced to be licensed to radio stations, the repertoire is mostly comprised of familiar standards, the kind of material with which both the band and Christy herself felt entirely at home. Fortunately, the British label Jasmine Records has released all of these transcription recordings on a three-volume series entitled A Friendly Session, and the informal atmosphere of these dates makes these CDs an absolute joy to hear.

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