Monday, May 8, 2017

Julie London in Her Living Room, 1959

After a hiatus of about a year, during which I have been working on my other jazz blog, Jazz Flashes, I return to The Vintage Bandstand with a brief article about Julie... at Home, an album by Julie London that sounds so intimate, among other things, because it was recorded in her own living room!

The first time I ever saw and heard Julie London was in the 1956 movie The Girl Can't Help It, in which she appears as herself and sings her massive hit "Cry Me a River." As much as I liked the early rock'n'roll stars that are also featured in that rather inane film, I must admit that it was London that immediately caught my ear and my eye, to such an extent that I actually had to go out and find as many records by her as I could. And there were plenty of them to be had. From her first one, Julie Is Her Name (1955), many of them have at least a couple of things in common: though she has also recorded with lush string orchestras, London's voice is usually set against a sparse musical background, and the covers take advantage of her very attractive looks. But that is not all—her albums are invariably satisfying musically, and I always find myself playing them over and over again. This concept of intimacy was taken as far as possible on Julie... at Home (1959), not really because of the accompaniment (on earlier albums she was backed by guitar and bass only, and there are more instruments here) but because the album was taped in Julie's own living room. She was, then, truly at home.

Before her appearance in The Girl Can't Help It, London, who was born in 1926 in Santa Rosa, California, had worked in movies as early as the mid-1940s. But after the collapse of her first marriage (to actor Jack Webb) she met and later married singer-songwriter Bobby Troup and began concentrating on her singing career, aided by a recognizable, smoky voice and a very personal, wee-small-hours approach to the vocal art that was at once intimate, jazzy, and sexy. Besides the aforementioned mega-hit "Cry Me a River," London never enjoyed too much success as a singles artist. Her type of singing was better suited to the then-new medium of the LP, and virtually every album she cut in the 1950s and early '60s (Calendar Girl, Julie, About the Blues, London by Night) is a prime example of the jazz-inflected adult-oriented pop of the era.

Guitarist Al Viola

For 1959's Julie... at Home, with its cover picture of London lounging in the comfort of her own home, someone at Liberty came up with the idea of bringing some equipment into her living room and recording the sessions right there. London appears here in a small-group jazz setting, in a quintet that includes Al Viola on guitar, Don Bagley on bass, Emil Richards on vibraphone, and Earl Palmer on drums. It is Viola and Richards that provide most of the brief solos heard throughout, with a couple of appearances by trombonist Bob Flanagan, who, according to the liner notes written by pianist Jimmy Rowles, simply "dropped by to pay a social call." Rowles himself, who was collaborating occasionally with London in this particular period of her career, is responsible for the arrangements, creating a sound that inevitably reminds us of George Shearing. But of course, London is the star here, and she sounds decidedly at ease and relaxed in this company. As one would expect, the set list is comprised of twelve well-known standards and is as heavy on the ballads ("You've Changed," "Goodbye," "Everything Happens to Me") as it is on the more uptempo numbers ("Give Me the Simple Life," "Let There Be Love," "By Myself"). In both cases, however, London's approach is as easy-going as ever; she makes it all sound cool and easy with the help of a combo that blends in perfectly with her idiosyncratic singing. Bearing in mind the album's concept, Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home to" is the right choice as an opener. "The Thrill Is Gone," highlighted by Viola's excellent work on guitar, is simply lovely, and London even prefaces it with the verse. Overall, Julie... at Home is one of London's most memorable outings, yet another example of the singer at her best in an intimate, jazzy atmosphere.