Chris Connor opened at Tiffany Club on Friday, July 8, 1955. Slim Gaillard and his crew were held-over for the sixth time. Down Beat published a profile of Chris that started out on the wrong foot when they printed her last name as “Connors.” Corrected for entry here:
New York—Young, energetic Chris Connor, the former Stan Kenton singer who burst onto the national scene last year via a Down Beat cover story announcing her sudden signing by Kenton, is now building a reputation as a single on the eastern club circuit.
Since February Chris has played Basin Street and Birdland in New York, the Rendezvous in Philadelphia, and the Falcon Lounge in Detroit, as well as such commercial showcases as the Copa in Pittsburgh.
Chris has also signed an exclusive contract with Bethlehem records, and her most recent single, “Ask Me,” has been going particularly well in the Pittsburgh-Cleveland-Detroit area — so well that Capitol covered the song with Margaret Whiting, and Epic dittoed with Helene Dixon. Chris is also about to cut a jazz LP, backed by the Ellis Larkins trio.
Chris has definite ideas about her career and what can best keep her artistically happy and financially swinging. “Peggy Lee is doing what I’d like to some day,” Chris explains. “She’s able to combine a jazz quality and feeling in a song and also make the general public like it. She can sing a commercial song and it doesn’t sound commercial. Peggy is a great artist, not just a singer. To me, there’s a big difference. That’s why I don’t like some of the present popular singers.
Citing a very prominent vocalist as an example, the former Kenton thrush continued: “She interprets each song the same way, according to her ‘style,’ with no attempt to convey the meaning of the song itself. Why, she’d sing the “Beer Barrel Polka” exactly like “Young at Heart.” But the artist adapts to each song. And the artist has to be a performer, too. It’s a hard combination to achieve. After a few more years of trying, maybe I’ll know a little more about how to do it than I do now.”
Chris actually has been concerned with the problems of communication through music since grade school. Born in Kansas City in 1927, she was encouraged early by her father, an amateur violinist.
Chris’ family moved to Jefferson City when she was 13, and the first time Chris sang in public was in the last assembly before graduation at Jefferson City Junior College in 1945. “I had nothing to lose. I did it for kicks and the audience liked it. That did it. I decided to be a singer.”
For the next 1½ years, Chris typed by day and sang four of five nights a week with an 18-piece band based at the University of Missouri in Columbus, 30 miles away from Jefferson City. “It had French horns, and all the Kenton things were in the book. Kenton was always the band for me. I always wanted to sing with him, but never thought I would.”
When the leader of the college band was graduated, Chris went on to Kansas City where she sang for a while with a small group that included the then 19-year-old Bob Brookmeyer. “Bob was playing valve trombone then, too, and he was going to the conservatory. He had offers even at that time from Kenton and Herman, but he wanted to finish his studies.”
In 1949, Chris took off for New York. “I starved, but good, for seven weeks. I heard Claude Thornhill was looking for a vocalist for the Snowflakes group. I auditioned, and got the job. No, I’d had no formal voice training before then or since. Just one lesson, and when they started to tell me how to breathe, that did it. I figured experience was the best teacher far what I wanted to sing.” The experience built into six months with Thornhill, three with Herbie Fields, a period of singling at clubs in New Jersey and New York, and then back with Thornhill for 1½ years of one-niters. “We only had a month’s location in all that time. I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Claude disbanded to rest for nine months himself, and I got an offer from Jerry Wald. After a month, during one of Jerry’s broadcasts from the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans, June Christy heard me on the radio in California. She recommended me to Stan and that’s how I eventually got to sing with Kenton six months later.”
Chris Connor’s two week engagement ended on July 22, 1955. She opened in San Francisco at the Blackhawk on July 26th where she shared the stage with Bob Scobey and his Frisco Jazz Band featuring Clancy Hayes.
Stan Wilson opened at Tiffany Club on July 29, 1955, a Friday. Prior to his arrival in southern California he had enjoyed an extended engagement at San Francisco’s “hungry i” where he shared billing with Mort Sahl in an intimate room at the club that was separate from the music venue that featured the Vince Guaraldi Trio during January of 1955.
Stan Wilson — singer made folk accessible
Joel Selvin, Chronicle Senior Pop Music Critic
Folksinger Stan Wilson, one of the key figures in the ’50s folk boom in San Francisco, died from a stroke at his Berkeley home on Thursday. He was 83.
Mr. Wilson, who recorded more than seven albums in his long career, was the first entertainer to play the famed hungry i when the club opened in 1952. At first, he appeared only on weekends, but soon he was performing six nights a week at the historic North Beach nightspot for more than three years.
Two of his compositions, “Jane, Jane, Jane” and “A Rolling Stone,” were recorded by the Kingston Trio. It’s likely that Mr. Wilson, who was said to have turned down an invitation to join the group, influenced the trio’s repertoire and style.
Mr. Wilson distinguished himself by playing a wide variety of material — calypso, folk, ballads and pop standards. He recorded for the Cavalier, Verve and Fantasy labels and was widely known as a protégé of folksinger Josh White, whose guitar Mr. Wilson carried in a battered, travel-sticker-covered case for the rest of his life.
Chronicle critic Ralph J. Gleason wrote in 1962 that Mr. Wilson, along with White, the Gateway Singers and the Weavers, “helped make the beginnings of the folk music invasion.”
He was inducted into the Bay Area Blues Society’s Hall of Fame in February.
Born in 1922 in Oakland, Mr. Wilson was raised in Berkeley, where he earned letters in football and track at Berkeley High School. He served with the Merchant Marine during World War II.
A political activist long before the era of sit-ins and demonstrations, he was suspended on a “loyalty” charge from his job at the post office in the ’40s for having sung at a Civil Rights Congress meeting.
He spent time in the mid-’60s teaching music on the Navajo Indian reservation in Arizona. Even after he retired from performing, Mr. Wilson taught guitar at Feather River Camp in Oakland and played school assemblies in San Francisco and Oakland.
“He loved kids, and he loved working with them,” said his sister Jerri Lange, the pioneer black broadcast journalist. “He loved teaching them songs from around the world. That was his happiest time, as much as the hungry i.”
He was married twice and had four children: Paul, Wayne, Randy and Deborah. Memorial services will be announced.
KTVU news footage from circa 1966 featuring scenes of American singer and guitarist Stan Wilson (1922-2005) performing part of the song ‘Scarlet Ribbons (for her hair)’ and then being interviewed by reporter Gary E. Park. Wilson talks about his strong emotional connection to ‘Scarlet Ribbons’, remembers his initial excitement upon finding the sheet music for that song, reflects on how his style as a performer has changed over the years and responds to the question: “Is folk music dead?” by stating: “It couldn’t. All it’s done is change it’s form. It’s folk rock now.” He then goes on to explain how it took him a while to appreciate the music of The Beatles, emphasizing that their ‘Yesterday’ (released in the US in September 1965) is a: “Fantastic song.” Opening graphic designed by Carrie Hawks.
Rudy Render joined the bill at Tiffany Club on August 6th and a few days later Helen Humes returned to the club to present an all star program for patrons. Humes had appeared at Tiffany in November of 1951.
Rudy Render was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, and studied piano in college. While at Indiana State University in May 1946 Rudy became a charter member of the Chi Sigma chapter of Omega Psi Phi fraternity. He began playing in clubs in Terre Haute, and was seen there by writer Bill Hays, the son of politician Will H. Hays, deviser of the Hays Code. At Bill Hays’ suggestion, Render moved to Hollywood, California after completing his degree studies, and through agent Berle Adams was immediately offered the chance to record Jessie Mae Robinson’s song “Sneakin’ Around” for London Records. The song rose to number 2 on the Billboard R&B chart in 1949. However, shortly afterwards Render was called up for military service, cutting short his recording career.
After leaving the US Army, he had a small cameo role in the 1953 Joan Crawford film Torch Song, before completing his education to earn a master’s degree at Indiana State Teachers College. He recorded unsuccessfully for small record labels, and in 1959 co-wrote with Charles Lederer the title music for the film It Started with a Kiss, starring Debbie Reynolds, whose brother was a friend. He became Debbie Reynolds’ musical director, working with her on stage shows and the 1964 film The Unsinkable Molly Brown, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award.
Will Friedwald wrote the liner notes for the 1986 Savoy Jazz Lp reissue of Humes classic sessions from the 1940s and 1950s, excerpt reprinted below:
I’ve always thought of the big band era as the “Hellenic Era” of jazz singing: Not to draw any kind of grandiose parallel between the flowering of culture in ancient Greece and Roosevelt’s America, but simply because all of the major dance band vocalists were named Helen. There was Helen Ward, Helen Forrest, Helen O’Connell, Helen Rowland . . . small wonder that Benny Goodman gave up trying to keep track of his canaries and simply called all of them “Pops.” And the most endearing and complete artistically was the zoftig, cherubic and lightly off-color pixie named Helen Humes.
If Humes is less well-known than the other Helens, it has more to do with circumstances than talent. She spent too much time in the shadows of other black female singers, for one thing, replacing Billie Holiday with the Count Basie Orchestra in 1938 and taking over for Lena Home at the Cafe Society in 1941, and though she toured with Jazz at the Philharmonic for five seasons, not only did Norman Granz never record her, but used her only to warm up the chair for Ella Fitzgerald. Furthermore, she refused to be pegged down to any one style, and covered everything from the classic blues of the ’20s to the rhythm and blues of the ’40s, and from the raucous rowdiness of JATP to the smooth sophistication of the New York niteries.
Of course, there is one factor which links each of Humes’ myriad incarnations, namely her always-adroit use of what film director Preston Sturges referred to as “Topic A.” Specifically, Humes was our greatest master of double-entendre. Where these compound meanings got in the way of most blues singers — Bessie Smith, in particular, was only interested in getting one point across — Humes played the double-entendre for everything that it was worth. In reminiscing about her first sessions, made in 1927 when Humes was all of 14, she told Stanley Dance, “Of course, I didn’t know then what the words of the songs (i.e., ‘Do What You Did Last Night’) really meant.” In hearing her sing, you’re at first not sure that she ever did learn, and just when she’s got you absolutely convinced that she thinks the lyrics are as innocent as a Sunday school picnic, she’ll give you a sly wink by lightly inflecting a certain syllable a certain way just to make sure you’ll think twice. She bridges two generations of women’s blues the classic period and R & B (both prevalent, incidentally, in eras when women were part of the workforce) because she could play both the virginal kitten and the lewd minx at the same time.
— Will Friedwald, liner notes for Savoy SJL 1159
The Wilson-Humes-Render triple billing drew to a close on September 3rd when Stan Wilson’s engagement ended. Helen Humes and Rudy Render continued at the club until the 6th. Big Jay McNeeley made his first Los Angeles nightclub appearance at Tiffany, opening on September 9, 1955.
Big Jay McNeely, 91, Dies; R&B’s ‘King of the Honkers’
Big Jay McNeely, whose wailing tenor saxophone and outrageous stage antics helped define the sound and sensibility of early rock ’n’ roll, died on Sunday in Moreno Valley, Calif. He was 91.
Hailed as the King of the Honkers, Mr. McNeely was at the forefront of a group of post-bop saxophonists who, in the late 1940s, abandoned the heady reveries of jazz for the more gutbucket pleasures of rhythm and blues. In the process he played a pivotal role in establishing the saxophone — before the electric guitar supplanted it — as the featured instrument among soloists at the dawn of rock ’n’ roll.
Best known for his acrobatics and daring in performance, Mr. McNeely whipped up crowds by reeling off rapid sequences of screaming notes while lying on his back and kicking his legs in the air. Other times he would jump down off the stage and blow his horn while strutting his way through the audience.
Among his many admirers were Clarence Clemons, the longtime saxophonist in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, and the young Jimi Hendrix, who after seeing him perform in the late 1950s incorporated some of Mr. McNeely’s showstopping moves into his guitar-slinging persona.
Incidentally, given his typically raucous approach, Mr. McNeely’s signature hit was a smoldering ballad, “There Is Something on Your Mind,” a Top 10 R&B hit in 1959 featuring vocals by the doo-wop singer Little Sonny Warner. The song was widely recorded by others, most notably the New Orleans crooner Bobby Marchan, who had a No. 1 R&B single — and Top 40 pop hit — with it in 1960.
Mr. McNeely’s breakthrough record, however, had come a decade earlier: “Deacon’s Hop,” a growling, percussive instrumental released on the Savoy label. Based on Lester Young’s tenor saxophone solo on the Count Basie Orchestra’s 1940 recording “Broadway,” “Deacon’s Hop” spent two weeks at the top of Billboard’s Race Records chart, as it was then called, in 1949.
At times his theatrics prompted white nightclub owners to summon the police to avert what they feared would be rioting by hysterical teenagers. Some of Mr. McNeely’s fellow African-Americans also disapproved of his over-the-top displays, shunning them as uncouth.
“I played with Nat King Cole up in Oakland one time, and I came on powerhouse, the crowd was screaming,” Mr. McNeely told LA Weekly in 2016. “I ran into him later that night at Bop City, an after-hours spot, and he said, ‘You’ll never work with me again.’
“I thought he was joking. He wasn’t.”
The poet Amiri Baraka detected something more disruptive — and culturally more pressing — than mere unruliness in Mr. McNeely’s performances. In his book “Blues People: Negro Music in White America” (1963), he wrote that he heard Mr. McNeely’s blaring riffs as a “black scream,” an expression of individuality and protest in the face of racial oppression.
Cecil James McNeely was born on April 29, 1927, the youngest of three boys, in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. His father, Dillard, was a porter on a floating casino moored off the Santa Monica coast. His mother, Armonia, a Native American, made Indian blankets and quilts that his father sold to supplement the family’s income. Both parents played the piano; Mr. McNeely’s brothers, Dillard Jr. and Robert, also played musical instruments.
Mr. McNeely started playing in bands in high school, including a trio with the alto saxophonist Sonny Criss and the pianist Hampton Hawes, both of whom would distinguish themselves as jazz musicians.
In the clubs of Los Angeles, Mr. McNeely heard and met bebop luminaries like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, who in the late 1940s appeared often on the West Coast. But his biggest early influence was the tenor saxophonist Illinois Jacquet, particularly his honking 64-bar solo on the vibraphonist Lionel Hampton’s popular 1942 recording of “Flying Home.”
“Every time we picked up our horns we were just elaborating on that, trying to make it bigger, wilder, give it more swing, more kick,” Mr. McNeely explained, referring to Jacquet’s solo, in the biography “Nervous Man Nervous: Big Jay McNeely and the Rise of the Honking Tenor Sax!” (1994), by Jim Dawson. “If you want to know where rhythm and blues began, that’s it, brother.”
After Mr. McNeely’s unhinged appearance in an amateur night at a club in Watts, Johnny Otis, the renowned bandleader and talent scout, persuaded him to join his ensemble.
Mr. Otis was then under contract to Savoy Records, whose owner, Herman Lubinsky, christened Mr. McNeely “Big Jay,” not because of his size — he was 5-foot-10 and of average build — but because of his outsize talent.
Mr. Lubinsky also began recording Mr. McNeely under his own name, billing him as Big Jay and His Blue Jays and releasing, along with seven other singles, the career-defining “Deacon’s Hop.” (The saxophone he played on “Deacon’s Hop” is now enshrined at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle.)
Mr. McNeely recorded for a number of labels and toured widely, including performances at Birdland and the Apollo Theater in New York, before retiring from the music business in the early 1960s. He took a job as a postal carrier.
— Bill Friskics-Warren, New York Times, September 17, 2018
When Big Jay McNeeley closed on October 1, 1955, the club shut down for several weeks for renovations. The trademark wall murals with piano keyboards, records, musical instruments, and music staff emblems were painted over.
Shelly Manne at Newly Redecorated Tiffany Club
Jack Tucker’s Tiffany Club, Eighth and Normandy, is opening this Friday, October 28, after a redecorating session including new carpeting, with a new policy of presenting modern jazz and modern art. The jewel of West Coast jazz bistros, the Tiffany will present foremost Contemporary drummer, Shelly Mamie and his Men, nightly, with no door charge or cover, and a new low in prices for drinks.
Included In the fine quintet of top modern recording artists are Russ Freeman, piano. Bill Holman, tenor sax whose Kenton arrangements are famous, trumpet and valve trombonist Stu Williamson, and bassist Leroy Vinnegar. Shelly Manne’s theme, “A Gem from Tiffany,” was composed by Bill Holman who held the tenor chair during the extended engagement of Shelly Manne and His Men at Tiffany. When Shelly recorded the tune for his Contemporary album, Swinging Sounds, Shelly Manne and His Men, Vol. 4, Charlie Mariano had replaced Holman as the saxophone anchor for the group.
An exhibit of modern art by foremost young West Coast modern artists is on display at the Tiffany through arrangement with William Claxton. Claxton was responsible for the West Coast Artist series of LP covers that debuted on Pacific Jazz album covers around this time. Dick Bock’s wife at this time knew some of the artists who were commissioned to create paintings to be featured on the LP covers. It is possible that paintings by some of the artists noted above were featured on the walls of the Tiffany Club when it reopened.
William Claxton’s association with the emerging West Coast art movement escalated as his professional interests expanded to include the overlapping fashion scene where he met his future wife, Peggy Moffitt. Claxton’s photography works in this sphere was featured at an exhibition at the Craig Krull Gallery in 1996. The artist stretched out on the motorcycle in front of the Ferus Gallery is John Altoon who executed several LP covers for Pacific Jazz, photo © William Claxton. The Craig Krull Gallery catalogue pictured at left above shows artists Ed Kienholz and Wallace Berman along with John Altoon’s dog, Man.
There’s nothing extreme, nothing too unorthodox about the latest Shelly Manne and His Men group; they’re simply five young men who have something to say — jazzwise — everytime they make it to the stand.
They get it across, this jazz message, in short order.
Signed only recently by aggressive, momentum-gaining Contemporary Records, this latest of the Manne outfits even sounds wonderful in their opening night workouts at the Tiffany in Los Angeles on October 28; Wednesday of last week, the newness of working together had ceased to be a liability and it’s safe to estimate that their stay at the 8th and Normandie bistro will be marked by enthusiasm all around — by Manne and his Men, by customers and by Tiffany boss Jack Tucker.
The outfit features Stu Williamson on trumpet and Bill Holman on tenor, Russ Freeman at the piano, LeRoy Vinnegar on bass and Shelly — as dedicated as a musician can be — on the drums.
It’s a new group — the latest in a long line of groups that have bourne the name of Shelly Manne and His Men.
“Everyone in this outfit likes to swing,” Shelly jerks his heads in the direction of the deserted bandstand durinfg a break at the Tiffany this week. “We know when we’re on — and so does the crowd.”
The chief selling point, as it always has been with Shelly’s groups, is the almost studied informality.
“Let’s try . . . ” Manne starts to suggest a number.
“Heck with that one,” Freeman interrupts.
“Yeah man,” Vinnegar agrees, “let’s play something we know.”
Whereupon Manne will kick off something, call the title and let the Men catch up where they can.
Shelly’s rise hasn’t been meteoric; he’s fought his way up with crowd appeal and consistent work of superlative quality. After he split from the Coast Guard at the end of WW II, he worked out in 52nd St. bistros in New York for a period, caught on with Stan Kenton’s band, did stints with Charlie Ventura, worked up a group with tram great Bill Harris and even rode the Jazz at the Philharmonic train for a year.
Wed for 12 years to ex-Radio City Rockette Florence (Flip) Butterfield, the Mannes spend spare time training show horses at their Northridge “farm.” They’ve had champs, too. Like “Rose O’Dae,” a mare that took it all a couplee of times. Shelly’s predicting the same for his five-gaited gelding “Strutting Sam.”
He keeps his hand in as a contestant for the title of busiest musician in town by doing motion picture work, tee-vee commercials, and radio things. He’s currently coaching Frank Sinatra, who plays a narcotics-using drummer in United Artsts forthcoming Man With a Golden Arm. He calls Frankie “a great guy — you’d think he’d been blowing drums all his life.”
Best night to check up on Shelly is Wednesday when the Men are at their “informalest.” In case trek to LA is too much for the readership, Shelly and the group will move into Caltech’s Culburtson Hall at 11:00 a.m., Thursday, for a one hour session.
— George Laine, Pasadena Independent, November 6, 1955
Even the most rabid promoters of the West Coast versus East Coast argument in today’s jazz agree that there are a certain few musicians whose ability sets them above the geographical discussions. Certainly one of these musicians, if not the one, is Shelly Manne, admired and held in high esteem by both Locals 47 and 802, critics of Metronome and the San Francisco Chronicle, and fans from the San Fernando Valley to Brooklyn. Shelly’s position in the jazz world is due to many things. He can sit in any rhythm section, from a trio to the biggest band and make it swing; he is an experimenter and innovator of the highest order; he can, when the occasion calls for it, subdue himself to fit any style of soloist; and he is a solo drummer of exceptional skill and taste. Probably his greatest attribute is his insatiable musical curiosity. The percussion section has long been the most neglected part of the orchestra, since the average drummer is limited by the comparatively small number of noise-making instruments which make up a jazz drum set. However, Shelly has never been daunted by this fact. Using sticks, mallets, fingers, hands, whatever other implements are at hand, and large doses of imagination, he has enriched the percussive gamut with new and distinctive sounds.
His sense of time seems to be built in. On recording sessions, two takes taped hours apart will come out to the split second. His reading skill is remarkable. I have seen him at motion picture recordings, modern chamber music sessions, jazz dates and experimental get-togethers. He will look at his part, grimace, say “I’ll never make it”, and then breeze through it first time around, usually turning other present percussion players a lovely green shade of envy. In a lesser personality, all these skills could add up to a highly proficient but dull and mechanical player; but in Shelly’s case, his humor, good taste, and always vital interest in the music shines through, inspired and inspiring. And of course, possibly most important of all, he swings like a demon. This is apparent from bar one of this album, in which Shelly is joined by his own group, all summa cum laude graduates of the wailing school: Charlie Mariano, Stu Williamson, Russ Freeman, and Leroy Vinnegar.
— Andre Previn, liner notes to Swing Sounds, Contemporary C3516
Shelly Manne and His Men continued to draw a packed house at Tiffany Club throughout November. Dinah Washington returned to the club the second week of December for a brief engagement before Christmas. Ms. Washington was leading an active touring career. She had appeared at the Blackhawk in San Francisco with Slim Gaillard earlier in the fall.
The series of ads on the right give a portrait of the jazz scene in Los Angeles at the close of 1955. Times were changing, and some clubs could not wither the changes. The hardest hit were smaller clubs like The Haig. John Bennett sold the club to new owners in 1956. They tried to make it profitable but finally called it quits in April of 1957. Larger clubs like Jazz City and Peacock Lane across the street continued to book larger ensembles like the reduced Woody Herman Herd and Charlie Barnet’s orchestra with Buddy Childers.
Zardi’s Jazzland had expanded in 1955 when they added “jazzland” to the title of the club. The larger stage and additional seating allowed them to bring in larger groups like the Stan Kenton Orchestra. Dave Pell’s Octet was one of the first combos to play the expanded club in 1955.
The Melody Room was a recent addition to the club scene and their policy of booking multiple groups was key to their success in 1955. The current rooster in December of 1955 featured the Slim Gaillard Trio, the Red Norvo Trio, the Dave Pell Octet, and the Chico Hamilton Quintet.