All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Book Reviews

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

7

Go Slow: The Life of Julie London

Richard  J Salvucci By

Sign in to view read count
Go Slow. The Life of Julie London
Michael Owen
296 Pages
ISBN: 9781613738573
Chicago Review Press
2017

"Vinyl Viagra"

"Mainly I'm a lyric reader."

"Mickey Mouse...she can even make that sexy."

"I'm not a singer.

If all her movie footage over the years were put together, "there still wouldn't be enough to add up to one presentable part."

Will the real Julie London, as they used to intone on the TV quiz show "To Tell The Truth," please stand up?

Writing a biography of Julie London (1926-2000) couldn't have been easy. Michael Owen has done a superior job of research, assembling the story of a very private woman who was ultimately a footnote to pop culture in the 1950s and 1960s in the United States. Sadly, it seems, she could have been considerably more if she had wanted it.

That something more would have been as a pretty capable jazz singer, not just a lounge act, if not a particularly distinguished actress, but London, celebrated for her beauty, never got there. "You gotta have the ego for it," she admitted. "And I never did." Her own psychological and physical frailties kept her from becoming a major star, but that didn't bother her too much. To the contrary, a life of domesticity with a secure income was what she wanted, but her origins were very modest, so she either had to marry well or work a lot. As it happened, she did both, albeit at different stages of her life.

Born Gayle Peck, London was an early bloomer. At the age of fifteen, she caught the eye of an agent, of a photographer for Esquire, of a B-movie producer, and of an ambitious GI named Jack Webb, who was smitten by her pinup. She married Webb of "Dragnet" fame in 1947, but the marriage had failed by 1953, and was really over long before that. By then, she had had a role in one decent film, "The Red House," under her belt: her divorce from Webb left her with psychological scars, a substantial monetary settlement, a reputation as a gold-digger, and a career that was going nowhere.

Nowhere, that is, until she met Bobby Troup in 1954. Troup, taken with both her beauty and her uncomplicated vocal stylings, encouraged her singing, helped her assemble a band (that included Barney Kessel) and had her record an album for Liberty Records that included "Cry Me a River," which topped out at number eighteen on the Billboard Top 100 in late 1955. Ms. London, was, in spite of herself, a singing star.

There were two distinguishing aspects to London's subsequent career: her vocal limitations and her fabulous appearance. She was, as they say, drop-dead gorgeous, with a face and figure to match. Her impact on men, even otherwise rational ones like jazz critic Ralph Gleason, was astonishing. As she began to record for Liberty, her album covers became successively more provocative and her identity as "sex in a bottle" even more firmly established.

Arguably, what her audience—especially male—saw in her mattered a lot more than what it heard. What it heard was not a virtuoso performer, but a stylist with a small sound and a limited range. Crowding the microphone, her voice, breathy, low, and sensual, projected outright sexual allure that framed her image. London was earthy, but she wasn't dirty: a fantasy, really, accompanied by small groups of outstanding players (Jimmy Rowles, Emil Richards, John Gray, Dennis Budimir, Al Viola, Joe Burnett, Don Bagley and others) who gave her sympathetic harmonic support. At the same time, they never overwhelmed her sound: in front of a big band, London tended to disappear. In a small group setting, her phrasing, breathiness, effortless swing, good ear and laid-back time just worked. Audiences (and musicians) loved her. Her early albums on Liberty sold well. Just listen to Julie at Home, recorded at her beautiful home in Encino with Rowles, Viola, Richards, and Bob Flanigan of the The Four Freshmen. The cover photo, significantly, is of the girl next door. Her voice, still fresh and light and not yet coarsened by years of heavy cigarette smoking, conveyed what author Owen calls "swinging sensuality," a good example of what London could do when relaxed and happy. To all appearances, she was neither relaxed nor happy very often.

Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

Book Reviews
CD/LP/Track Review
Read more articles
 

I'll Cry Tomorrow And...

Groovy Dina Productions
2012

buy
 

Eight Classic Albums

Groovy Dina Productions
2011

buy
 

Julie Is Her Name...

Groovy Dina Productions
2009

buy
 

Julie Is Her Name &...

Groovy Dina Productions
2007

buy
 

The End Of The World...

Groovy Dina Productions
2007

buy
 

The End Of The World...

Groovy Dina Productions
2007

buy

Related Articles

Read What's Big and Purple and Lives in the Ocean?: The Moby Grape Story Book Reviews
What's Big and Purple and Lives in the Ocean?: The...
by Doug Collette
Published: September 9, 2018
Read Jorma Kaukonen: Been So Long - My Life & Music Book Reviews
Jorma Kaukonen: Been So Long - My Life & Music
by Doug Collette
Published: August 25, 2018
Read Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon Book Reviews
Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon
by R.J. DeLuke
Published: August 21, 2018
Read Blues From the Bayou: The Rhythms of Baton Rouge by Julian C. Piper Book Reviews
Blues From the Bayou: The Rhythms of Baton Rouge by Julian...
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: August 20, 2018
Read Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans, 3rd Edition Book Reviews
Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans, 3rd Edition
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: August 18, 2018
Read The Other Night at Quinn's Book Reviews
The Other Night at Quinn's
by David A. Orthmann
Published: August 17, 2018