For many years, life for Shelley Moore was a song. “I always sang,” the English expatriate said recently from her home in Westminster. “Even when I was very tiny. I can’t remember ever not singing; ever.”
And singing was good to Moore during those years as she performed on British radio and television, traveled with some well-known bands, immigrated to the United States and began recording in this country. But then her life became more than singing.
“I was all set here (in the United States) and then I got married and decided to retire, stay home and take care of the husband and the children,” Moore explained. “It’s the usual thing that happens to women with a maternal instinct.”
So in 1963, Moore quit a promising career to raise two children.
“But I always thought I’d get back to it. I didn’t retire with the feeling that I’d never sing again. I thought I would just take some time off and get back to it another time.”
As her children grew into their teens, Moore, once again, couldn’t resist the call to sing, and she began making nearby appearances at places such as the now-defunct Acacia Room in Garden Grove. “But I didn’t want to tour,” she said. “I love singing, but I don’t like being away from my home or my family. I guess I’m kind of a homebody.”
For a homebody, Moore has traveled a long way from her birthplace in Essex. As a child she loved the stage and wanted to dance as well as sing. But a bad back kept her from pursuing both. “I wanted to do something with the theater, either music or dancing or acting. I took to singing because it was instant gratification; something I could just get up and do without having to get a part in a play and that whole thing.”
Some of her first performances were for American troops stationed in her native country. “We always had that American influence one way or another,” she said. “In those days, lots of jazz performers were in what they called Top 40. People like Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, all those people had a jazz style, but they were included in the pop format.”
American singers were a major influence as she came up.
“I loved Billie Holiday, she had such feeling. The most perfect voice, I think, is Ella’s--it’s exquisite, perfect. Anita O’Day and June Christy were big influences on me during that ‘cool’ period (in the ‘50s). Anita is still an inspiration. She is my idea of a real jazz singer.”
A demo recording Moore made at the age of 21 came to attention of EMI Records and the label signed her to make “covers.”
“If a big American artist had a hit song, they’d get a British artist to cover it. The first song I covered was ‘In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,’ which had been recorded by Frank Sinatra and was very successful. I was quite flattered that they asked me to cover that. The arrangement was similar to what he’d done on his--that’s the way they did it at the time--but a more feminine version.”
But the budding songstress wasn’t happy with the kind of material she was being asked to do. “I didn’t have any say in what I did in terms of arrangements and song choices. I wanted to lean more toward jazz.”
So Moore jumped over to the small Esquire label, a company that recorded Annie Ross and Cleo Laine. “They gave me total freedom to do whatever I wanted,” she said.
The result was a pair of four-song EPs released in the late ‘50s: “Portrait of Shelley” and “Kool Kanary,” with Moore covering standards including “Out of Nowhere” and “Too Marvelous.”
Then came the break that changed her life: Moore was asked to join English guitarist, singer and bandleader Vic Lewis’ orchestra, an ensemble that was modeled after Stan Kenton’s band. The group traveled to the United States, and Moore fell in love with the country. While here, she secured a work permit and joined the band of drummer-singer Ray McKinley.
“I liked it so much when I was touring the country with McKinley,” she said. “The people were very warm. When I got back to England, I just felt restless. I applied almost immediately for immigration.”
She settled in Beverly Hills in 1961, and things took off. She was signed by Argo Records and recorded her first American album, “For the First Time,” a disc that included keyboardist Ramsey Lewis and saxophonists Eddie Harris and Plas Johnson. But Moore was also being pulled in another direction. “I had been traveling so much, had toured France, Germany, Israel and Belgium as well as coming here (to the United States). I was in the mood to settle down.” She met record-industry attorney Ken Golden and the two were married in 1963.
Since taking up singing again, Moore has recorded “You Can Count on Me,” her 1991 album of standards and her originals performed with saxophonist and fellow English-expatriate BennClatworthy and his quartet. “She’s a very lovely lady,” said Clatworthy, “with a beautiful voice, a nice sense of time and an excellent repertoire. Week after week she kept coming up with these incredible songs.”
The band and the vocalist were in the middle of an extended engagement at the Cattlemen’s Wharf in Anaheim when they went into the studio. “The session was incredibly quick,” Clatworthy said. “No more than two hours.”
“They were such good musicians,” Moore said, “that everything was done in one take. That’s all we needed.”
Moore puts a vibrant, youthful and sometimes just a bit suggestive style to tunes such as “Poor Little Rich Girl,” “Get Out of Town” and her own compositions, including “Indigo and Blue” and “What Do They Do to the Music?,” a tongue-in-cheek answer to those who say they don’t understand jazz.
“I do have a tremendous sense of humor,” the vocalist said. “But remember, I’m British.”
Moore hopes the New Year brings more opportunity to sing. “I’d like to see it be a great year for not just myself, but all jazz performers,” she said. Until then, you can find Shelley Moore sticking close to home.