Although cool jazz diva Chris Connor recorded the bulk of her albums with Atlantic Records, her first two solo albums were Chris Connor Sings Lullabys for Lovers and Chris Connor Sings Lullabys of Birdland, 10-inch LPs she recorded for Bethlehem Records. Connor had been singing with a number of big bands—Claude Thornhill and Stan Kenton, perhaps the best known. Eventually, probably looking for the opportunity to express herself creatively, she turned to fronting smaller ensembles where she could make a greater impact. Her Bethlehem Records contract and the success of her first two albums suggest it was the right move.
A remastered CD of her Lullabys for Lovers is now available among the classic Bethlehem jazz albums reissued this year by Verse Music Group and Naxos of America. It is also available in digital and vinyl. Since it was a 10-inch album, there are only eight songs and the total time is a little over 20 minutes. It seems fair to ask, when so many of the albums in the current flood of remastered classics add a fair share of additional material to the original album, why this reissue offers such short shrift. It wouldn’t have been a bad idea if they had gotten both of the Lullaby albums on one disc.
Still, in an age when more and more people (although not necessarily jazz enthusiasts) are buying their music by the song, I suppose it is less necessary to stuff a CD. More than likely, Lullabys of Birdland is on tap for the future.
If Chris Connor never quite had the recognition accorded to an Ella Fitzgerald, a Billie Holiday, or even a Sarah Vaughan, she had a way with a song that was something special. Her readings of lyrics were both sensitive and tasteful. Her style was often seductively intimate. At a time when “cool” was the dominant mode in jazz, Chris Connor’s vocals were the embodiment of “cool.”
Her choice of songs is interesting to say the least. There are the jazz standards, songs like a killer version of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” and the venerable Benny Goodman sign-off, “Goodbye.” She takes these tunes that have been around seemingly forever and makes them new again. She swings her way through the Gershwin’s “How Long Has This Been Going On” and does a bang up job with the jazz favorite “Gone With the Wind.” There is a purity in her smokey vocals that is quite refreshing.
She works with some tunes that may have been popular back in the day, but have not heard too often in recent years. “Cottage For Sale” and “He’s Coming Home” have fairly disappeared from the modern repertoire, but hearing what Chris Connor does with them, you have to wonder why they aren’t played more often.
The Vinnie Burke Quartet, with its somewhat unusual instrumentation—Ronny Odrich (clarinet/flute), Joe Cinderella (guitar), Don Burns (accordion) and Burke (bass)—is supplemented by drummer Art Madigan. It is a laid-back ensemble that keeps the spotlight on the singer.
Lullabys for Lovers is a stylish album. Its only limitation is that there isn’t enough of it.