Guilty pleasures: June Christy

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NICK DERISO: This is a woman who could fall to whispery sweet nothings, even from the highest precipice, effortlessly.

Start with “Something Cool,” issued on Capitol in 1955 and recorded with Pete Rugolo — Stan Kenton’s one-time musical director — and an orchestra. June tumbles, she sidesteps and old Pete, he keeps right up, letting Christy coo to her heart’s content.

The original album had 10 stand-alone tracks recorded over two years beginning in ’53, and became one of jazz music’s earliest hit vocal pieces. Subsequent reissues increased the track listing by 11 hard-to-finds and two previously unreleased songs.

Far from another novelty-singing bird (the role she played with Kenton, who needed something to distract audiences from the angular, convoluted genius of his regular compositions), Christy was turning into a spectacular interpreter.

Highlights included “Midnight Sun,” one of June’s most collected tunes, as well as a tasty cover of Peggy Lee’s “Whee Baby” and a very old favorite of mine that she does a dreamy job on: “Softly, as in Morning Sunrise.” Something cool? Very.

Move quickly then into “The Misty Miss Christy,” a follow up made in 1955-56. This is a hard won but smaller scale surprise, a seldom-swinging record that moves in ways its predessor couldn’t have conceived — even if again she is recording with Rugolo.

Here he uses a particular eye for big brass to nudge Christy — who died 17 years ago this June — into greatness.

Christy had met Rugolo after she replaced Anita O’Day in the Kenton Orchestra back in ’45. The two would work with the legendary bandleader until his band split three years later.

Rugolo, of course, went on to record Miles Davis’ “Birth of the Cool” sessions as an A&R man with Capitol Records.

It wouldn’t be until 1952 that they paired up again, first with “Something Cool” — really nothing more than the one-off tunes Christy made with Rugolo over the preceding two years — and then, on this.

A mono outburst of neat melancholy, “The Misty Miss Christy” works as a proper counterpart to the sunny, single-heavy “Something Cool” — which was, predictably, far more popular.

Included here, though, is what’s said to be the first major vocal recording of Thelonious Monk’s “‘Round Midnight,” the one-two Ellington punch of “I Didn’t Know About You” and “Day-Dream”; “That’s All,” most famously done by Nat “King” Cole and Nelson Riddle; and “The Wind,” popularized by the late Chet Baker.

Taken together, these two albums represent some of the first flowerings of the cool vocal movement in jazz. They have gathered even more importance in retrospect, too, since Christy only recorded one time between 1965 and her passing.

That they include misty-eyed shots of June on the cover, well, that’s gravy.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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