Jazz Vocalist/Audiophile Fave Lyn Stanley Pays Tribute to Julie London on “London Calling – A Toast to Julie London” (ALBUM REVIEW)


Self-made and DIY jazz vocalist Lyn Stanley has achieved enough success now through five best-selling albums to have some fun and for the first time pay tribute to another artist. As Stanley says in her notes, “I chose to honor, not mimic, jazz stylist Julie London, as many have noted our similar styles. Julie had a penchant for a relaxed, simple delivery, was not a fan of scatting, and embraced song lyrics more than notes. I appreciate that.”  On London Calling – A Toast to Julie London, Stanley and her small combo created flexible arrangements for the songs and made changes to them during the live tracking of the album. Stanley was so pleased with the success of this live approach that she wants to continue it in future projects.

We’ll touch a bit on Stanley’s remarkable story toward the end of this piece as our readers may not be all that familiar with her. For now, though let’s provide a bit of insight on Julie London, courtesy of the detailed liner notes of jazz historian Scott Yanow.  Julie London (1926-2000) was unique in that she began as an actress in mostly B level movies and eventually starred in a successful television show in the ‘80s called Emergency! She did not start singing professionally until she was 29 and her trademark song became “Cry Me a River.” Surprisingly, London recorded 31 albums in 14 years, albums that were prizes both for their sensuous album jackets and sultry singing. As Stanley comments, “She didn’t think of herself as a singer but as an actor, she knew how to use her beauty, and she had her own jazz style which I don’t think has been truly appreciated.”  In another message to this writer directly, you can tell Lyn is having some fun, “Well…the 11 x 11 vinyl booklet is really the hook on this packaging. It’s taking you back to the old days of vinyl, which was my attempt….I took Julie London’s lead when she said, “I don’t care why they buy my albums – for the pictures or for the music–just so they buy my albums.” She was practical in my book and capitalized on her ‘assets.’”

Stanley is an ardent crusader for keeping the American Songbook alive. Again she gathers top-notch musicians including brilliant and oft-featured guitarist John Chiodini (Peggy Lee), versatile pianists Mike Garson and Christian Jacob, the legendary bassist Chuck Berghofer (his bass is over 300 years old and he was also Julie London’s bassist), with Mike Valerio also on bass. Paul Kribich is on drums for most of the selections with Aaron Serfaty on four of them. Percussionists Luis Conte and Brad Dutz  add to the Latin feel which graces many tracks. Chiodini, Garson, Jacob, Berghofer and Conte worked with her on her previous Moonlight Sessions Project Vol.1 and Vol. 2.

There are detailed notes on each track from Yanow.  We’ll highlight a few. Understand first that London, in comparison to Stanley, had a somewhat limited vocal range and the songs were chosen mostly to fit that range. The opener “Goody Goody” was originally recorded with just a guitar and bass but Stanley gives it a slightly faster tempo with a sextet backing.  Stanley as at her sultriest on “Call Me Irresponsible,” using a unique intro conceived by Chiodini and Dutz. The standard “Bye Bye Blackbird” was famously done by London as a duet with her bassist on a television special and later with a big band. Stanley picks up on the duet version, providing plenty of space for Berghofer’s bass.

Among the surprising numbers here is “Heard It Through the Grapevine,”(listed as Bonus track) which is familiar to most from its rhythm and chorus. Lyn put the focus on the lyrics which are about betrayal and deceit, hearing the news from a third party. Her backing quartet gives it a special kind of rhythm, mostly via Aaron Serfaty’s percussion.  Stanley transforms Irvin Berlin’s oft-melancholy “How About Me” into an upbeat swing piece with strong contributions from Garson and Chiodini. The requisite “Cry Me a River” was recorded by Stanley on her Potions album so she gives it a different feel with backing from just Chiodini and Berghofer – “I didn’t want to sound mad about the situation, as most singers do, rather, just resigned to how things turned out.”

Including the bonus selections and the two versions of “Summertime” there are 17 tracks in all. Let’s mention just a few more. “Blue Moon” is like London’s version, albeit with a backing sextet instead of just guitar and bass.  Chiodini’s guitar work is outstanding in setting a killer groove for Stanley’s sensuous vocal. “Light My Fire” appeared on one of London’s last albums. Stanley envisions her version as an “early Clint Eastwood movie set in the desert with a sizzling Flamenco dancer in the background.” Chiodini provides the Spanish guitar and Serfaty the Latin percussion.

The epitome of London’s vibe, honored by Stanley, is the medley “Go Slow/Nice Girls Don’t Stay For Breakfast.” This is the essence of rendering downright sensual material done originally with an orchestra by London, in a classy way. It was Stanley’s idea to combine the two into a medley to form a private romantic evening. She uses a Latin backdrop for “Go Slow” and uses an upbeat tempo, powered by Valerio’s bass on “Nice Girls Don’t Stay For Breakfast.”

We promised a brief on Stanley. She has the kind of self-made story that makes us admire her even before we hear her sultry, refined, signature delivery. Seven years ago, Stanley was a retired marketing executive wondering if she had enough musical talent for her church choir. Now, into her third career, and with this now her sixth recording, she has impressed audiophile experts, noted producers, and top-shelf musicians. To say that Stanley has determination is a vast understatement. She rose to top executive levels in marketing, is a cancer survivor, and became a world-class ballroom dancing champion just five years after sustaining serious head and leg injuries in an automobile accident.

So, how did her music career begin?  In 2010 Stanley retired from both marketing and dancing. After attending church one day, her mother suggested she join the choir.  Not long after that, as fate would have it, Stanley attended a fund-raising event where noted pianist Paul Smith just floored her. She later learned that Smith was Ella Fitzgerald’s longtime conductor and arranger, and had backed such stars as Bing Crosby, Mel Torme, Sarah Vaughan, and Bennie Goodman, to name a few. She approached Smith after the event, confiding to him about her church ambitions. Next, she scheduled a vocal coaching lesson with Smith’s wife, Annette Warren, that eventually led to intensive lessons four days a week.  In February 2013, Smith, who is famously selective, invited Stanley to sit in on seven songs with his band. She taped the sessions and was later selected among twenty-seven finalists who trained with top-notch professionals at Yale University. Smith accompanied Stanley at the culmination of the program. Then she began to make records, without a record deal, manager, or benefactor. After these self-financed projects (Lost in Romance, Potions, Interludes) she evolved to the point where she now produces and masters too. Stanley is the epitome of “no retreat no surrender.”

She entered one of the most competitive markets there is in music, today’s female vocalist market.  Inevitably, she will be compared to Diana Krall, especially since she is mining much of the same turf, the Great American Songbook.  Yet, Stanley’s gone from an unknown to now selling almost 40,000 albums worldwide since her first release. Despite the rampant ageism in the entertainment industry, Stanley, now into her sixties, continues to make her mark with this engaging tribute to Julie London.  Perhaps this project will encourage you to seek out music from both vocalists.

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