03 May 2006

Connie Francis, Part Two

Exciting Connie Francis

Connie Francis Rocks The Swing Shift
Jive, Connie, Jive!
by Donny Jacobs
Jazz bubbled up out of the Mississippi Delta at the turn of the 20th century, a syncopated blend of the Blues, Ragtime, Negro Spiritual vocalizing and the sound of marching brass bands. It had much in common with Country music in its early years; heavily improvised, it seldom relied on written arrangements. In fact, many early Jazz performers didn't read music. Pioneering New Orleans musicians like Buddy Bolden, Sidney Bechet, King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton attended the birth of this lively new sound, and touring bands led by Jelly Roll, Freddie Keppard, WC Handy and Fletcher Henderson spread it North and West. By then, it was known as Dixieland.

The first successful Jazz recording appeared in 1917: “Livery Stable Blues” by The Original Dixieland Jazz Band. “The Charleston“, a bouncy number composed by Jazz pianist James P. Johnson, inspired a dance step that was performed to Dixieland accompaniment. It became the biggest craze of the 1920s. The dance and the music took root in Los Angeles, Chicago, Kansas City, New York City; Jazz bands were installed in nightclubs, and live radio broadcasts from those clubs spread the popularity of Dixieland all over America. European audiences also developed a taste for it after imported records and touring Jazz bands reached their shores.

From the late ‘20s to the early 1930s, Jazz bands became progressively larger, partly as a result of needing to project a fuller sound over radio. Partly for the same reason, the brass element of the music become more prominent. The improvisational character of Jazz lessened with each additional horn player; the need to accommodate more instruments made written arrangements necessary. What improvisation remained was limited to instrumental solos, bringing to prominence star soloists like Louis Armstrong and Bix Biederbecke. Paul Whiteman, billed as the “King Of Jazz,” led the first commercially successful big band, and the bold, brassy sound produced by his and similar ensembles soon had a new name: Swing!

America’s Swing craze officially arrived in July 1935 when the music of Benny Goodman’s dance band caused a sensation during a coast-to-coast tour. Goodman was soon crowned “King Of Swing,” and Swing bands fronted by Artie Shaw, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Jimmie Lunceford and The Dorsey Brothers became wildly popular. Featured band vocalists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Doris Day and Frank Sinatra also drew avid followings(so avid, in fact, that the latter two singers were able to parlay their bandstand success into Hollywood movie stardom).

By this time, the Charleston craze was history, and so was the Dixieland sound it popularized, but Big Band Jazz put America in the mood to dance again. People packed into ballrooms like Hollywood’s Palomar, Chicago‘s Aragon, Detroit’s Arcadia and New York City‘s Roseland. Swing music drove dancers crazy! At its most danceable, it was characterized by an insistent four-to-the-bar (sometimes eight-to-the-bar) beat. This made it ideal for Lindy Hopping, the Depression-era step named for celebrity aviator Charles Lindberg.

The best aspect of Swing was that you could dance to it one minute and smooch to it the next! That‘s because two varieties emerged. “Hot” Swing was loud and fast, mostly original Jazz compositions played with as much improvisation as possible. “Sweet” Swing was slow and sentimental, mostly show tunes and popular compositions played with heavy orchestration. (Latin dance music was part of the mix, too, but it didn’t really begin to merge with Jazz until after the Swing era was over.) After the breakout of World War II, the American public increasingly favored Sweet Swing bands like that of Glen Miller. This change in taste anticipated the orchestra Pop sounds of the 1950s.

Also anticipating the future was Frank Sinatra’s phenomenal solo career, launched in 1942 after a high-profile stint with Tommy Dorsey’s band. After the War, a plethora of former band vocalists followed him onto the national Hit Parade, eclipsing the big bands which had first made them famous. Banished from most dance venues by the early ‘50s, Jazz musicians embraced an unstructured, almost totally improvisational music called Bebop. They, along with a growing chorus of music critics, began to question the authenticity of Swing, the Sweet variety in particular. Most turned their backs on it, but Swing didn’t die. It and many of its best musicians took refuge in recording studios.

The Big Band sound continued to be heard on Pop vocal records, as well as on movie and television soundtracks well into the 1970s. Contrary to what's generally accepted as fact, the advent of Rock’n'Roll didn't push Jazz completely out of the public sphere. Neither did Disco (which had much in common with Swing) or the rise of Hip-Hop and Techno music. The periodic success of artists like Harry Connick, Jr, Michael Bublé and Norah Jones reminds us that Jazz is still alive and kickin’ out there somewhere on the periphery.

Connie Francis was a Jazz baby. Her mother went into labor with her while dancing to a Jazz band, she grew up hearing and loving Big Band sounds on the radio, and by her early teens, she was belting jazzy fare like “Wheel Of Fortune” and “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue” as a regular on New York City’s “Startime Kids” TV show. Connie was never one to be intimidated by a brassy arrangement. She wasn't a “modern Jazz” vocalist like Betty Carter or Mel Tormé, though. No Bebop scat singing for her! She considered lyrics far too important to play with. Connie was a swinger(musically speaking), and she took her cues from great Swing vocalists like Rosemary Clooney, Helen Forrest and Kay Starr. However, her all-time idol was a singing star from the Dixieland era: Al Jolson, the original “Jazz Singer.” Echoes of his vocal style, with its dramatic flair and old-fashioned nasality can clearly be heard on many of her Jazz waxings.

Right from the start of her recording career, La Franconero was jazzin‘ things up: Her very first session in 1955 yielded two tasty Swing items, “Didn’t I Love You Enough?“ and “Goody Goodbye.“ Both shipped as singles, albeit as flipsides. While you won’t find a multitude of Jazz sides among her M-G-M 45s, they do exist, and her M-G-M albums are a real treasure trove of them. You simply have to know where to look.

For example, 1958’s Who’s Sorry Now? is regarded as an early Rock’n’Roll album, and basically, it is. However, with musicians like guitarist Tony Mottola and ex-big band arranger Joe Lipman featured, it carries a very strong Jazz sensibility. Three of the album’s selections are straight-up Jazz. “I’m Beginning to See The Light” is a marvelous rendition of the old Duke Ellington number; Connie’s vocal is wickedly impertinent. While she jives downstage, maestro Lipman’s orchestra sneaks up behind her, swingin’ harder than San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds with a bad attitude. Immediately, she switches from Hot to Sweet Swing with a sublime version of Bing Crosby’s 1939 hit “My Melancholy Baby.” Concetta’s sexy voice stretches out and drapes itself lazily over the gorgeous arrangement as if it were a comfy deck chair. A stereo take of this exquisite performance exists, the only surviving evidence of producer Morty Craft’s attempt to cut the first Connie Francis album on multiple tracks. “How Deep Is The Ocean?” tries for more of a Latin Jazz feel. It’s a little too fast for dancing, but Connie’s first recording of an Irving Berlin tune is certainly an aural treat. The music thrashes and churns around her like waves on a storm-tossed sea.

Her first true Jazz album was released the following year. The Exciting Connie Francis devoted one side to Hot Swing and the other to Sweet. The “Hot” side is the most memorable of the two. Highlights include an effective big band treatment of Ray Charles’ R & B smash “Hallelujah, I Love Her So” and a robust cover of “Rockabye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody,” one of Al Jolson’s signature tunes. Using a Sophie Tucker vibrato straight out of vaudeville days, Connie gives this Dixieland classic everything she’s got. This is one of her best-loved Jazz performances; M-G-M executives must have liked it, as they saw fit to showcase it on an early stereo single.

The best selection from the album‘s “Sweet” side is a lovely reading of Frank Sinatra’s “Time After Time.” Sounding impossibly young yet confident beyond her years, La Franconero starts off cool and ends up hot, driving this number home with a powerful Judy Garland-style finale. Her performances on the other ballads are solid enough, yet the songs themselves leave you feeling underwhelmed. All were arranged by Ray Ellis, and while Ellis had no peer when it came to crafting Rock ballads, his work in the Adult-Contemporary genre at times suffered from a monotonous quality. Unfortunately, that’s the case here. The Exciting Connie Francis should’ve generated a lot more excitement than it does. It was early in Connie’s career, though, so there’d be plenty more opportunities to show off her Jazz chops.

In late January of 1960, producers Ray Ellis and Jesse Kaye met Connie for a session at Hollywood’s famed Radio Recorders Studio. The best-known tune to emerge from it was the habanera rocker “Valentino,” which scored as a British hit single. At that same session, Connie dusted off the 1941 Tommy Dorsey favorite “Yes, Indeed” and rechristened it “Connie’s Swingin’ Medley.” This mad Hot swinger, composed by Sy Oliver and originally sung by him in a duet with Jo Stafford, incorporates snatches of Johnny Mercer’s wartime anthem “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive,” the Country oldie “Lonesome Road” and the Gospel standard “Amen.” Connie needed no duet partner; she lights a fire under this specialty number all by herself!

She waxed another great version of her “Swingin’ Medley” in New York City a few months later, and previewed the song with the Mitchell Ayres orchestra on an Armed Forces Radio broadcast. However, plans to release the song (possibly on an EP disc) were shelved, and it would not see the light of day for many years. Her fling with this Jazz classic was heartbreakingly brief, but her musical liaison with the man she hired to arrange it, Richard Wess, would go on a little longer and yield delicious fruit.

Connie Francis - Songs to a Swingin' Band

That October, Connie assembled an A & R team consisting of Richard Wess, Ray Ellis and Arnold Maxin to record what would be her finest Jazz album. Songs To A Swinging Band, cut at New York's Regent Sound Studios, more than fulfilled the promise The Exciting Connie Francis had failed to keep. Wess, who swung the orchestra on Bobby Darin’s immortal recording of “Beyond The Sea,” was the best arranger Connie could possibly have chosen for this project. His combustible charts make standards like “Angel Eyes,” “Taboo” and “You’re Nobody ‘Till Somebody Loves You” crackle with energy. One minute, he’s got the music blazing out of control like a gasoline fire, and the next, he’s got it simmering on a slow burn.

Connie is ready for anything and everything he throws her way; she responds to his mood and tempo changes with a series of customized vocal readings. On a brassy number like “Love Is Where You Find It“, she attacks with the ferocity of a tigress; on a whimsical piece like “Gone With The Wind,” she sounds wide-eyed and winsome; on a piano ballad like “I Got Lost In His Arms” she lays back and purrs like a contented tabby. The aforementioned “Angel Eyes” features her singing all the way behind the beat, playin’ it icy cool while the band swings at a breakneck pace. The technique is amazingly effective, and she reprises it on a reading of Joni James’ 1953 Top Tenner “My Love, My Love.”

Concetta saves her fiercest swingin’ for “Ol’ Man Mose,” a long-forgotten Louis Armstrong oldie that gave bandleader Eddy Duchin one of his biggest hits in 1938. Despite the morbid lyrics, she makes it an expression of pure joy; it would’ve made a sizzler of an M-G-M single. Connie certainly recognized what a hot property this song was, and she got plenty of mileage out of it on stage over the next few months. Her superb version of Al Jolson’s “Swanee” closes the album; it’s a roadrunner of a track that moves so unbelievably fast, La Franconero expresses her disbelief to Richard Wess right on the master tape: “You’ve gotta be kidding, Dick!” she gasps. Dick wasn’t kidding, but Connie’s fans must have been when they failed to send this phenomenal LP up the Billboard album charts. Songs To A Swinging Band is a definitive Swing record, authentic enough to have sent 1930s ballroom dancers into a Lindy-Hopping frenzy.

Connie at The Copa

Connie At The Copa, recorded live at the celebrated nightspot during the Rock'n'Roll Queen’s December 1960 engagement there, is also a Swing record. With Joe Sherman arranging, and Connie’s touring music director Joe Mele leading the Copacabana house band, every song gets a jazzy treatment. That includes Pop/Rock hits like “Many Tears Ago“ and even international items like “Mama”, “Hava Nagilah” and “Shein Vi De Levone!” Connie’s concert version of “Ol’ Man Mose” kicks the set off strong, then segues into a rendition of the 1927 Paul Whiteman smash “It All Depends On You” that pulsates with emotion. Much as she’d done earlier with “Hallelujah, I Love Her So,” Concetta reworks Jesse Stone‘s R & B song “Smack Dab! In The Middle” as a Jazz number, and you’d best believe the woman swings it hard! She’s clearly having a ball as she improvises comic lyrics for the highbrow audience, joking in song about The Metropolitan Opera and its famous impresario, Sir Rudolph Bing.

La Franconero all but channels Al Jolson during her Copa show, and toward the end, she turns it into a full-blown tribute to him. Most of Side Two is taken up by an extended Jolson medley, and the redoubtable Miss Francis wows the crowd with a delectable batch of golden Jolie oldies: “You Made Me Love You,” the aforementioned “Rockabye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody“ and “Swanee”, “My Mammy” and “Toot-Toot-Tootsie, Goodbye.” Her high-spirited delivery of “When The Saints Go Marching In” and “Bill Bailey” at the show’s finale surely convinced any lingering skeptics that her affection for vintage material was genuine. Sure, she may have looked like a Rock’n’Roll singer, but underneath that “American Bandstand” exterior beat the heart of a Red Hot Mama from the Old School! On the night of this live recording and successive nights, she made the Dixieland and Swing eras spring back to glorious life. Her superlative efforts not only made her Copa engagement an unqualified success, it also made Connie At The Copa a best-selling Pop album; in both cases, her triumph was richly-deserved.

There was a long stretch between this 1961 LP and Connie’s next long-playing Jazz release. She spent the early ’60s cutting mostly Country, Rock, Adult-Contemporary Pop and Rhythm and Blues masters, not to mention numerous International sides. Finally in 1964, as she prepared to film her third movie, she cut some new Jazz recordings with producer Danny Davis. All of her movie soundtracks swing to some degree, but none more so than Looking For Love. In this film, Concetta plays Libby Caruso, an aspiring Pop singer(quite a stretch for her).

There are several performance sequences that allow her and her backing musicians (no less than the mighty M-G-M Studio Orchestra) to immerse themselves in syncopated arrangements. They came courtesy of Klaus Ogermann(himself a respected Jazz artist), M-G-M orchestrator Skip Martin, and Connie’s new music director on tour, Joe Mazzu. A handful of Rock‘n Roll sides appear on the soundtrack LP, but they’re overshadowed by the Hot Swing workouts: The wonderful standards “Be My Love” and “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me” and the fabulous originals “This Is My Happiest Moment,” “When The Clock Strikes Midnight” and “Looking For Love.” Connie’s shameless vamping at the climax of the latter tune (big boy, I’m just lookin’ for . . .) is one of the best things she ever put on wax. Once filming was completed, she flew down to Nashville and waxed an ill-conceived march-time version of the movie theme; released on 45, it stubbornly refused to crack Billboard’s Top Forty list. M-G-M Records committed a major gaffe by not releasing the great Jazz version instead.

New Kind Of Connie

A New Kind Of Connie followed Looking For Love onto Billboard’s album charts in the fall of 1964. Where the former album enriched Connie’s Hot Swing catalog, the latter did the same for her Sweet sides. The concept of Connie Francis singing an album of standards was hardly new, but the way she sang them definitely was. After six years of recording and touring internationally, she approaches this material with a maturity and worldliness we’ve never heard before. You can really detect the change in how she phrases melancholy ballads like “Where Did Ev’ryone Go?”, “Where Can I Go Without You?” and “I Found Myself A Guy,” a song written especially for her by noted Tin Pan Alley composer Jimmy McHugh.

Marty Paich's arrangements are mostly Sweet, but the subject matter often isn’t: The bitter putdown of romantic love Concetta conveys in her rendition of “Take It From Me” chills the blood, and on Fanny Brice’s signature song “My Man,” she sings of being beaten up by her lover with excruciating honesty. Fortunately, not all the album’s selections are so fatalistic. “Will You Still Be Mine?” “My Kind Of Guy,” “The Sweetest Sounds” and “Ma! He’s Makin’ Eyes At Me!” present La Franconero senza dolore and intent on creating a lightly swinging mood. Happy or sad, she makes every single number on this album hers for the keeping. A New Kind Of Connie is the favorite LP of many a Connie Francis fan, and for years to come, she would feature selections from it in her Las Vegas lounge act.

1966’s Connie Francis Sings Movie Greats Of The ’60s wouldn’t appear to be a Jazz album at first glance, but there can be no doubt about it once you’ve heard the swingin’ versions of movie classics like “Strangers In The Night,” “Call Me Irresponsible,” “Wives And Lovers,” “The Second Time Around,” “The Good Life” and “You’re Gonna Hear From Me” contained within its grooves. The name Benny Golson in the arranger credits might tip you off ahead of time, but ironically, most of the Swing charts on this LP don’t come from his pen. The late Larry Wilcox (an associate of Burt Bacharach) does the honors the majority of the time, working under the close supervision of Connie and her new A & R man Tom Wilson.

She’d record the majority of her Movie Greats album tracks in Spanish the following year and reissue it under the title Grandes Exitos de los Años 60. It was a resounding success in Spanish-speaking terrories all over the world. “Forget Domani,” a recent hit single, rounds out both versions of the LP; once again, we find Al Jolson haunting Connie's vocal track. This lively theme from a 1965 M-G-M comedy called The Yellow Rolls Royce is one of her few Hot Swing recordings with a pronounced Italian flavor. It should come as no surprise, then, that an Italian-American bandleader, Don Costa, did the arrangement! Before the 1960s are out, Costa will work with her again in a Jazz context.

M-G-M Records’ second live Connie Francis album was captured in a Las Vegas showroom; the venue was the world-famous Sahara Hotel, with backing by the Lou Basil Orchestra. Listening to Connie Francis Live At The Sahara will remind you that the whole is not always the sum of its parts. A compilation of excerpted performances that are poorly sequenced, this LP doesn’t swing anywhere near as hard as its predecessor. It does have its moments, though. The old Jolson spirit rears its head in Connie’s belting delivery of “Once In A Lifetime“ and “One Of Those Songs.” She strips “Who’s Sorry Now?” of all Rock ballad trappings and swings it like it would’ve been swung in the 1940s. Her rousing treatment of Ritchie Valens’s “La Bamba” is appealing enough to transform you into a Latin Jazz fan all by itself. Other standouts include her live medley of “My Heart Reminds Me”/“Yesterday” and her beautiful rendition of the Tony Bennett standard “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.”

However, an awkward Country and Western medley falls on its face, and her Rock-tinged Gospel finale isn’t even strong enough to close an album side, much less a Las Vegas revue. Despite the zany patter she sprinkles between songs, the pace often drags, and the sound mix is surprisingly dull and flat. Worst of all, Connie’s voice occasionally sounds strained; this is probably due to the reported difficulty she had singing in air-conditioned rooms around this time. By the mid-sixties, M-G-M's Rock'n'Roll Queen was a fixture in Vegas, so it made perfect sense for the label to record one of her shows. Live At The Sahara, however, was not the album that should have resulted.

Connie and Clyde

Her last Jazz albums for M-G-M were issued back-to-back in 1968: Connie And Clyde: Hit Songs Of The ‘30s and Connie Francis Sings Bacharach And David. Music historians consider the 1930s a Golden Age of American popular song, and given Connie’s affinity for vintage music, recording an album of Depression-era songs was a natural for her. She called up old friend Don Costa to arrange and co-produce the sessions, and she later declared the record they crafted together her all-time favorite. No doubt, this is what led some of her fans to claim that Connie And Clyde is her best Jazz collection. Not! Nothing comes close to the Swinging Band LP on that score. Besides, Connie And Clyde features some of the least authentic Jazz Connie ever recorded.

Costa’s flashy charts are more suited to a Broadway pit orchestra than a Swing band. They weigh down songs like “Ace In The Hole,” “Just A Gigolo” and “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone”, which cry out for less ostentatious settings. That said, if you regard it simply as a collection of novelty-flavored 1930s songs, this is a great album. Selections like “Button Up Your Overcoat,” “You Oughta Be In Pictures” and a cheeky “Gold Digger’s Medley” fully capture the madcap spirit of entertainment during the last years of Prohibition. “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime,” isn’t Jazz, but it’s essential Connie Francis, one of her most powerful performances on wax. Her honey-sweet Dixieland take on Fats Waller’s classic “Ain’t Misbehavin” is Jazz, and simply unforgettable. You’ll never hear this number sung (or swung) better. Using a very broad definition, you can say that Connie and Clyde is a Swing record. Expect a vigorous argument, though, if you say so in the presence of a Jazz purist!

Early in his career, Connie rejected a song submission from Burt Bacharach, fearing that his material was too sophisticated for her audience. When she finally got around to showcasing his work, she did so by cutting one of the very best Bacharach and David tributes of the '60s. If Connie And Clyde is essentially a Pop album with Jazz seasonings, Connie Francis Sings Bacharach and David is the exact opposite. For this project, Klaus Ogermann and Joe Mazzu backed Connie with a Jazz combo augmented by strings. The effect is low-key and intimate, never overblown.

Kicking off with a great “cool Jazz” intro, her “This Girl’s In Love With You/I Say A Little Prayer” medley is an excellent slice of combo Swing; La Franconero sings it in classic Jazz vocalist style, as if she were part of the horn section. She does the same with “Trains And Boats And Planes,“ where her muted voice resembles soft bossa nova guitar chords. Her performance of Bacharach and David’s immortal peace treatise “What The World Needs Now” is unlike anything she’s ever done before. Connie’s voice takes on an ethereal quality as it soars ever higher into the stratosphere . . . it’s absolutely breathtaking.

Speaking of breath control, she uses hers to skillfully navigate “Promises, Promises,” a tune long acknowledged as one of the most difficult Bacharach melodies to sing. Compared to Dionne Warwick’s hit single, her version sounds slightly hurried; however, her timing is perfect from beginning to end. With an intensely earnest reading, Connie lays claim to another selection from Bacharach and David’s hit Broadway musical: “Wanting Things.” Nearly forty years later, producers still cull this dazzling track for inclusion on Burt Bacharach songbook collections, and it’s not hard to understand why.

The economical backdrops crafted for these tracks and others like “Make It Easy On Yourself”, “The Look Of Love” and a sensational take of “Alfie” allow for full appreciation of Concetta’s impeccable phrasing. Clearly, this gifted woman learned the lessons taught by Sinatra, Stafford and her other musical forebears exceedingly well. Bacharach and David and its follow-up, Connie Francis Sings The Songs Of Les Reed, are the only composer collections La Franconero released on M-G-M Records. What a shame, because if any Pop singer had the qualifications to follow in Ella Fitzgerald’s footsteps as a prime interpreter of the American songbook, it was Connie Francis.

Anyone of a mind to ferret out Jazz tracks concealed in the grooves of Connie Francis’s non-Jazz album releases will find the undertaking quite fruitful. Careful examination of such long-playing discs as Connie Francis Sings All-Time International Hits, Connie Francis Sings More Italian Favorites, Happiness: Connie Francis On Broadway Today, Connie Francis Sings “For Mama“, Never On Sunday, Dance Party, Jealous Heart, Connie Francis Sings Folk Song Favorites, and the soundtracks of Follow The Boys and When The Boys Meet The Girls yields much buried treasure: “Mack The Knife.” “It‘s Not Unusual.” “Hallelujah, Baby!” “Guaglione.” “I Can‘t Reach Your Heart.” “And I Love Him.” “Everything I Have Is Yours.” “Stardust.” “Embraceable You.” “Does Ol‘ Broadway Ever Sleep?” “What Kind Of Fool Am I?” “Moonglow and Picnic Suite.” “Willkommen/Cabaret Medley.” “Every Night.“

Wait . . . is that last one really Jazz? It sort of sounds like Country music, too. And aren’t “And I Love Him” and “It’s Not Unusual” Rock‘n’Roll songs? Don’t be confused by Connie’s tendency to blend genres. She loved nothing better than to stir up a rich musical stew with myriad ingredients. Swing (Hot, Sweet or Latin-flavored) was always one of her favorite spices, and she used it in abundance.

Swingin’ Connie Francis performances are relatively rare in the 45 RPM format, but again, there are more than you might expect. Here’s a baker’s dozen: “I Never Had A Sweetheart,” a Sweet Swing track recorded, ironically enough, for the 1956 movie Rock, Rock, Rock; “Never Before,” a luxurious Sweet swinger hidden on the flipside of Connie’s 1958 smash “My Happiness”; “Plenty Good Lovin,” a Hot swinger often mistaken for a rocker that charted in both England and the United States; a delectable reading of Al Jolson’s “You Made Me Love You,“ recorded in England for an aborted album project but later issued on Connie’s Valentino EP; Johnny Mercer’s terrific “You Know You Don’t Want Me,” issued on the flipside of “Blue Winter”; “Be Anything,” one of Connie‘s finest Sweet Swing records and a 1964 Top Forty hit on Billboard‘s Hot 100; “Can I Rely On You”, arranged by Don Costa; “I’d Let You Break My Heart All Over Again,” arranged by Ernie Freeman; the scarce Armed Forces Radio single “A Nurse In The US Army Corps”; the Dixieland-flavored “Someone Took The Sweetness Out Of Sweetheart;” the uncannily retro flipside “When You Care A Lot For Someone”; "The Welfare Check," razor-sharp political satire that swings New Orleans-style; and the post-M-G-M recording “I Don’t Want To Walk Without You,” another of Connie’s deft fusions of Country music with Jazz.

In addition, several tracks from her Swing albums were issued on 45 as album teasers, among them “Swanee,” “This Is My Happiest Moment,” “Will You Still Be Mine?“, “Once In A Lifetime” and “Am I Blue?” That covers the domestic examples, but it’s worth noting that M-G-M Records issued an unknown number of her Jazz masters on overseas singles, too.

Some excellent, previously unreleased Jazz masters have appeared on Connie Francis CD compilations in recent years. Like "Plenty Good Lovin'", these cuts are also sometimes mislabeled as Rock performances.  Among them are “Love Eyes,” taken from the failed 1958 Broadway musical Whoop-Up; Howard Greenfield and Neil Sedaka‘s “Turn On The Sunshine,” featured in the movie Where The Boys Are but never issued on vinyl; a Latin Jazz version of Perry Como’s wartime smash “Temptation”; an alternate take of “Lullaby Of Broadway” from sessions for Connie Francis Sings Award-Winning Motion Picture Hits, and various takes of “Danke Schön” sung in different languages . . . not forgetting the aforementioned stereo take of “My Melancholy Baby“ and the twin 1960 waxings of “Connie‘s Swingin‘ Medley“.

There are so many high-quality Jazz and Jazz-influenced recordings in Connie’s catalog, an argument can be made that her releases belong on the Verve label. Verve Records is the Universal Music subsidiary that markets the catalogs of Jazz luminaries like Ella Fitzgerald, Wes Montgomery, Cal Tjader and Count Basie. Should Connie Francis be thought of as a Jazz singer, then? Yes . . . sometimes. On the continuum of American music that starts at Folk and stops at Rock‘n’Roll, she can be awfully hard to place! Perhaps the safest thing to do is take a cue from that Jesse Stone number she sang at the Copacabana in 1960. If you just put Concetta “smack dab! In the middle” and leave her free to gravitate toward whatever catches her fancy, pretty soon you won't care about which genre to place her in. To be sure, nothing could please her more!

Glamour Connie

Dedicated to Dr. Lester Earl Blue, Jr.

The Pop Culture Cantina recommends the following media:
Jazz, From Its Origins To the Present by Lewis Porter, Michael Ullman and Edward Hazell (Prentice-Hall Books, 1993); Swing by Scott Yanow (Miller-Freeman Books, 2000) and Jazz, Episode Five: Swing, Pure Pleasure, directed by Ken Burns
(PBS DVD Gold, 2000).


Ken Slavin said...

I absolutely LOVE your analysis of Connie's career and her jazz chops. I have been telling people many of these things for as long as I can remember. I am a jazz/cabaret singer in Texas and I have always paid tribute to Connie in my shows. Thank you so much for this wonderful essay -- so well researched and written. Sincerely, Ken Slavin in San Antonio.


Thanks, Ken. Connie Francis is underrated in so many ways, but especially as a Jazz singer. That's why I felt it was so important to write this essay.