"People do have to grow up, you know," says Chris Connor, by way of explaining why the standards, and the singers of standards, are going through a flush of popularity again. "And I think folks are getting tired of listening to garbage. They want to listen to the lyrics again." The dark-voiced Connor, one of the best interpreters in jazz, appears with her trio this afternoon at the University of Maryland's Center of Adult Education as part of the "Great American Songwriters" series.
Connor lives in Plainview, Long Island, now, but she grew up in the Kansas City, Mo., where she had the opportunity to hear many big bands.
"When I was about 14, my father would take me to this club in town, that used to be my treat. And I used to see all the bands that passed through, Woody Herman, Buddy Rich. And Stan Kenton."
Kenton, and his deep-toned singers June Christy and Anita O'Day, were the ones who really clicked with Connor. And sure enough, in the early '50s, she was sharing a stage and a record label with the big band leader. Their first big hit together, "All About Ronnie," (not the prez), first caught on in the Baltimore-Washington area, by the way.
Connor says she's "still naturally partial to standards," but she does a lot of browsing in record stores in hopes of discovering worthy contemporary material. The singer is meticulous in planning out the repertoire for her shows. "I never wing it," she says. She's got nine or 10 Richard Rodgers goodies lined up for her first set, and has been plotting a panoply of standards for the second. But that's not to say there's no room for spontaneity. "All of a sudden the piano player will do something unexpected," Connor says, "and I still surprise myself."