Retta Christie
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Retta Christie

Portland, Oregon, United States | INDIE

Portland, Oregon, United States | INDIE
Band Jazz Americana


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"Retta Christie with David Evans and David Frishberg: Volumes 1 and 2"

Retta Christie with David Evans and David Frishberg: Volumes 1 and 2
All About Jazz
By C. Michael Bailey

Vocalist Retta Christie exists at the curious intersection of country & western, swing and film music. Country music and jazz may seem strange bedfellows, but bedfellows they have been since the 1920s and bandleaders Spade Cooley and Bob Wills, Jay McShann and Count Basie all slumming together in Great Plains dance halls. It is from this rich loam of land in the middle of the United States that Christie's material comes from. But don't expect "Rose of San Antoine." Christie's repertoire is beautifully esoteric. Her voice is clean and clear, with the wholesome scrubbed goodness of a Dale Evans.
If Christie's huge talent and encyclopedic musical mind are not enough, she is supported by the Great American Songbook's own David Frishberg. Known more for his witty and piquant lyrics, Frishberg is also a student the older styles of jazz piano, like those called for in this current repertoire. These recordings are important because they frame Frishberg as a supremely competent accompanist whose personality is perfectly suited to the songs. With Frishberg is reedsman David Evans, whose tenor saxophone (and clarinet) is throughly informed by the Ben Webster / Lester Young school of swing. Mix 'em altogether and you have a master's class in 1930's music.
Retta Christie with David Evans and David Frishberg
Retta Christie with David Evans and David Frishberg
Self Produced
"Cheatin' on Me" opens the disc and immediately sets the creative tone. Composed in the mid-1920s by Jack Yellen and Lew Pollack, "Cheatin'" bounces beautifully over the stride-side piano of Frishberg. Christie is in bright voice, crisply enunciating like a militant speech pathologist...a good thing. She sings straight: no scat or vocalese here. She is intent on teaching the listening public of the pleasures of obscure chestnuts and little heralded repertoire.
The best description of this recital is "intelligently quaint" and this is not intended as a back-handed compliment. Music performance intent on period capture is simply a sonic updating of material previously only available as sepia-tones and clicks and scratches. Gratefully, Christie does not try to put an old spin on newer material, instead concentrating on lesser known songs deserving of attention. She is well-versed on this material vocally in the same way Evans and Frishberg are instrumentally. They all can summon spirits from this music in a fresh and vibrant manner.
While these songs will never be confused with the best of Tin Pan Alley, they do represent a subset that parallels in human terms the friends of the great European composers such as Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. When an enthusiast has heard all they can stand of the masters, they will often turn to the master's friends. For Bach, the fan may check out Biber or Buxtehude; for Beethoven it might be Hummel, and for Mozart it might be Clementi. There is always more music to consider.
So it is with the material Christie and company excel in on this recording. It may not be the Gershwin brothers or Rodgers and Hammerstein, but these tunes have an undeniable charm. Harry Revel and Mack Gordon's "Did You Ever See a Dream Walking" from the movie Sitting Pretty (1934) sounds as new as spring and hopefully in love as sophomores in high school. Evans plays clarinet as if channeling the breathy vibratolessness of Lester Young. Master composer (and present pianist) Frishberg provides his contemporary "Wallflower Lonely, Cornflower Blue," composed as if heard from a time travel-able Victrola. And these set the ambiance of the recording. This recording is successful because of the dedication the musicians have to the material and the value they give it as evidenced by their performances.

Retta Christie with David Evans and David Frishberg
Retta Christie with David Evans and David Frishberg, Volume 2
Self Produced
The traction that Retta Christie, David Evans and Dave Frishberg gained with their initial survey of erstwhile cowboy tunes parlayed itself into this Volume 2. Christie moves more into the jazz realm covering two standards and borrowing some esoterica from the songbook of Billie Holiday. As on Volume 1, Christie and company capture the antique tone of the music, presenting it in crystalline digital finery.
Christie sings with a voice full of sunshine, bright and clean. The performances (both releases) have a relaxed feel suggesting Broadway composers performing their own songs. It is beautifully stripped down, baring the essentials of harmony and melody. Frishberg employs his vast knowledge of stride piano to great effect on "Old Folks" and "For All We Know." Evans excels on clarinet on "'Neath The Purple on the Hill" and "For All We Know." His tenor saxophone on "Foolin' Myself" illustrates the short evolution of the instrument from Lester Young to acoly -

"Featured Musician - October 2007"

Instrument: Vocal, guitar and drums.

Early Years/Education: Grew up on a farm outside of Astoria , Oregon . The Olney Grange Hall was just up the road and every other Saturday night there was a dance. The community got together and my family was always there. We'd dance to Western Swing bands or listen to old 78 recordings of Western Swing and we'd square dance.

My family played and sang together but those dances were an early influence. There were five kids in my family and four out of the five of us went on to play professionally. My parents both sing and love music. They hired a piano teacher to come to the house and we'd all get a lesson.

Growing up, cowboys were a passion of mine so I became obsessed with their music. I play a 1948 hollow -bodied, arch-top, Paramount guitar my brother, Pierce, picked up years ago at a pawn shop in California . He owed me $400 once and in payment he gave me this guitar. I went to Skidmore College in New York and have a degree in Art. I presently work in Art conservation. When I graduated from college, I came home.

Radio: When I returned to Astoria after college in 1983, I began playing professionally and had a “country and western” radio show on the newly formed community radio station KMUN-FM. When I moved to Portland in 1985, I was on KBOO-FM and did a radio show mixing older jazz and Western music. From 1989 to '95, I went back to the Astoria area and got back on the air at KMUN-FM and co-hosted a show featuring early jazz with cornetist Jim Goodwin.

Now that I'm back in Portland , I'm back on KBOO-FM doing a noontime jamboree-Western Swing show. Early jazz and Western Swing is essentially the same thing, swing music is swing music. Bing Crosby did Floyd Tillman tunes; Willie Nelson sings standards, etc. The Western bands and the jazz bands were all listening to each other on the radio. They'd play whatever hit was popular that week.

They all played the same tunes but the Western players would use rural instrumentation like a steel guitar and fiddle. Just like the jazz bands, the Western bands would swing like crazy! For example, the tune “I'll String Along with You,” which will be on my new CD, was sung by Derwood Brown (Milton Brown & His Musical Brownies) and sounds very much like Jack Teagarden. Oddly enough, Teagarden and Brown were both from the same Oklahoma-Texas area. Also, the father of country music, Jimmy Rodgers, recorded with Louis Armstrong around 1930 with Louis on cornet and Lil Armstrong on piano.

Bands: After college my first professional band was “Retta and the Smart Fellas.” We'd play the Elks and the Legion halls up and down the coast around 1982. I then joined a group called “Meloddity,” a five-piece based out of Cannon Beach . Turtle Vandemar and Spud Siegel were in the band and we were quite popular touring the region around 1983.

After that I was in the “Modern Age Drifters” by Fritz Richmond, another five-piece group. Then I had the “Christie Girls,” which included my niece, Heather Christie and now the “Retta Christie Trio.” My trio has included Chris Tyle and Jim Goodwin at first; then, with David Evans and Jim Goodwin. Currently, it's with David Evans on clarinet and saxophone and Dave Frishberg on piano. I mostly sing and drum with the trio. I've Velcroed a snare drum skin to the back of my guitar. I'm really enjoying drumming and singing at the moment.

Musical Influences: Patsy Cline, Maxine Sullivan, Vera Lynn, Kay Starr, Mildred Bailey, Jack Teagarden, Merle Haggard, Maria Callas, Rosemary Clooney (especially her late recordings), Milton Brown and His Musical Brownies, Bill Boyd and his Cowboy Ramblers, Joe Venuti and Eddie Lange, the Farr Brothers with the Sons of the Pioneers and Jim Goodwin.

Most Satisfying Experience: Last summer at the Skamania Fairgrounds and again at the Norse Hall on Puget Island , my Trio got to play a dance that seemed just like the country dances I attended growing up…you could hear the music so well and see the people dancing. Everyone was enjoying the music and enjoying themselves!

Discography: With Retta and the Smart Fellas, “Rural Jazz” came out in 2001 and was nominated by the Academy of Western Artists , in Gene Autry, Oklahoma for “Western Swing Band of the Year” and “Female Vocalist of the Year.” In 2003 ,we did “They Took The Stars Out Of Heaven.” This CD was also nominated by the AWA in the same categories. My other recordings are Retta and the Smart Fellas, Meloddity, Modern Age Drifters and Christie Girls. I also have some unreleased material of the Retta Christie Trio from 2005 and 2006. These can be purchased from Hyperlink: “mailto: ”

Favorite Recordings: The music I like is just what I consider to be good music, nice melodies and lyrics. Rosemary Clooney — “Sings the Music of Cole Porter,” 1982. I love all the later recordings she did where you hear the strain of her life in her voice. Milton Brown & His Musical Brownies — a five-CD - Jazz Society of Oregon

"Vocal CD of the Month - "Retta Christie w/ David Evans & Dave Frishberg, Vol. 2""

Vocal CD of the Month
"Retta Christie with David Evans and Dave Frishberg, Volume 2" (Retta Records) 2011

***** (musical performance)
**** (sonic quality)

Pure delight of music nostalgia! Highlights: "Foolin' Myself," "'Neath the Purple on the Hills," "You Always Hurt the One You Love," "For All We Know" and "The Lonesome Road."

Retta Christie makes American music to be enjoyed. If the Portland vocalist has a heartfelt reaction to a song, she sings it her own way, regardless of the style or tradition whence it came. She draws from Western swing, jazz, country and western, and the Great American Songbook and makes all of it her own. In a so pretty way, I must add.

Christie's surprising song choices, her breezy sense of swing, and her gift for conveying the emotional essence of a lyric are in ample display on her new CD, "Retta Christie with David Evans and Dave Frishberg, vol. 2."

Both volumes of the Dave and David collaboration (the first was in 2008) celebrate Christie's personal and creative relationship with cornetist/pianist Jim Goodwin, who died in 2009. Christie and Goodwin met in his hometown of Portland, and as they started sharing their musical passions, they discovered considerable common ground despite the prejudice that often casts country music and jazz as antithetical.

"I was immersed in older country and western, and Jim was obsessed with older jazz, and we both learned about each other's music," Christie says. "He introduced me to this whole world of early jazz, and I quickly started to realize that it wasn't so different from what I was doing. Understanding that connection has really been the foundation of my music ever since."

Goodwin also introduced her to Dave Frishberg, who's been based in Portland since he left Los Angeles in 1986, and it was Frishberg who brought in David Evans, the Portland-by-way-of-New Orleans tenor saxophonist and clarinetist. (There's a third instrumentalist on the CD: "In a marvel of coordination and breath control," master jazz historian Doug Ramsey writes in the liner notes, "Retta plays brushes on a snare drum.")

With the exception of "You Always Hurt the One You Love," a hit for the Mills Brothers in 1944, and "'Neath the Purple on the Hills," recorded in 1940 by Cliff Bruner and his Texas Wanderers, all the songs on "Volume 2" date from the 1920s and '30s. Frishberg suggested "A Sailboat in the Moonlight" and "Foolin' Myself," both recorded by Billie Holiday (though he gave her Herb Jeffries's version of the latter). Christie also sings "I Get the Blues When It Rains," "Old Folks," and "I Only Want a Buddy Not a Sweetheart."

"I love working with Dave and David," Christie says. "They're incredibly supportive musically and as friends. They play from their hearts. And Dave [Frishberg] is a fabulous accompanist. You're being delivered something on a silver platter. He makes things so easy."

Retta Christie came by her passion for Western swing very early on. Born in rural Astoria, Oregon, in 1959, she and her family regularly attended community dances at the local Grange hall, which often hosted Western swing bands. "I was absolutely in love with cowboys and horses," she says, "and I liked the music that went with them."

After college graduation (an art degree at Skidmore), she returned to Astoria and before long had launched her Retta and the Smart Fellas, a five-piece Western swing combo. In the mid-1980s she also began working as a deejay, with a radio show focusing on old-time Western swing. For more than a decade, she's hosted a weekly program on KBOO, "The Noontime Jamboree."

Prior to recording with Dave Frishberg (who guested on the first album I ever produced, Yana Purim's self-titled solo debut for RCA) and David Evans, Christie made two Smart Fellas sessions -- "Rural Jazz" (2000) and "They Took the Stars Out of Heaven" (2003) -- for Retta Records, featuring Jim Goodwin on piano, fiddler Kevin Healy, guitarist Jesse Johnson, and bassist Bill Uhlig, with Retta on vocals and rhythm guitar. "They're authentic Western swing players," Frishberg has said, "and they can swing you into bad health." - Jazz Station - Arnaldo DeSouteiro's Blog Jazz, Bossa & Beyond

"Blue Valentines: "Retta Christie With David Evans and Dave Frishberg Volume 2""

Jim Goodwin's (1944-2009) life would make a great movie. While it would not feature any defining moment apparent to the viewer and required in bio-films, it would be episodic, full of ups and downs, but always interesting.

The usual blessing and curse conferred upon interesting characters when describing them, Jim was a “musician's musician.” He was known primarily for his cornet playing, inspired by Wild Bill Davison (1906-1989) and Bix Beiderbecke (1903-1931), but he could also play piano, drums and vibraphone. Jim was a self-taught virtuoso, never wanting to formally study for fear of losing some of the power that came from the freedom and spontaneity of his creative process. Freedom was a reoccurring motif echoing throughout all aspects of Jim's life.

Initially he studied to be a stock broker in New York after a youth of being a “board boy” for his father's brokerage firm. Rapidly he lost interest in the financial world, often saying he was the nation's “youngest broker and youngest retired stockbroker.” He served in the National Guard where he was able to play both horns and drums in the band. Jim would find himself stationed at Fort Ord (Monterey, CA) which allowed him to take in the San Francisco jazz scene, then a still-fertile scene with the streets bristling with legendary jazz clubs. In his time in the Bay Area he managed to probably play every club and venue including the Fairmont Hotel, where decades earlier Paul Whiteman (1890-1967), band leader of Jim's hero Bix, had a long residency. Perhaps one of the more unique accomplishments for a jazz artist also occurred while Jim was living in the Bay Area, going to the World Series three times with the Oakland A's as a member of their pep band. Athletic and a baseball player himself in high school, being connected to the World Series had meaning to him on several levels.

Jim would spend a lot of time in Europe where, like a lot of earlier jazz greats, he was better known and appreciated. Lack of big name fame never seemed to bother him as it allowed him to create and live the way he wanted, with no pressures to conform or compromise. Eventually, after a stint living in Brownsmead, OR, Jim would come to roost in Portland, which still has a small but vibrant music scene. With some friends he would start a micro brewing company (Portland Brewing Company) right as the trend of micro brew beers was taking off. He would sell back his controlling shares in the company as to not be tied down but still regularly played the company's Flanders Street pub, often in duets with David Frishberg

Jim was a great mentor and friend to many musicians. Retta Chrisite's new album, volume two of collaboration with David Evans and Frishberg (Retta Records 2010), is a sort of valentine to him. Most of the program is made up of songs he taught her or that she played with him. Although somewhat of a memorial, this album offers up a sort of blue tinged wistfulness in lieu of any black cloth draped melancholy.

The album is comprised of all covers which, like the ensemble's last outing, mix components of country swing, early jazz and blues in varying degrees. “I Get the Blues When It Rains” begins with a few seconds of Retta's vocals unaccompanied. This emphasizes the intimacy to be found on every track, which helps the music better resonate for the listener and allows for repeated listenings without loss of artistic tension. David Evan's sax here has the Lester Young (1909-1959) Kansas City era cadence. One of David's strengths has been that his talent does not lie in mere mimicry; he can go beyond quoting, saying only what Prez said. He can uncannily sound just like him but the verbiage is always his own. In bell-like tones, Dave Frishberg's piano bubbles up, happy to be sad.

“Foolin Myself” as done by this trio is taken at a brisker pace than has become the norm. Retta plays brush (drums) which once again serve as an adept dance partner adding a further sonic layer to the piece. The piano has a full sound which results in a sort of stateliness. Once again the whole ensemble shows how some of its power is derived from an overall organicness in how they respond to each other and the songs. “My Mother's Eyes,” a standard now largely fallen by the wayside, has potential to be given an overly maudlin read. Here is it used as a launching point for the ensemble to reiterate how much fun they are having and the resulting interplay. The song features David offering a brief but great woody-toned clarinet break, sounding like a cheery mourning dove singing its song.

“Old Folks” has some strideish piano, which has a sprite-like aspect due to the bluesy suppleness of execution. On this piece, as in a lot of material Retta covers, the lyrics are clever without being overly precocious. The lyrics often make me lament the loss of Tin Pan Alley, which is most likely all condos now. There is a delicate sax solo, an ethereal presence floating through the piece an - Jazz Police

"Retta Christie with David Evans and Dave Frishberg – Retta Records; Retta Christie with David Evans and Dave Frishberg, Volume 2 – Retta Records"

Retta Christie with David Evans and Dave Frishberg – Retta Reacords RR002, 42:29****: ?Retta Christie with David Evans and Dave Frishberg, Volume 2 – Retta Records RR003, 39:26 ****:

(Retta Christie - vocals, brush snare drum; David Evans - tenor saxophone, clarinet; Dave Frishberg - piano.)
The context of the term popular music has become muddled. However, in the hands of Retta Christie, it simply means great music with a penchant for personal connection. Raised in Olney, Oregon, Retta learned music at the family piano, singing with her family. Starting as a country singer, with Western Swing roots, being a musician would become her lifelong career including recordings, concerts and hosting a radio program. A long time association with the late jazz musician, Jim Goodwin, initiated her interest in the accessibility of jazz. She would incorporate this influence into her musical fabric, inspiring this collection of songs.
Possessing a warm clear voice, she has a confident and guileless delivery. She presents an ideal complement to David Evans (tenor saxophone) and the inimitable Dave Frishberg (pianist, arranger). The players have a tremendous chemistry, exuding the warmth and texture of a sepia tone photograph. The song selection is truly inspired featuring a variety of lesser known country, popular and jazz standards.

A testament to the effectiveness of this trio is the nostalgic “I’ll String Along with You”. Evans takes the first verse with a silky tenor sax melody line, leading into a pristine vocal on the second verse. As with all of the songs, Frishberg’s accompaniment is stellar, always symmetrical. A bluesy, country arrangement of “Wallflower Lonely, Cornflower Blue”( a Frishberg composition), is framed by a deft, laconic piano solo. Evans’ clarinet and saxophone solos are impeccable, ranging from low register breaths to higher note wails. Frishberg’s versatility and technique are both freewheeling and intricate. Christie adds a nice touch with a sustained brush snare drum.

Retta Christie is a fearless performer. She reworks two songs associated with Billie Holiday, “Foolin’ Myself” and "A Sailboat in the Moonlight”, and imprints them with her signature bouncy vocals. True to her roots, “Cheatin’ On Me”, Ridin’ Down the Canyon”, and “This Cold War with You” shine in their heartfelt emotion. Evans and Frishberg have an assortment of instrumental numbers. Both, “The Thrill Is Gone”, and “Sweet and Low” are tightly constructed blues songs, with soulful New Orleans tenor lines, and stride piano in perfect unison.

Whether it’s a Mills Brothers hit (“You Always Hurt The One You Love”), western classic “Someday (You’ll Want Me to Want You)”, or movie ditty, “Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?”, the listener is rewarded with authenticity.
TrackList: (Vol. 1) - Cheatin’ on Me; Yearning Just for You; Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?; Wallflower Lonely, Cornflower Blue; Someday (You’ll Want Me To Want You); The Thrill Is Gone; Louise; I’ll String Along with You; On Treasure Island; This Cold War with You; Lost; Ridin’ Down The Canyon. (Vol. 2) - I Get The Blues When It Rains; Foolin’ Myself; My Mother’s Eyes: ‘Neath The Purple On The Hills; Only A Rose; Sweet And Slow; You Always Hurt The One You Love; A Sailboat In The Moonlight; For All We Know; I Only Want A Buddy Not a Sweetheart; The Lonesome Road.
-- Robbie Gerson
Copyright Audiophile Audition
- Audiophile Audition

"Retta Christie Sings"

Retta Christie continues to delight.

Some contemporary singers approach their material through an ironic, cool pose. Retta faces her songs directly. Without being sentimental, she conveys their emotional force, letting lyrics and melody pass through her, opening herself to emotions. She doesn’t overact; she doesn’t linger on syllables for “dramatic effect,” but you hear her heart.

But don’t take my word for it — here’s a review by Maxwell Chandler (February 15, 2010) that echoes my sentiments:

Retta’s first CD continues to give me much pleasure. Simple rather than fussy, it is a trio — Retta on vocals and discreet brushes-on-snare drum backing; David Evans on tenor and clarinet; the splendid Dave Frishberg on piano. The trio’s approach is easy, relaxed without being sleepy. And they animate a wide variety of material, from Thirties pops and ballads to a few country classics. I was amazed and amused to find myself playing RIDIN’ DOWN THE CANYON as my getting-to-work theme song. Evans is a potent, light-toned player (I thought of Al Cohn) and Frishberg remains my favorite piano accompanist — tender, apt, and humorous. The music I heard reminded me, in equal measure, of the Mel Powell – Bobby Donaldson – Paul Quinichette Vanguard session; the Cohn – Jimmy Rowles duet, with Retta adding to the ambiance rather than intruding.

The second volume of this group’s brave yet casual exploration is just as satisfying, and that’s saying a good deal. Retta’s swinging candor is worth the price of the disc — so that when she sings I GET THE BLUES WHEN IT RAINS, I think that she actually does — no fooling, no pretense. She is no amateur, someone who just decided on whim, “Gee, it would be fun to sing!” but she conveys the freshness of someone enthusiastic rather than someone who has studied hard at seeming enthusiastic. I have no particular love for the conventions of “country” music, but I find Retta’s approach to her material charming. I could listen to Evans and Frishberg all day — or until the cows come home, whichever is later.

Retta has a touch of quiet audacity – the courage to approach FOOLIN’ MYSELF and A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT on their own terms, so that the listener never thinks, “Oh, no, not another Little Billie.” I found myself truly listening to the lyrics anew, hearing the song as if I hadn’t had Holiday’s records burned into my consciousness.

This second session is openly a tribute to Retta’s great friend and musical mentor Jim Goodwin, a memorable cornetist, pianist, and life-force. I would urge you to listen closely to her version of OLD FOLKS — a song she recorded specifically as a loving tribute to Goodwin, who died in 2009. If you can listen to it without being moved by its peaceful sadness, by the love in eery turn of phrase, you are made of stern stuff.

Retta also brings back I ONLY WANT A BUDDY, NOT A SWEETHEART (a song I know from the Dick Robertson Decca with Bobby Hackett) and she introduced me to ‘NEATH THE PURPLE ON THE HILLS, which has its own irresistible swaying motion, complete with “Yoo hoo”s at the right place. I am very fond of the two instrumental tracks — ONLY A ROSE and SWEET AND SLOW — which showcase the two Davids, eloquently. Doug Ramsey’s gently erudite liner notes are just right. Like him, I am waiting for Volumes Three and Four and more. Till that day, you should investigate One and Two. Retta’s musical honesty is something I cherish. Visit for more information. - Jazz Lives


Rural Jazz - Retta and The Smart Fellas (Western swing)

They Took the Stars Out Of Heaven - Retta and The Smart Fellas (Western swing)

Retta Christie with David Evans and Dave Frishberg

Retta Christie with David Evans and Dave Frishberg, Vol. 2



Retta Christie has staked a claim to a fabulously rich but oft-overlooked vein of Americana, a musical mother lode located at the dusty crossroads where the American Songbook and the country-western canon converge.
Harking back to a time when Western swing bands, cowboy troubadours, urbane big bands, and suave pop singers often interpreted the same material, Retta Christie has forged a singular synthesis of America’s pre-World War II popular music.