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Jeanne Lee: All About Ronnie

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The song All About Ronnie has an interesting history. The song was written by Joe Greene, who worked extensively for Stan Kenton during the 1940s and 50s, when the band was in constant need of original vocal material. Greene typically wrote quasi novelty tunes like I Been Down in Texas, Across the Alley From the Alamo, And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine, And the Bull Walked Around, Olay! and Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying. All About Ronnie  was a departure from his usual fare.

Vocalist Jerri Winters took the first crack at the song with Kenton in March 1952, but the side arranged by Johnny Richards wasn't issued (though a live version was recorded). Then Bill Russo wrote an arrangement of the song for singer Chris Connor in April 1953, and the single quickly became a hit. Here's what Chris told me when I interviewed her in 2008...

“JazzWax: Was it nerve-wracking singing with Kenton in 1953?

“Chris Connor: Oh yes, my goodness. During an April recording date, our second studio session, Joe Greene, the songwriter, was there. He had written this song they wanted me to sing. I had never heard the song before. The band rehearsed me for about an hour. Then Stan told me the band was going to record it. I thought I was going to die. I didn’t know how I was going to get through that song. But I did, and All About Ronnie turned out pretty good."

Chris recorded the song again in Aug. 1954, this time with the Ellis Larkins Trio on a session for Bethlehem Records, with Creed Taylor producing. She recorded it once more in 1959, first in the studio for Atlantic (a track that wasn't issued) and then several days later live at the Village Vanguard on Chris in Person for the label. Chris's early recording of the song was so strong and signature that no other singer bothered to cover it until 1962, when singer Pat Thomas recorded it.

Then in 1963, singer Jeanne Lee (above, in 1992) sang a highly unusual, expressionist version at the Antibes Jazz Festival, with just Ran Blake on piano. Lee had been performing with Blake since 1961, shortly after the pair graduated from Bard College. After she recorded The Newest Sound Around in Nov. 1961, Blake and Lee became popular in Europe, where Lee's semi-abstract approach was more fully appreciated.  

Lee died in 2000.

JazzWax clips: Here's the illustrated evolution of All About Ronnie...

Here's a site that's selling an album called Stan's Singers. If you sample #13, you'll hear a bit of Jerri Winters' live version with the Johnny Richards arrangement. 

Here's Bill Russo's arrangement of the song with Chris Connor in 1953...

 

Here's Chris with the Ellis Larkins Trio in 1954...

 

And here's Jeanne Lee's take with Ran Blake...

 

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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