Photos I Quotes
JAZZIZ, The Women’s Issue
By Zan Stewart
Although I’ve said it before, it’s
worth repeating: JULIE KELLY is a Los Angeles-based singer who deserves
widespread recognition. She’s that rare bird: a real jazz
singer. She’s like a top-drawer instrumentalist, taking a
tune and finding a distinctly personal, swinging approach for it.
The Oakland native has been active the the climes
of L.A. for many years, but now audiences throughout the United
States are beginning to hear her via such outstanding albums as
2001’s Into The Light (Chase Music Group) and her
latest, Kelly Sings Christy: Thou Swell (Chase) –
a tribute to the renowned June Christy (1925-1990), famed for her
work first with Stan Kenton and then as a star on her own.
Christy is associated with the cool sound of
the ‘50’s West Coast era in which she thrived, but she
was more than just cool. Consider her signature song, “Something
Cool”, in which a woman recounts losing the love of her life
to a stranger in a bar. In Christy’s hands – and now
Kelly’s – the song becomes a chilling portrait of sadness
Christy also could cook. Take a tune like “Gone
For The Day”, written by her husband, ex-Kenton tenorman Bob
Cooper. It swings. So what at first might seem like a strange model
for a concept album by a dynamic jazz singer like Kelly turns out
to be right on target.
And of course, with Kelly, there’s something
personal about everything she does. The singer had long been a fan
of Christy’s when she learned that the feeling was mutual.
“I started doing occasional shows of her
material in the late ‘80’s, and she came to hear me
one time and told me how she like it”, says Kelly, who’d
lived in San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro, and Manhattan before moving
to L.A. in 1980. “I thought she was great. She offered a kind
of beauty and restraint at the same time. She was intuitive; She
could find the heartbeat of a great song and deliver the emotional
As the Christy album moved to the front burner,
Kelly called on one of her favorite pianists and arrangers, the
unsung Tom Garvin, to help choose and orchestrate the material.
“We wanted tunes that represented the breadth of her stuff,
as well as others that presented exciting arranging possibilities,”
Kelly recalls. Tunes like “Something Cool” and “Midnight
Sun” were must-do’s. “Gone For the Day”
or “Lonely House”, a haunting tune about the emptiness
of urban life by Kurt Weill and Langston Hughes, were selected because
they were just good songs.
Kelly says she’s received a lot of
juice from doing the Christy material in New York, San Francisco,
Minneapolis, St. Louis and Los Angeles. And she’ll keep supporting
the CD as the year proceeds. But she’s already started planning
her next project with Garvin – this time a tribute to Johnny
Mercer. “Again, we’ve found a lot of great material
to do”, says the singer.