Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Fran Warren - Hey There!

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

One day, when the world was young, I was waiting my turn at the grocery store checkout stand, when I happened to look over to an adjacent rack of long-playing records.

You know the type. Lots of non-descript music on labels like Stardust, Tops and Crown, each costing $1.99.

That’s where I “met” vocalist Fran Warren for the first time.

I knew of her, but I had never heard Fran sing.

To be honest, I bought the album because the music on it was “arranged and conducted by Marty Paich” and I figured anything that Marty was involved in was worth at least a listen. Another "seal of approval" was that saxophonist and bandleader Dave Pell produced it.

Recorded in Hollywood, CA in 1958, the album was entitled Fran Warren Sings and it was issued on the Stardust label and subsequently on Tops records.

Based in Barcelona, Spain, Jordi Pujol bought the rights to many of the small labels that were based in Los Angeles from 1945-65, particularly those specializing in West Coast Jazz, and reissued Fran’s album with Marty Paich on CD as Hey There! Fran Warren [Tops 1585/Fresh Sound Records].

Whatever the title, the music on this recording turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. Fran Warren really had a voice and used it very well.

She sang in a confident manner and her music created an impression on me much like she looks on the cover of the CD reissue in her pretty Capri pants, wearing a backless halter, and standing with one foot on a stool with a far away look in her eyes and a smile on her face.

As a result of this first listening, I followed Fran’s career somewhat and collected her recordings.

Fran was really not a Jazz singer, per se.

She had been the girl singer in Jazz-oriented big bands led by Bill Eckstine, Charlie Barnet and Claude Thornhill and had done record albums with Jazz arrangers such as Marty, Ralph Burns and Al Cohn, but Fran was more of an all-round singer.

She sang popular songs of the day, appeared in musicals in the movies and on Broadway and also was a frequent guest on television variety shows, but she didn’t do Jazz gigs in clubs or in concert halls.

I loved her pure, rich voice and he way with lyrics; she seems to find meaning in the words to pop tunes without making them sound overly-sentimental and schmaltzy.

The first song I ever heard Fran sing was Hey There!, the title tune from that first, bargain LP.

It has remained my favorite, so much so that I’ve used it as the audio track on the video tribute to her that concludes this piece.

Here’ what the original liner notes to FRAN WARREN SINGS had to say about her and Marty.


“Tally 17 outstanding records; including 2 LP albums; 4 starring stage productions; 7 top theater bookings; 12 locations confined to the coun­try's most glamorous night clubs and hotels; 10 spots in network televi­sion shows, 1 motion picture — and you've got just 51 valid items attesting to Fran Warren's exalted show business perch today. But, such statistics constitute only one segment of this sassy lassie's career from The Bronx to Broadway.

Fran had been the mainstay in the vocal departments of three of the nation's great bands during the Forties—the popular Art Mooney Orchestra; Charlie Barnet's great swinging musical organization of the period; and the superlative Claude Thornhill band. During that era when the road to success seemed rutted with unending one-night stands, shabby hotel rooms and the ever-waiting Greyhoundous, little did the pert Miss Warren figure that a scant ten years later her name would be emblazoned across the marquee of the Broadway theater wherein she was leading lady of the smash musical, Pajama Game. It seems only fitting that this album begins with a reprise of the hit tune, Hey There!, from that show.

Yes, it's a long road back to Hoe and Bryant Avenues in the Bronx and the basement clubhouses where Fran and the other neighborhood kids pooled their nickels to buy the latest jazz records. Friday and Saturday nights they would get together for a little dancing, a little necking and a lot of listening to Goodman, Shaw, Barnet, Ellington, Basie — all the musical greats of the time. Thus, it developed that Fran Warren real­ized above all else that she wanted to be a singer.

After quitting high school in her second year because, as she puts it, "I preferred to concentrate on the works of Sidney Bechet and Duke Ellington rather than plane geometry and medieval history" Fran sang with a variety of small bands around the New York area until 1945 when she landed her first big job as vocalist with Art Mooney's band. On joining the group, her voice was basically good but quite raw. She had had no coaching or training of any kind — just plenty of nerve and a natural sense of timing, phasing and good musical taste born of many, many hours of concentrated listening to the finest popular and jazz singers of the day.

Thanks to air-shots three nights a week from the Lincoln and Capitol hotels where the Mooney band played, Fran attracted a good deal of attention from both the listening public and influential persons in the music business. Some months later this paid-off when she received an offer to sing with the Charlie Barnet band. Never an unsure young woman, she grasped the opportunity.

At last Fran was singing with the kind of band she had dreamed of. Moreover, for the first time she was seeing a lot of the country. People liked what she sang and the way she sang. Most important, this job provided her with incalculably sound experience. For despite all the inconvenience of working with a traveling hand — and the erratic life that inevitably attends it — Fran's musical maturation was steady and discernible.

Then, one evening during the Barnet band's engagement at a New York night club, there was a tempestuous flare-up on-stand between Fran and Barnet. The band had just returned from a grueling road trip and nerves were mucho sensitive. The leader had bawled out the singer over some actually trivial matter and when she sang her chorus Fran retorted with words of her own that weren't included in the original song lyrics. Net result was one of those "You're fired/I quit" situations, and so Fran departed the Barnet band.

Within a week, however, Miss Warren had accepted a new berth with the Claude Thornhill Orchestra. This was a more subdued aggregation with accent on colorful arrangements and the leader's quiet piano. Fran's work with Thornhill was of enormous value in terms of prepar­ing her for the demanding vocal roles she was yet to play in the course of her ascending career. Claude saw in her the makings of a great pop­ular singer. He worked hard with Fran, taught her a great deal in voice control and dynamics. Before long she began to emerge as a fine styl­ist in her own right. In the two years she sang with the Thornhill band, La Warren was featured on about 19 recordings, starting with Sunday Kind Of Love, that have become recognized as some of the best popu­lar records — qualitatively speaking — of the past 10 years.

The writing on the wall was clearly defined: The time was ripe for Fran Warren to venture forth as a single. So, bidding an affectionate adios to Claude Thornhill, she began to build a new career for herself. There was much to learn anew. She had to know how to hold an audience for 40 minutes or more and leave 'em begging for an encore — how to choose the right songs and how to present them — arrangements — pacing — poise — dress. Most vital was her acquisition of that rather indefinable quality called "stage presence" that comes to a perfectly finished performer, the sum of justifiable self confidence.

All this took some years to accomplish, but the obvious results were worth the hard work. Today Fran is more than just one of the best pop­ular singers of her age, she is an artist of rare ├ęclat. After 16 weeks with the Danny Kaye Show at New York's Palace Theater, the grea’ comediin paid her high praise well earned. "Musical comedy needed Fran", said Kaye, "just as her own career needed musical comedy to reach the height of her own ambitions.”


The brilliant orchestrations written for Miss Warren in this Tops Records album wera scored by one of the brightest arranging talents of the age. Marty Paich has been active mostly on the West Coast for a number of years. He has written and arranged many compositions played and sung by top performers in the business and is recognized as one of the leaders in the newer experimental school of jazz expression. In addition to the thoroughly rehearsed string section accompanying Miss Warren throughout half this album, Paich chose as members of the smaller group such outstanding Hollywood musicians as multi-instrumentalist, Bob Enevoldsen; trumpeter, Don Fagerquist; bassist, Buddy Clark; and drummer, Mel Lewis. The conductor-arranger is at the piano throughout.”

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