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JERI SOUTHERN,CHICAGO,JAZZ,OAK STREET,VICTOR YOUNG,DECCA RECORDS

-    Jeri Southern   -   American Entertainer  :      Omaha - Chicago - Decca          


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JERI SOUTHERN : OMAHA TO DECCA

Miss Genevieve Lillian Hering - Aged 18 - on her Graduation Day in 1943.


Making Music

Teenage Singing lessons
At Omaha's Notre Dame Academy , Genevieve Hering - the future " Jeri Southern " received singing lessons . Her then natural voice was
lyric soprano ,being very close to coloratura . Unfortunately one particular nun tutor , " didn't know a whole lot about what to do with a
teenager's voice "
and asked too much of the still developing and fragile young voice . Consequently , Jeri's voice became so strained
and uncontrolled that she could not , " reach a middle C without it splitting into a million pieces " .

Became A Hotel Blackstone Pianist
In 1943 after her graduation from the Academy , Genevieve Hering was offered an initial engagement of six weeks engagement at Omaha's
Hotel Blackstone . Her hiring was certainly earned by her ability as a pianist - though it is quite likely that her pleasing looks and personality
would also have influenced the hotel management . She was to perform there , though not exclusively , during the next four years .

Sometime after her graduation from high school she began to appreciate jazz and jazz singers . Notwithstanding that however , it was during
or a little after her first year as a performer at the Blackstone that she formed a classically inclined instumental trio in which she would
occasionally sing vocals. According to Jeri herself , about a year after finishing high school she was taking vocal lessons in order to
develop and to fix up her straining classical singing voice . The lessons were beneficial , they helped her develop both a
" a better sound and a better voice "
.

Her Two Months-Long Change To Pop .
Even though classical music was Miss.Hering's personal preference , with the United States at war she got work with a navy recruitment
show in which it was necesary for her to perform popular music . It is not known whether she turned to pop music right then in order to meet
the particular needs of that touring company or whether her decision was an expedience to make herself generally more employable but
she urgently sought to learn techniques of pop singing .In the early 1950s she explained in an interview reported by Bill Cross of Metronome
music magazine in December 1956 , that [ Q1 ] " I tried, then ,to sing it in my speaking voice. ... It was pretty bad because I had no vibrato .
But I kept practicing my low voice and in about two months , I sang well enough not to sound ridiculous. I had trouble with placing the
various tones. It was like manufacturing an entirely new voice."


Ralph J. Gleason ( b.1917 - d.1975 ) in an article for the San Francisco Chronicle ( 1950s) quoted the following words by Miss.Southern concerning her odoption of a pop style voice :[ Q2 ] " ... I started to sing in my speaking voice. At first it was rugged. I had a slow vibrato. But now, of course, it's a natural thing. Still, it's a phony voice, not my own singing voice at all."

Near the end of he life she explained again how she made the change to pop singing - saying : [ Q3 ] " Then when I started singing pop stuff I had to do the whole thing over, because I couldn' t use my soprano voice to sing the The Man I Love ; I guess I could have but nobody would have cared , so I just developed the singing voice out of my speaking voice and I just worked like mad for tongue placement and the right tambre and the right vibrato and all of that - I did that myself. So I was really singing incorrectly after that - because I was singing before from the diaphram and getting it into the mask and all that stuff and I couldn' t utilize those things when I started to to sing pop or jazz - whatever - they called it both ." ( The Jeri Southern [ Q3 ]quotes are from a 1990 edition of the WNYC New York radio program " Spinning On Air " , presented by the producer,presenter and interviewer David Garland.)

In Royal , Nebraska , a particular parochial opinion has been that it was her first agent who persuaded Jeri to perform as a pop singer - simply in order to gain himself more money . If so the advice was absolutely sensible and nothing to despise him for , even recognising any self interest. For , with wartime , American life was changing and bringing more opporunities for youthful entertainers such as Jeri . Her singing voice and piano playing must have impressed the auditioners - while her young woman's looks - stunning enough to attract the young men who would be potential navy recruits - would have been further reason
for them to have her in their navy show !

It was during that time that she met her husband to be,Bob King . Its remembered that he was appreciative of the money that Jeri's singing could earn but not its quality and disliked her doing so .One night he hissed to her , " get off the stage you can't sing ".

The postwar sprawl of Omaha : beyond the Missouri River lies Iowa.

ON TO CHICAGO

After the war and with her then husband,as many other aspiring performers before and since,Jeri went to Chicago.That city was a hive of jazz and blues and popular music and a place of opportunity.Her initial professional conversion to jazz from classical music came from the influence of a jazz pianist named Bobby Stevenson. " I knew that I had to learn about it," she once recalled.
Edson Newquist , now of Arkansas USA , e-mailed : " It was about 1949 (- probably 1948 -) when Jeri and I first met.I was fresh out of college.She was fresh out of Omaha and struggling to make a living from her music.We were in our early twenties.She was playing in a dark little bar on Chicago's Oak Street. She made my ears prick up when,thinking no one in the mostly empty bar was listening,she changed from pop tunes and played Debussy's ," Clair de Lune " and " La Plus Que lente " .I was a half-assed musician myself and had worked on that music , so I knew what it was.After that I really listened and found that in addition to her excellent piano playing the girl could really sing.Back then she was not very knowledgeable of the more sophisticated song-writers like Alec Wilder or even Richard Rodgers. In Chicago,when she was on her way up to success,I often went to the High-Note where she was a frequent headliner.I was in New York when she was at her peak and I would go to see her at Birdland. We formed a strong bond around our shared interest in music, a bond that lasted for almost forty years until her death in 1991.It was a friendship conducted,as she once put it,mostly "between sets".I always went to see her when she had a gig within my travelling range."
In 1948 Jeri was struggling as a club intermission performer. Her prospects brightened when in 1949 she was discovered by Dave Garroway , soon being booked for engagements in her own right into clubs like Chicago's Hi-Note. There she was to work with some famous jazz names of the day,including Anita O’Day, Freddy Martin, Carman McCrae, and Edie Adams. As Jeri gained a reputation many clubs became anxious to hire her.
Issue Vol. 17 - No. 3 of " Down Beat " ( a Chicago music newspaper ) dated February 10th , 1950 contained an article written by B.J.Broyles that by its headline hailed " intermission soloist " Jeri Southern as a new star . Mr.Broyles reported that Hi-Note patrons' curiosity had been aroused by a girl posessing " a rich , vibrant voice " and a " lovely defiant face that " could be seen above the piano keyboard " .
According to Mr.Broyles article Jeri had " started sing about a year ago " - in late 1948 . She'd been in Chicago " playing in various neighbourhood spots " but had hardly been heard or appreciated " until her booking by the Hi-Note club . Though " a musician's musician " she also posessed an ability " to hold the attention of any audience " , in itself " a remarkable feat for an intermission soloist .
" The following " torch songs " from Jeri's repertoire are named in Mr.Broyles article . " After You " , " You'd Better Go Now " , " We ' ll Be Together Again " , " Detour Ahead " , " Who Can I Turn To ? " and " What ' s My Name ." Later in 1950 Jeri was appearing regularly on television,having a nightly half hour spot on Chicago’s CBS outlet, the Marty Hogan Show . Decca Records then signed her and issued her first recordings. They included “You Better Go Now”(1951) a song which she received personally from fellow jazz pioneer Billie Holliday.
Her other U.S. Top 30 hit was “Joey” in 1954. Her original recording of “When I Fall In Love” had already introduced Jeri Southern in Britain,where in 1957 her record of “Fire Down Below” - reached number twenty-two : it was a theme she had recorded for the film of the same title and which starred Rita Hayworth, Jack Lemmon & Robert Mitchum.Her first album was made with the Dave Barbour Trio.Barbour was Peggy Lee's husband.During that time Jeri made some life long friends, including Frankie Laine,and the already mentioned Edie Adams,Carmen McRae and Peggy Lee.


Jeri Southern's "When I Fall in Love" : the U.S 45 r. p. m issue.

In 1952 Jeri divorced her first husband Bob King. Jeri had a desire to write music and had met a new man ,the song writer and disc-jockey
Ray Hutchinson.With changed circumstances Jeri's daughter went to the care of her grandparents Roy and Agnes Hering in Royal and Jeri and Hutchinson moved from Chicago to California,where they lived for about four years.
In 1954 , following the suggestion of friend Dave Barbour , Harold Jovien became Jeri's manager . Then began four years of intense recording creativity with Decca , years which brought about the albums " Warm " - 1954 , " Southern Style " - 1955 , " You Better Go Now " - 1956 , " When Your Heart's On Fire " - 1956 , " Jeri Southern Gently Jumps " - 1957 and lastly , in 1958 , " Prelude To A Kiss " .
Readers' Please Note : - contemporary information regarding Jeri Southern's early musical career is scant . Consequently very little of substance or originality can be written about it here . However , the sleeve-notes to the original 1954 " Southern Style " album are below .
They are an original source material for today's CD sleeve-note writers and on-line thumbnail discographers .

  • Decca : 1950s

  • The above are the sleeve-notes to the classic Decca 10 inch LP " Warm Intimate Songs in the Jeri Southern Style " .
    In considering Jeri Southern's young years all today's CD sleeve-note writers and others too - must repeat and
    adapt the old 1954 Decca paragraphs . However note the article below from 1953 ! "


    The above piece was written for Song Hits Magazine of May , 1953 , the year before Jeri Southern 's " Warm " album was released .


    Its a long seeming time - almost five decades now since Jeri Southern gave her last performance as a vocalist - and past members of her heyday audiences are now naturally older and fewer in number . Even though a present day would-be appreciator of Jeri Southern may
    hear and see her old sound recordings and movie film , to envisage the reality - the moment by moment experience and feeling - of being actually present there in the flesh and blood atmosphere of a Jeri Southern club performance - requires even more than an actively nostalgically leaning imagination . Perhaps the following words of a man who was very much present and critically aware at a
    Jeri Southern Birdland performance will surely assist !


    In December of 1956 - under the odd seeming title , " That Southern Comfort : The Understatement - In High Gear " , the Metronome ,
    a monthly music magazine , printed the following observations by journalist Bill Cross :
    " I sat one night in Birdland, constrained from my usual screaming and yelling by the announcement that the Birdland management respectfully requested silence during the time that Jeri Southern was singing, going so far as to forbear selling drinks during that half-hour or
    so to help maintain quiet. (Seriously,now, I was quiet because I am much taken by her singing.) As Jeri left the bandstand, a quiet, large man announced to no one in particular that he was going to commit suicide. It was an idle threat and not a particularly good set (not well-paced, but, rather, filled with soul-wrenching songs), but the songs were sung well, with all the clear, tense passion that Miss Southern can bring to such lyrice and I knew just what the distraught citizen meant. For Jeri, as I've said elsewhere on these pages, has brought melancholy to a new height, and, it seems to me, that this becomes increasingly so each time I hear her. But perhaps that's so only because the style and the person is so deceptively different than the affect. Because Jeri is detached, she has no gimmicks, unless you choose to call the a capella performances that, nor is there any obvious attempt at real showmanship. She seems only intent on being a musician, a pianist and a singer, only concerned with good tunes and lyrics. Her musical background determined some of that I suppose.

    She began classical piano lessons as a youngster, taught classical piano in Omaha, Nebraska,where she was born, and studied voice for almost an equal amount of years.When she graduated from high school she discovered jazz and jazz singers (Nat, Sinatra, Ela, Peggy, Torme and Greco , for example, number among her tastes), but, try as she might, she couldn't adapt her trained, coloratura soprano voice to the music she began to love. As she explained in an interview : " I tried, then ,to sing it in my speaking voice. ... It was pretty bad because I had no vibrato . But I kept practicing my low voice and in about two months, I sang well enough not to sound ridiculous. I had trouble with placing the various tones. It was like manufacturing an entirely new voice. . . " Finally, in Chicago, where she was working as a pianist, an agent told her that she could make more by singing while she played: " And, after a while the musicians started talking more about my singing than my piano." Peggy Lee heard her, and was impressed and got her the Decca contract which Jeri still holds.

    Anything more about Jeri is mostly gratuitous assumption. The petulance and somberness, so much a part of her musical and personal projection, must, too , be a part of her background ; a background which seems almost necessary for the evolvement of a jazz artist.

    I would be less than honest if I said that this was real, was realism, was an adequate portrayal of life which is what I expect art to be, but I suspect that Jeri is not concerned with that, is concerned only with her own life. and she expresses that with such detachment that each mood is a stillborn cry , each song an occasion, each occasion the reaching for compassion. { B.C. } "

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