The Chris Connor Bio-Discography:
Connor's Years As A Big Band Singer
by Iván Santiago Mercado

Generated on Sep 10, 2011

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Bio-Discographical Note: Chris Connor's Studio Work As A Big Band Canary (1949-1953)

For an overview of Chris Connor's work with the orchestras of Claude Thornhill, Herb Fields, Jerry Wald, and Stan Kenton, see this page's final note. For her work with other ensembles, preceding her debut in the recording studio (January 6, 1949), see the Pre-recording Years (1927-1948) page.


Date: January 6, 1949
Location: New York
Label: RCA VICTOR

The Claude Thornhill Orchestra (ldr), Claude Thornhill (con, p), Danny Polo, Jerry Therkeld (cl, as), Drew Moore, Mario Rollo (ts), Bill Bushey (bar), John Carisi, John Napton, Gene Roland (t), Leon Cox, Allan Langstaff (tb), Addison Collins, Arthur Sussman (frh), Barry Galbraith (g), Joe Shulman (b), William Exiner (d), Chris Connor, The Snowflakes (v)

a.D9VB0048   MasterI Don't Know Why - 3:15  (Fred E. Ahlert, Roy Turk) / arr: Claude Thornhill
     RCA VICTOR 78: 20-3392 — {I Don't Know Why [vocal] / Lullaby Of The Rain [Thornhill instrumental]}   (1949)
b.D9BV0049   MasterThere's A Small Hotel  (Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers) / arr: Gil Evans
     RCA VICTOR 78: 20-3391 — {There's A Small Hotel [vocal] / Sleepy Serenade [Thornhill instrumental}   (1949)
     RCA VICTOR's Camden LP: CAL-307 — [Claude Thornhill] Dinner For Two   (1958)
Both titles on:      yyy~ Fresh Sound LP: FSR NL-46030 (Spain) — [Claude Thornhill] Snowfall   (1972)
     RCA VICTOR LP: NL 46030 — [Claude Thornhill] Snowfall   
     yyy~ Ajax [Ajaz] LP: Ajaz 274 — [Claude Thornhill] Claude Thornhill In Disco Order, Volume 10   

Masters & Dating

Chris Connor's participation in this session was not as a solo vocalist but as a member of Claude Thornhill's choral group, The Snowflakes. In "I Don't Know Why," the group sings the entire vocal as an unit, without any soloing from individual members. In "There Is A Small Hotel," Connor is heard both as part of the group and, briefly, solo.

During an interview conducted in the early 2000s, Connor was asked to comment about her studio work with Claude Thornhill and his orchestra. Oddly, she could not recall ever going to the recording studio with the bandleader, nor with his choral group. Of course, the passing of well over 50 years can make any lapse in memory understandable. But there is another possible -- and more conciliatory -- explanation: could it be that this session's performances originated in a radio broadcast which RCA transcribed for commercial release? Unfortunately, I am not able to answer this question beyond the realm of the hypothetical. The documentation at hand does not provide any clarification -- neither in the affirmative nor in the negative. Were the question ever to be confidently answered in the affirmative, a corollary to the answer would be the identification of January 6, 1949 as the date on which master numbers were assigned by RCA, rather than the date in which the numbers were actually performed on the radio.

Interestingly, Connor publicly discussed the subject once again a few years later (2006), and at that time she gave a partially different answer. During an interview conducted over the phone and eventually published in a Japanese magazine, she did say that her first recording with Thornhill had been with his "exclusive choir" in January 1949, and that the title of the recording was "Snowflakes." However, I believe that she offered that piece of information not because she had finally remembered going to the studio, but rather because of her awareness of this discography's discussion of the matter, and because she had recently given a listening to one of the above-listed albums that contans "There's A Small Hotel". (Given the misidentification of the recording as "Snowflakes" -- actually the group's rather than the song's name -- in the magazine article, something might have been lost in translation, too.)

On a different note, collectors might want to be aware that this session's Snowflakes versions of "I Don't Know Why" and "There's A Small Hotel" are not the only ones extant. Years earlier, on July 24, 1942, an earlier edition of the group had also recorded both songs. However, back then Chris Connor was not yet a member of the group and hence she is not heard in those earlier versions.

Furthermore, The Snowflakes reprised the two songs six months after this 1949 session, too. Those later versions are from two July 1949 sessions made not for RCA, but for Thesaurus, a radio transcription service. The same basic arrangements of these January 1949 masters were re-used, including the solo spot in "There's a Small Hotel" that is sung by Chris Connor. Nevertheless, the unidentified solo singer in the July session does not sound at all like Chris Connor. (She did not stay long during this stint with Thornhill -- the first of three, all of them occuring between 1949 and 1953. Although the exact date of her departure is unknown, July or earlier is certainly a possibility.) Aside from the different solo singer, there are also various instrumental variations between the respective January and July recordings.


Issues

1. The 1948 Transcription Performances (Hep CD 17, released in 1994)
2. The Song Is You (Hep LP 17, released in 1980)

The two above-listed items are Claude Thornhill issues released by the British label Hep. The first is a digital reissue of the second. They contain performances of "There's A Small Hotel" and "I Don't Know Why," both sung by The Snowflakes. However -- and as suggested by the first of the titles -- the versions heard in these items are the aforementioned Thesaurus transcriptions, which bear no aural traces of Connor's involvement. In other words, neither Hep issue contains the January 6, 1949 versions on which Connor participated.

(Additional note of marginal interest. Whereas Charles Garrod's discography of Claude Thornhill gives a July 1949 date to those Thesaurus transcriptions, Hep assigns a different, collective 1948 dating to them. The Hep date is not highly likely: a musicians' recording ban was in effect for nearly all of 1948. Although I am not certain that the ban fully extended to transcription recording, the Garrod date strikes me as likeliest one to be accurate. In any case, this subject matter is of no major relevance to this discography, as there is no indication of Connor's presence during the recording of the transcriptions.)


Personnel

All details about personnel are taken from Ajazz LP 274, including the identity of the arrangers.


Date: March 31, 1952
Label: DECCA

Jerry Wald and His Orchestra (ldr), Jerry Wald (con, cl), Herb Geller, Sam Zittman (as), Buddy Arnold (ts), George Berg, Eddie Caine (bar), Al Derisi, Al Porcino, Dick Sherman, Al Stewart (t), Jack Hitchcock, Sonny Russo (tb), Billy Bauer (g), Eddie Safranski (b), Jack Kelly (p), Don Lamond (d), Chris Connor (v)

a.82694   MasterYou're The Cream In My Coffee - 3:17  (Lew Brown, Buddy DeSylva, Ray Henderson)
     DECCA 78 & 45: 28203 / 9-28203 — {You're The Cream In My Coffee / Cherokee}   (1952)
     USA Government's "Basic Music Library" Series radio transcription: P 2720 — [AFRS] Basic Music Library [4 Jerry Wald numbers, 2 with Chris Connor]   
     DECCA©MCA CD: 3149 (Japan) — [Various Artists] The Great Jazz Singers With The Great Big Band   
b.82696   MasterCherokee - 2:39  (Ray Noble)
     DECCA 78 & 45: 28203 / 9-28203 — {You're The Cream In My Coffee / Cherokee}   (1952)
     USA Government's "Basic Music Library" Series radio transcription: P 2720 — [AFRS] Basic Music Library [4 Jerry Wald numbers, 2 with Chris Connor]   
c.82697   MasterPennies From Heaven - 3:04  (Johnny Burke, Arthur Johnston)
     DECCA 78 & 45: 29575 / 9-29575 — {Pennies From Heaven / Raisins And Almonds}   (1952)
     DECCA©MCA CD: 3149 (Japan) — [Various Artists] The Great Jazz Singers With The Great Big Band   
d.82698   MasterRaisins and Almonds - 3:39  (unknown)
     DECCA 78 & 45: 29575 / 9-29575 — {Pennies From Heaven / Raisins And Almonds}   (1952)
e.82699   MasterTerremoto - 3:16  (unknown)
     DECCA 78 & 45: 28554 / 9-28554 — {Terremoto [vocal] / The Thrill Is Gone [Wald instrumental]}   (1952)

Masters & Connor's Performance

Chris Connor sings lyrics on "You're The Cream In My Coffee," "Pennies From Heaven," and "Raisins And Almonds." On both "Cherokee" and "Terremoto," she wordlessly vocalizes the melody (very briefly towards the end of "Cherokee," and also very briefly at the beginning of "Terremoto").


Issues

According to an article published on the June 4, 1952 issue of Down Beat Magazine, Jerry Wald's first record, under a new Decca deal, is due out momentarily. His first wax pact with a big band, years ago, was with the same label." The June 7, 1952 issue of Billboard magazine reviews this so-called first new Decca record (the "Cherokee / You Are The Cream Of My Coffee" single).

Chris Connor is credited on both sides of Decca single #28203. "You're The Cream Of My Coffee" is called a fox trot by Jerry Wald And His Orchestra with "vocal chorus by Chris Connors." The "Cherokee" side is labeled an instrumental fox trot featuring "the clarinets of Jerry Wald, the voice of Chris Connors, with rhythm." (The final s in Connor's name was also used in some of her subsequent singles with Stan Kenton And His Orchestra.)


Location

Jerry Wald is known to have played at New York's Roseland Ballroom from February 22, 1952 to some time around March 21, 1952. Since this session's masters were tecorded about 10 days after the Roseland gig was over, New York could very well be the city in which the date took place. I have no conclusive data on this point, however.


December, 1952
In Garrod's discography of The Claude Thornhill Orchestra, Chris Connor is listed as part of the personnel present at a studio session held on December 1952, for which he does not list song titles, nor any additiona details. I have not come across any other source that makes mention of Connor's alleged participation in that date. Since further confirmation is lacking, Garrod's claim should be deemed tentative.


Date: February 11, 1953
Location: Capitol Melrose Studios, Hollywood, Ca
Label: CAPITOL
Capitol Session #2923

The Stan Kenton Orchestra (ldr), Lee Gillette (pdr), Vinnie Dean, Lee Konitz (as), Bill Holman, Richie Kamuca (ts), Bob Gioga (bar), Conte Candoli, Walter "Pete" Candoli, Marion "Buddy" Childers, Don Dennis, Maynard Ferguson, Ruben McFall (t), Bob Burgess, Keith Moon, Frank Rosolino, Bill Russo (tb), George Roberts (bt), Sal Salvador (g), Donald "Don" Bagley (b), Stan Kenton (p), Stan Levey (d), Harry DeAlmeida (tam), Chris Connor (v), The Stan Kenton Orchestra (bkv)

a.11115-25   MasterAnd The Bull Walked Around, Olé! - 2:39  (Joe Greene, Doug Neal, Betsy Ellis) / arr: Bill Russo
     CAPITOL 78 & 45: 2388 / F 2388 — {And The Bull Walked Around, Olé! / Jeepers Creepers}   (1953)
     www~ Creative World LP: CW ST-1050 — [Stan Kenton] The Lighter Side   (1972)
     USA Government's "Basic Music Library" Series radio transcription: P 2796 — [AFRS] Basic Music Library [4 Stan Kenton numbers, 2 with Chris Connor]   
     yyy~ Ajax [Ajaz] LP: Ajaz C-1618 — [Stan Kenton] Stan Kenton In Disco Order, Volume 15   
b.11116-7   MasterJeepers Creepers - 2:16  (Johnny Mercer, Harry Warren) / arr: Bill Russo
     CAPITOL 78 & 45: 2388 / F 2388 — {And The Bull Walked Around, Olé! / Jeepers Creepers}   (1953)
     www~ Creative World LP: CW ST-1029 — [Stan Kenton] Some Women I've Known   (1971)
CAPITOL©Toshiba-EMI LP: ECP 88033 (Japan) — [Stan Kenton] Kenton's Girl Friends   (1973)
c.11120   MasterIf I Should Lose You - 2:38  (Ralph Rainger, Leo Robin) / arr: Bill Russo
     www~ Creative World LP: CW ST-1066 — [Stan Kenton] By Request, Volume 5   (1972)
     www~ Book Of The Month CS/LP: BM 91-7573/81-7572 — [Stan Kenton] Stan Kenton   (1985)
     CAPITOL©Toshiba-EMI CD: TOCJ-5651-5655 (Japan) — [Stan Kenton] The Creative World Of Stan Kenton   (1991)
All titles on:      www~ Mosaic LP/CD: MR6-136 / MD4-136 — [Stan Kenton] The Complete Capitol Recordings Of The Holman And Russo Charts   (1991)
     zzz~ Giants Of Jazz / Promo CD: 53230 (Italy) — All About Ronnie ("Giants of Jazz" Series)   (1996)
     zzz~ Giants Of Jazz / Promo CD: 53240 (Italy) — [Stan Kenton] Jazz Ladies & Stan Kenton   (1996)
     CAPITOL LP: ECJ-50075 (Japan) — [Stan Kenton] Girls & Kenton   

The Recording Session

An article published on the April 8, 1953 issue of Down Beat gave the following news to the magazine's readership: "Chris Connor is Stan Kenton's newest vocal find. Her first assignment after Stan called her and asked her to join the band was a recording session, at which Kenton's newest release, Jeepers Creepers and The Bull Walked Around Olay was cut. At this time, Chris knew only one man in the band, had talked to Kenton only once before, and had never heard the arrangements she was about to sing. Yet she did a splendid job on the session, had even the members excited about her singing."

During an interview published in the May 2007 issue of Swing Journal, Connor was asked to talk about the day in which she first recorded a song that would become one of her trademark numbers, All About Ronnie. "It was the same day when I was introduced to the members of the Kenton Orchestra in the recording studio," she answered, "that I was given the music. When I walked into the studio, they were just preparing to record the famous City Of Glass. As soon as the recording finished, they showed the music for All About Ronnie. The composer of the song, Joe Greene, was there in the studio, and I was lectured about the song for about an hour. Then, there was a rehearsal, and I had to record the song. Somehow, I managed to finish recording it. The song later became my signature song. At that time, the band was comprised of 22 musicians. All wonderful young musicians, Conte Candoli, Frank Rosolino, Lee Konitz, Bill Holman, Stan Levey. It was like a dream come true for me to sing in a great band like that."


Dating

The masters numbered 11115 and 11116 were recorded between 8:45 p.m. and 11:45 p.m. Master number 11120 was recorded (along with master number 11119, an instrumental) between 12:45 a.m. and 5:15 p.m.


Arrangements (And Vocalists)

1. "Jeepers Creepers"
2. Kay Brown
3. Jerri Winters
4. Helen Carr
As a newcomer to the band, Connor had to work with arrangements whose vocal parts had been originally conceived with her predecessors in mind. For instance, the vocals parts of this session's "Jeepers Creepers" had been initially arranged for Kay Brown -- and ditto for some other numbers that Connor wounded up singing live, such as "Taking A Chance On Love." In addition to Brown's, Connor inherited arrangements written for Jerri Winters ("All About Ronnie") and Helen Carr ("Everything Happens To Me"). "Don't Worry 'Bout Me" was one number sung by all four vocalists, from the earliest (Winters) to the latest (Connor), while working with Kenton.


Musicians

1. Harry DeAlmeida
2. Background Vocals
Both De Almeida's tambourine and the background vocals (by the orchestra's musicians) are heard only during "And The Bull Walked Around, Olé!"


Songs And Cross-references

1. "All About Ronnie"
For the master of "All About Ronnie" that was originally issued by Capitol, see next session.

2. "And The Bull Walked Around, Olé"
The novelty "And The Bull Walked Around, Olé!" became a vocal hit for The Stan Kenton Orchestra. (Billboard's Joel Whitburn [gu]es[s]timates that the single peaked at number 30.)

The song's exact official title is in question. The Kenton score (at North Texas University, Denton, Texas) calls it simply "The Bull Walked Around." Most issues, including the original Capitol single, name it "And The Bull Walked Around, Olay!" The word "olay" is obviously a misspelling of the Spanish interjection "olé," employed by bullfighters in the arena. In this discography, I have decided to use the correct spelling, instead of copying the misspelling found elsewhere.

Blue Arrows (A Technical Note)

Periodically found through this page are blue arrowheads; click on them if you want to see a longer list of albums containing any given Chris Connor performance.)


Date: April 8, 1953
Location: Universal Studios, Chicago
Label: CAPITOL
Session #2988

The Stan Kenton Orchestra (ldr), Vinnie Dean, Lee Konitz (as), Bill Holman, Richie Kamuca (ts), Hank Levy (bar), Conte Candoli, Marion "Buddy" Childers, Don Dennis, Ernie Royal, Don Smith (t), Bob Burgess, Keith Moon, Frank Rosolino, Tom Shepard (tb), George Roberts (bt), Sal Salvador (g), Glen Roberts (b), Stan Kenton (p), Stan Levey (d), Chris Connor (v)

a.11352-9   MasterAll About Ronnie - 2:50  (Joe Greene) / arr: Bill Russo
     www~ Mosaic LP/CD: MR6-136 / MD4-136 — [Stan Kenton] The Complete Capitol Recordings Of The Holman And Russo Charts   (1991)
     CAPITOL LP: ECJ-50075 (Japan) — [Stan Kenton] Girls & Kenton   
b.11353   MasterNobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen - 2:59  (Traditional) / arr: Bill Russo
     unissued
c.11354-6   MasterBaia - 2:47  (Ary Barroso) / arr: Bill Russo
     CAPITOL 78 & 45: 2511 / F 2511 — {All About Ronnie / Baia}   (1953)
     CAPITOL EP /(10" & 12") LPs: EBF/H/T-462 — [Stan Kenton] Portraits On Standards   (1953)
     www~ Creative World LP: CW ST-1042 — [Stan Kenton] Portraits On Standards   (1971)
     www~ Mosaic LP/CD: MR6-136 / MD4-136 — [Stan Kenton] The Complete Capitol Recordings Of The Holman And Russo Charts   (1991)
     CAPITOL©EMI's Blue Note CD: 31571 — [Stan Kenton] Portraits On Standards   (2001)
     yyy~ Ajax [Ajaz] LP: Ajaz C-1618 — [Stan Kenton] Stan Kenton In Disco Order, Volume 15   

The Recording Of "All About Ronnie"

In an interview for the music blog jazzwax.com , Chris Connor told the following to Marc Myers: "During an April recording date, our second studio session, Joe Greene, the songwriter, was there. He had written this song he wanted me to sing. I had never heard the song before. The band rehearsed me for about an hour. Then Stan told me the band was going to record it. I thought I was going to die. I didn't know how I was going to get through that song. But I did, and All About Ronnie turned out pretty good." (Incidentally, this was a busy day for Connor and the rest of The Stan Kenton Orchestra. On the evening, they also made a concert appearance; see page dedicated to Concert, Radio & Television, under sessions dated March 27 to April 9, 1953.)

Greene and Kenton had actually been trying to issue a version of "All About Ronnie" for a while. In fact, the bandleader had recorded his earliest studio version more than a year earlier, on March 20, 1952. Jerri Winters was the featured vocalist of that version, which was left unissued. (The March 20, 1952 session was Winters' very last one with the band.)

This April 8, 1953 version was left unissued too. The master that Capitol and Kenton chose for release as a single comes instead from his next session (May 25, 1953). The single became a non-charting radio hit for Connor and the orchestra.

More importantly, "All About Ronnie" remains the number most often associated with the singer. As a solo artist, her best known version of "All About Ronnie is the one that she made for Bethlehem Records, during the session(s) dated August 9-11, 1954. Atlantic Records taped a live version, too -- at the Village Vanguard, on September 6, 1959. Of course, Connor also sang "All About Ronnie" live with the Kenton orchestra on numerous occasions, as shown in this discography's Concert, Radio & Television page, under the year 1953.

In 1995, Connor was asked which songs, out of those that she had recorded up to that time, were her favorite ones. Not surprisingly, the vocalist singled out All About Ronnie and Lush Life. "To tell you the truth," she added, "I still enjoy All About Ronnie after forty years because it has great changes and great lyrics."


Songs And Masters

1. "Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen"
According to Michael Sparke and Peter Venudor in their discography Stan Kenton: The Studio Sessions, this performance of "Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen" exists only in a Capitol reference acetate; a master tape has not been found. The above-listed timing for this unissued master is the one supplied by Sparke & Venudor in their book.

2. "Baia"
In the label of Capitol 2511, "Baia" is credited as an instrumental, not as a vocal. The reason for the omission of a vocal credit is probably that Chris Connor is heard only scatting or humming the melody, and very briefly. The single's flip side ("All About Ronnie") credits not only Stan Kenton And His Orchestra but also "Chris Connors."

3. "I Get A Kick Out Of You"
According to some sources, including Capitol LP 20244 (The Fabulous Alumni Of Stan Kenton), an April 8, 1953 performance of "I Get A Kick Out Of You" is listed as rejected in Capitol's files. Nevertheless, an inspection of both the Capitol Recording Sheet for the session and Kenton's Capitol Artist Performance Record retrieved no such performance. Master 11355, identified in some sources as the one containing the hypothetical version of "I Get A Kick Out Of You," actually appears in Capitol's files as part of the ensuing session (#2989), held on June 25, 1953. According to the files, the song is entitled "You Gotta Have A License," and the featured artist is Tommy Collins, not Kenton or Connor.


Issues

1. Review Of {"All About Ronnie" / "Baia"} [single]
The September 19, 1953 issue of Melody Maker contains the following review of Capitol single #2511:

"All About Ronnie is a showcase for Stan Kenton's recent vocal discovery Chris Connor. He intended the record to be the one that would set the glamorous 25 year old Kansas City girl on the road to international fame, and was so concerned that it should do her full justice that he turned down the first recording, remade the title at a subsequent session and then scrapped that and did yet another remake at a later date. Yet, after all that, Capitol has not even stated on the label that the side features a vocalist, let alone her. Which is a pity, because Miss Connor certainly deserves a label credit. She may not be the world's greateat ever, but she shows up here as a modern style torch singer who can hold her own with any of the contemporaries in the field. She has a vibrant, luscious tone, sings well technically and knows how to tug the heart strings without descending to the exaggerated emotionalism and other affectations of the Johnnie Rays and other horrors, male and female, who somehow get themselves accepted as vocalists. Chris also has a leading role in Baia, but of a very different kind. Her voice is used 'instrumentally.' Maybe you won't think the result compares very favourablt with Duke Ellington's Kay Davies or the bop offerings of Jackie Cain but if so the blame will be less Miss Connor's and more that of the arranger, the recording, and whoever directed her. The arrangement does no more than give the melody to articulate without any attempt to blend her with the rest of the band; the recording makes too much use of the echo chamber; and someone seems to have told her to just doo-ee-oo. The outcome is anything but imaginative or subtle as far as Chris' contribution is concerned. Otherwise the record is a typical Kenton Latin-American styled presentation, and while not his best, should satisfy most Kenton enthusiasts."

The claim that "All About Ronnie" was recorded on three dates is curious. There is evidence of only two "All About Ronnie" masters featuring Chris Connor.


Blue Arrows (A Technical Note)

Periodically found through this page are blue arrowheads; click on them if you want to see a longer list of albums containing any given Chris Connor performance.)


Date: May 25, 1953
Location: Universal Studios, Chicago
Label: CAPITOL
Session #3053

The Stan Kenton Orchestra (ldr), Vinnie Dean, Lee Konitz (as), Bill Holman, Richie Kamuca (ts), Bob Gioga (bar), Conte Candoli, Walter "Pete" Candoli, Marion "Buddy" Childers, Don Dennis, Ernie Royal, Don Smith (t), Bob Burgess, Keith Moon, Frank Rosolino, Tom Shepard (tb), George Roberts (bt), Sal Salvador (g), Donald "Don" Bagley (b), Stan Kenton (p), Stan Levey (d), Harry DeAlmeida (tam), Chris Connor, The Stan Kenton Orchestra (v)

a.11446-13   MasterAll About Ronnie - 2:46  (Joe Greene) / arr: Bill Russo
     CAPITOL 78 & 45: 2511 / F 2511 — {All About Ronnie / Baia}   (1953)
     www~ Creative World LP: CW ST-1029 — [Stan Kenton] Some Women I've Known   (1971)
     CAPITOL©Toshiba-EMI CD: TOCJ-5651-5655 (Japan) — [Stan Kenton] The Creative World Of Stan Kenton   (1991)
     CAPITOL CD: 7 97350 2 — [Stan Kenton] Stan Kenton Retrospective   (1992)
b.11559-23   MasterI Get A Kick Out Of You - 2:44  (Cole Porter) / arr: Bill Russo
     CAPITOL LP: T-20244 (England) — [Stan Kenton] The Fabulous Alumni of Stan Kenton    (1963)
     www~ Creative World LP: CW ST-1028 — [Stan Kenton] The Fabulous Alumni Of Stan Kenton   (1971)
     CAPITOL CS/CD: 0777 7 96361 — [Various Artists] Anything Goes: Cole Porter ("Capitol Sings" Series)   (1992)
Both titles on:      CAPITOL©Toshiba-EMI LP: ECP 88033 (Japan) — [Stan Kenton] Kenton's Girl Friends   (1973)
     www~ Mosaic LP/CD: MR6-136 / MD4-136 — [Stan Kenton] The Complete Capitol Recordings Of The Holman And Russo Charts   (1991)
     zzz~ Giants Of Jazz / Promo CD: 53230 (Italy) — All About Ronnie ("Giants of Jazz" Series)   (1996)
     zzz~ Giants Of Jazz / Promo CD: 53240 (Italy) — [Stan Kenton] Jazz Ladies & Stan Kenton   (1996)
     yyy~ Ajax [Ajaz] LP: Ajaz C-1654 — [Stan Kenton] Stan Kenton In Disco Order, Volume 16   

Cross-references

This was Chris Connor's last studio session with The Stan Kenton Orchestra. It was by no means her last date with the band, however. In concerts, she continued to work with them until the end of June.


Bio-Discographical Notes: Chris Connor's Gigs As A Big Band Vocalist

          Basic Overview

Chris Connor's made her record debut in 1949, while she was a member of The Claude Thornhill Orchestra's choral group, The Snowflakes. Connor had joined the group in late 1948. According to her own estimations, she spent about 6 months singing with them, before leaving the chorus and the band fold for a few months. She came back to the Thornhill fold the following year, though no longer as a choral member. Between 1950 and 1952, Connor mainly served as The Claude Thornhill Orchestra's solo vocalist, although she also worked with other bands during the same period.

To be more specific, Connor worked with three other big bands. After her first stint with Thornhill, there were some months spent as Herb Fields' canary (three at most). Those months do not seem to have produced any recording activity. Her equally short stint as Jerry Wald's vocalist did produce one recording date. (See session dated March 31, 1952, as well as comments in sub-section below.) Finally, in February 1953, Connor joined The Stan Kenton Orchestra, a decision that gave her greater visibility across the nation. After six months with Kenton, she left the band, and from then onwards worked as a solo act.

          Index

The lengthy notes found below are divided in three main parts:

I. Chris Connor With The Claude Thornhill Orchestra (First, Second, Third Period)
II. Chris Connor With The Jerry Wald Orchestra
III. Chris Connor With The Stan Kenton Orchestra



          I. Chris Connor With Claude Thornhill's Orchestra

A. First Thornhill Period: The Snowflakes

The Snowflakes was one of the names that Claude Thornhill and his managers gave to the vocal group which they assembled and integrated to his orchestra. The earliest editions of the group were pre-second-world-war ensembles, initially known just as The Quintet, then as The Pair of Pairs, and finally as The Snowflakes. That last name was bestowed in late 1941 or thereabouts, when Thornhill had a hit with the song "Snowfall" and, from then onwards, that tune officially became the orchestra's theme.

Under their new name, the group participated in a Thornhill studio session held on July 24, 1942 -- just a few days before the start of a long-lasting record ban, not coincidentally. The ban forbade unionated musicians from working with music companies until the union's demands were met. For bandleaders who kept working with their record labels during this period, one solution to the absence of musical instrumentation was the employment of choral groups whose vocals harmonies could substitute for the missing instruments.

During the ban period, Thornhill's label (Columbia) slowly released the pre-ban masters by The Snowflakes. Their 1942 version of "There's A Small Hotel" was out on 78 in July 1944, their version of "I Don't Know Why" even later, in September 1945.

After the July 24, 1942 session, I have found no evidence of any subsequent recording activity by The Snowflakes -- neither during the ban period nor in the years that immediately followed its lifting. My general impression is that Thornhill did not re-activate his choral group until the end of the decade. (Actually, his entire band was probably dormant for a good portion of the 1940s, while Thornhill served military duty with the Navy.)

The Snowflakes ensemble was probably revived in December 1948, right after the lifting of the second music ban of the decade (known as the 1948 American Federation of Musicians ban). During 1949, references to The Snowflakes began to reappear in the press and in discographical data. For instance, a report in the July 16, 1949 issue of Billboard magazine states that '[w]ith each succeeding month, leader Thornhill has experimented, added, substracted and exchanged among the resources of his band in an effort to find the combination that leads to the Miller mantle. His latest amendments include the return of the vocal group, the Snowflakes, to his bandstand - something he hasn't sported since his prewar Glen Island days."

In 1949, The Snowflakes consisted of at least four, perhaps five singers. The identity of the fifth member, if there was one, remains unclear. Charles Garrod's discography of Claude Thornhill names four members present at Thornhill's January 6, 1949 session: Nancy Clayton, Joe Derise, Jim Preston, and Hugh Baker. Chris Connor is not listed. For her part, Connor remembers singing with Joe Derise (also known as Derisi), Jimmy Preston, and a female member (presumably Nancy Clayton). In his book V-Discs: A History And Discography, Richard S. Sears does list five members for the January 6, 1949 session in which Connor definitely participated. Better yet, Sears includes Connor. However, the names of the other members listed by Sears are entirely different from those given in my other source: A. Brown, J. Eich, M.L. Eyre, and J. Orr. I am assuming that Sears made a mistake.

The confusion over the group's total number of members could stem from a variety of factors, of course. One of them was Derise's multiple roles as vocalist/director of The Snowflakes and instrumentalist with the Thornhill orchestra. A talented pianist, arranger, guitarist, and vocalist, Derise joined the band around 1948, and for the duration of his stay with Thornhill he remained closely tied to the vocal group's numbers. Perhaps some reporters failed to include Derise as a Snowflakes member because they focused instead on his piano duties, or because his role as the group's director led them to separate him from the other members. Also likely to cause confusion was the additional presence of a solo vocalist (Russ McIntyre). Generally, McIntyre was not billed as a member of The Snowflakes, and yet Nancy Clayton was deemed both a group member and the orchestra's female solo vocalist. Yet another possible source of confusion was Chris Connor's own departure from the Thornhill fold, after just a few months with them.

During the year 1949, the group participated in at least five RCA studio dates, and also in transcription sessions for the Thesaurus radio service. The last known Snowflakes recordings are from 1950, which was also the year in which Derise left Thornhill's orchestra.

Unfortunately, Connor's presence or absence in most of the group's 1949 and 1950 masters cannot be confidently ascertained. For starters, most of these vocals are credited to The Snowflakes as a group, with no mention of members' names. When names are mentioned, they are usually those of a "boy" or "girl" singer for whom The Snowflakes are singing background vocals.

Nor have I been particularly successful in my attempts at identifying Connor's presence through careful listening. Because the singing is done mostly in unison, individual voices are hard to distinguish or identify.

Bear also in mind that we are not fully certain of the amount of time spent by Connor as a member of The Snowflakes. In the 1950s, the singer casually told the press that she had spent about six months as one of The Snowflakes, but it is not clear if her comment was meant to be taken as an exact calculation -- rather than a vague approximation. (An echo of the same six-month statement can also be read in the liner notes for the 1999 CD Warm Cool: The Atlantic Years, a project co-produced by Connor herself.)

Due to all of the above-mentioned reasons, I have included only one session by The Snowflakes in this discography. On that January 5, 1949 session, Connor's presence is clearly audible. Although I have not been able to recognize her voice in any of the other relevant sessions, readers must bear in mind that most of these vocals are choral pieces, in which all voices were expected to blend into a unit.

In the 2000s, Connor could not recall even having gone to the studio with The Snowflakes for the January 6, 1949 session. Hence she expressed doubt that it actually happened. Given the fact that more than 50 years had elapsed since she sang those vocals, specific recollections of her work with the group must have been understandably hard to invoke for Connor -- as would have been for most anybody else. (Then again, Connor could be right. She might have not gone to the studio with The Snowflakes at all. And, even if no studio session took place, the existence of those January 6 "recordings" could still be hypothetically explained; see my notes under session dated January 6, 1949.)

Below is a list of all Snowflakes masters from the first half of 1949, when Connor would have been (according to her six-month estimation) a group member, beginning with the January 6 date. I should mention in passing that The Claude Thornhill Orchestra also had studio sessions on January 4 and 5, but The Snowflakes were not part of those earlier dates. In passing, it should also be noted that various discographies credit The Snowflakes with a vocal recorded during the January 5 session. The credit is erroneous. Instead of a vocal, the title in question ("Lullaby Of The Rain") is actually an instrumental.

January 6, 1949; RCA session
--I Don't Know Why
--There's A Small Hotel
(These were the second and third masters recorded during this session. As for the first master, D9VB0033, it was also a vocal, titled "If I Forget You." Sung by boy singer Art Brown, it involves no participation from The Snowflakes. Incidentally, "If I Forget You" had also been recorded two days earlier, with a vocal credited to Buddy Hughes, in a version that remains unissued.)

January 9, 1949; RCA session
--Wind In My Sails (accompanying vocalist Buddy Hughes)

April 27, 1949; RCA session
--Moonlight And Roses

June 9, 1949; RCA session
--On The 5:45 (accompanying vocalists Nancy Clayton and Russ McIntyre)

July, 1949; Thesaurus sessions
-- Moonlight Bay (accompanying Joe Derise)
-- Side By Side (accompanying Joe Derise)
-- Iowa Indian Fight Song (accompanying Joe Derise)
-- Johnson Rag (accompanying Joe Derise)
-- Moonlight and Roses
-- There's A Small Hotel
-- I Don't Know Why
-- Look For The Silver Lining
-- On The 5:45

As previously mentioned, Chris Connor's involvement in any of these masters is difficult to ascertain. After repeated listening, I'm inclined to believe that she is not part of the vocals that were recorded in June and July. I remain less certain about the earlier sessions. If proof is foud that Connor participated in any of the above-mentioned 1949 masters, I will of course create sessions for them.

During the second half of 1949 (when Connor might have not been with the group any longer), The Snowflakes recorded more vocals in October and November.


B. Second Thornhill Period: Singer On The Road

Various sources indicate that Chris Connor sang with Claude Thornhill's band over two time periods: the first as a member of The Snowflakes (1949) and the second as Thornhill's featured female vocalist. The second period appears to have begun some time in 1950 and to have ended around December 31, 1951, when the orchestra "disbanded in order to rest and vacation," with no knowledge of "when it will be reformed" (Down Beat Magazine, February 8, 1952). In a 1954 interview (further discussed below), Connor herself circumscribed the timeline to 1950-1951. She does not seem to have been involved in any recording activity during this second period, tellingly described by her as "one-and-a-half years of one-niters."


C. Third Thornhill Period: Singer At The Statler Hotel

As already mentioned, a February 1952 Down Beat Magazine article reported that The Claude Thornhill Orchestra had disbanded effective January 1st of that year, thereby ending Connor's second period with the band. Further corroboration of this point comes from a 1954 article in which Connor herself calculates that the orchestra disbanded for nine months.

Although not mentioned in most sources, Connor did sing with Thornhill's band for yet a third time.

If her recollection that the orchestra disbanded for nine months was accurate, then Thornhill must have revived it in September or October 1952. According to Down Beat Magazine, Thornhill's orchestra was indeed active by that time, and Chris Connor was acting at the band's solo singer. The magazine's November 19, 1952 issue adds that Thornhill had been playing at The Statler's Hotel's Cafe Rouge (NY) since October 20. Still further, a later Down Beat article (December 12, 1952) begins by stating that Thornhill had been "in town for the last couple of weeks at the Cafe Rouge of the Hotel Statler." (Incidentally, the article closes with a description of Chris Connor as a "first-rate singer" and "quite a handsome wench, but more important, is evolving on the bandstand an excellent Anita O'Day-ish style which is enhanced with some range.")

Garrod's aforementioned Claude Thornhill discography provides additional corroboration that this third period happened. He lists various concerts in which Chris Connor is credited as the vocalist. All of them are dated 10/52 and identified as broadcast from The Statler Hotel. (To my knowledge, those radio broadcasts have not been commercially released. Nor have I heard of anyone who has them on tape. Garrod is thus my only source for them. I do believe that those broadcasts are the source of a few commercially issued Connor numbers, whose origin is not fully explained in the issues. For further details, see October, 1952 date in the Concert, Radio & Television page.)

In short, the collected data shows that Chris Connor came back to work with Thornhill's band for a third time.

This last period must have lasted somewhere between a couple of (October) weeks and, at most, four months. By mid-February 1953, Connor was part of The Stan Kenton Orchestra. Based on certan details, discussed in the Wald and Kenton sections below, I am inclined to think that Connor worked with Thornhill during September and October, after which time they would have been given a so-called three-month vacation. Three months would mean that the musicians and Connor came back in late January or early February 1953.

Whether Connor went with Thornhill to the studio during this third and last period is a thornier matter. In Garrod's discography of The Claude Thornhill Orchestra, she is actually listed as part of the personnel that participated in a December 1952 studio session. But Garrod provides no specifics about the date, and I have not seen mention of it anywhere else. Hence the happening of this date remains to be proven.

D. Acknowledgments

My discussion about Charles Garrod's discography has been made possible thanks to data kindly sent to me by Dave Loveless and Jason Perry.



          II. Chris Connor With The Jerry Wald Orchestra

According to the anonymous reporter of a September 8, 1954 Down Beat Magazine article and interview, before 1953 Chris Connor's career had consisted of six months with The Claude Thornhill Orchestra, three months with Herbie Fields, and a spell singing solo in New Jersey and New York. Then she had gone -- Connor herself added as part of the interview -- "back with Thornhill for one and a half years of one-niters [...] Claude disbanded nine months himself, and [then] I got an offer from Jerry Wald."

The period in which Thornhill remained inactive officially began in January 1952 and concluded in late September. We know that Connor was back with Thornhill around October 1952.

It would thus seem that her time with Wald happened some time between January and September. Indeed, Connor was with Wald during the last weeks of March 1952, when they performed live at the Arcadia Ballroom in New York (March 20) and also went to the recording studio (March 31). But the exact amount of time that Connor spent as Wald's canary remains unknown. It could have consisted of those last weeks of March only, just as it could have gone on for months.

I suspect that Connor actually spent not one but two periods working with Wald. The first period would be the one that includes the last weeks of March 1952 -- and perhaps many week before or afterwards. The second period would have taken place in December 1952 and/or January 1953.

Such a second period would account for what would otherwise seem like chronological discrepancies in various relevant accounts. For instance, Francis D. McKinley's biographical essay at www.musicianguide.com states that "from time to time, Thornhill would break up the band and allow its members to go on vacation. Although Connor received three months of paid vacation, she joined Jerry Wald's orchestra for a two-week temporary assignment at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana." Since we know that the Thornhill orchestra had been inactive from January to September, and had been reactivated in October, this three-month period must refer to some time in late 1952 or early 1953.

During this second period, Connor might have stayed with Wald for two weeks as planned, or she might have gone on to work with him for a few more weeks. (Once again, the duration of the period is difficult to ascertain.)

I further supect that, with the passing of time, Connor might have become confused about this time span, thereby coalescing her two periods with Wald into one. Alternatively, instead of becoming confused, she might have decided to simplify matters for the press. In the aforementioned Down Beat Magazine interview (September 8, 1954), Connor says that a month had elapsed from the moment she [re-?]joined Wald's orchestra to the time when fellow singer June Christy happened to hear her, singing live with Wald, on a radio remote from The Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans. Six months later, Connor adds, she was singing with Stan Kenton. I find it likelier that the Roosevelt - Christy events took place not six months but two, or three, or at most four weeks before she joined Kenton.

At least one studio session resulted from Connor's period(s) of work with Wald. See above, session dated March 31, 1952. Incidentally, she was billed as "Chris Connors" in Jerry Wald issues (e.g., the forty-five single Decca 9-28203). She would be billed in the same manner at the start of her period with Stan Kenton, too (see, in the Concert, Radio & Television Dates page, session dated February 19, 1953), and in Kenton's original Capitol issues.



          III. Chris Connor With The Stan Kenton Orchestra

A. Hiring: Why, How, Where And When

According to Chris Connor's own comments to the press, June Christy was the person who recommended her to Stan Kenton. Christy had been working as Kenton's canary, on and off, since the mid-1940s. By 1952, she had chosen to concentrate more exclusively on her solo work, with only the occasional appearance as Kenton's guest vocalist.

Since June Christy's vocals had resulted in a string of commercial hits for Kenton's band, Christy and Kenton probably felt that a similar-sounding singer would be an ideal replacement. When she heard Chris Connor on the radio -- singing with The Jerry Wald Orchestra -- Christy thought that Connor sounded like her, and would thus be a worthy candidate for an audition with Kenton. Christy then proceeded to mention Connor's name to Kenton. Such is the version of events told by all three principals in the story, including the bandleader: "June told us about a girl by the name of Chris Connors and I figured if anyone knew what we wanted it would be June. I got hold of a record Chris had made and agreed this was it - and it was." Added Connor: "Kenton ... said that I must be the real deal if June Christy recommended me, so he called me."

The record of which Kenton got hold might have actually been an audition performance. According to Francis D. McKinley in his already mentioned write-up at www.musicianguide.com, Christy "was so impressed with [Connor's] style and range, she strongly recommended her to Kenton. He in turn sent a disc jockey to New Orleans where an audition tape was made. When Kenton heard the tape that sounded so much like Christy, coupled with the high recommendation that Christy had made, he offered Connor a job. Two weeks later she joined the Stan Kenton Orchestra."

It must be clarified that Chris Connor was not June Christy's immediate successor. Between the time when Christy formally stopped recording with the band (late 1951, though she would keep filling in, when Kenton needed her) and the time when Connor joined Kenton (1953), three female vocalists worked for him: Jerri Winters (from March to mid-June 1952), Helen Carr (apparently for a very short span, in June 1952) and Kay Brown (from August 1952 to January 5, 1953). Brown's departure is acknowledged in the following notice, published in the February 11, 1953 issue of Downbeat magazine: "Kay Brown, former movie starlet and the wife of Kenton trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, left the band shortly before Kenton opened at the Palladium here. Kay said she felt she was 'not advancing her career by singing with the band'." Brown's departure seems to have been given on very short notice, and might have posed a dilemma, since she had been mentioned in all advance publicity for Kenton's January concerts at the Palladium.

June Christy filled the vacant slot for a very fleeting amount of time. Christy could not remain with Kenton long because, as the aforementioned Downbeat article states, "she was booked for a tour of Korea with the Larry Finley unit leaving here in mid January." Thus the Kenton veteran filled in for the departed Kay Brown only momentarily, while The Stan Kenton Orchestra fulfilled its contract obligations at the Palladium.


B. Period Spent With The Stan Kenton Orchestra: February-June, 1953

Various sources (e. g., the essay in the booklet of Mosaic CD Box Set MD4-136) state that Chris Connor officially joined The Stan Kenton Orchestra on January 16, 1953. The chief reason for those sources' statement seems to be Connor's alleged participation in a Kenton concert that took place on that date, and which has been preserved on acetate. However, this credit is an error. A case of mistaken identity must be at play: the cool-voiced singer heard in the acetate is not Chris Connor but June Christy. (The concert in question was one of Christy's aforementioned guest appearances with the band at the Palladium.)

Chris Connor seems to have joined Kenton's orchestra in early February 1953. She was hired over other candidates who had auditioned for the slot, including Sylvia Syms (another then-emerging singer who would go on to have a substantial solo recording career). Connor remembers that she was in Ohio, working with Claude Thornhill's band, when Stan Kenton's manager (George Morte) called her, to ask if (and when) she wanted to join Kenton. An awed Connor gave the following reply: "Yeah, yesterday I can." She went back to Los Angeles and, a week after Morte's phone call, joined Kenton.

Three arguments support early February as the likeliest dating for Connor's integration to Kenton's fold:

1- The singer herself has said that her first time singing with the band was on Kenton's February 11 session. She particularly remembers how awe-struck she felt, while watching and listening to the band's rendition of "A Trumpet" (an instrumental which was this session's earliest master, recorded between 4:45 p.m. and 7:45 p.m.). The author of an article published on the April 8, 1953 issue of Down Beat magazine backs up her claim; it states that "[h]er first assignment after Stan called her and asked her to join the band was a recording session."

2- Shortly after the band's last concert at the Hollywood Palladium (February 1, 1953), a local musician has claimed to have seen the singer in the San Francisco Bay Area.

3- During his introduction of the singer at a Cornell University concert (April 15, 1953), Kenton states that Connor had been singing with the band for 8 or 9 weeks. If Kenton's math was accurate, his comment would place Connor's joining date within the first two weeks of February.

As for the total amount of time spent on her job with the Kenton group, press accounts state that Chris Connor remained for ten months. However, I can confidently assert that those accounts over-extend her stay with the orchestra. As reflected by the live and studio sessions in this discography, the vocalist's working time with the band spanned no more than five months -- from February to June 1953. In spite of such a limited time span, Connor's days with The Stan Kenton Orchestra are justly remembered as her most significant contribution to the world of the big bands.

The singer's last date as an official Kenton Orchestra member took place on June 30, 1953, in Ontario, Canada. The reason for the singer's departure seems to have been exhaustion, stemming from the grueling life on the road that was par for the course among successful big bands. "I decided to go on my own after six years of one nighters," she told journalist Harry J. Stathos, of the News World Staff in 1980. "I was about to collapse. I was completely exhausted. That's the only reason I left Stan."

Connor gave notice a few weeks before Kenton embarked on an European Tour. The tour's departure date was August 20, its returning date September 25. Once again, June Christy came back, this time traveling with the band to Europe. And once more, Christy's return to the Kenton fold was temporary. After the European concert, Christy solo career blossomed, thanks in no small measure to the song "Something Cool" and the album of the same title, the former recorded shortly before her European sojourn. After this latest of Christy's stints, The Stan Kenton Orchestra would not record again with a regular female vocalist until the arrival in 1955 of Kenton's new wife, singer Ann Richards,

"I was once told that I left Kenton too soon," mused Connor during an interview for an article published in the March 10, 1974 issue of Newsday magazine, "that if I had stayed with the band a while longer, I'd have really made a big name for myself. I think that might be true. Stan's still my favorite band. I'd love to sing with him again -- not regularly, but maybe just for a weekend once in a while." In a later article (published by The Atlanta Constitution on February 29, 1980), Connor mentioned a tantalizing but, sadly, unrealized plan by Kenton, who died on August 25, 1979: "The last time I saw Stan, he was talking about recording an album on his label with me, Anita [O'Day] and June [Christy] as a trio and now, I'm really sorry that we never got to do it."


          Acknowledgments

I would like to express my gratitude to Dave Loveless for his significant contributions to my research on The Snowflakes, and to Ed Chaplin for his extensive, thorough guidance through all matters Kenton.


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