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JAZZIZ, The Women’s Issue
July 2003

"Women's Standards"
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 and longing.

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 message.”

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.




 

 

 
 

 

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