Frances Lynne

From San Francisco comes news of the death of Frances Lynne, the singer who worked with Paul Desmond and Dave Brubeck before there was a Brubeck Quartet. Ms. Lynne went on to sing with Charlie Barnet and Gene Krupa as the big band era wound down. Her first recording, however, was not until 1991 with her husband, John Coppola’s band. She and the trumpeter were married for fifty-six years. She was eighty-two years old. Reviewing her CD, Remember, I wrote, “Often discussed but seldom heard, Ms. Lynne is a charming singer.”

She worked in the late 1940s at San Francisco’s Geary Cellar in a group called the Three Ds in which Brubeck was the pianist. In 1949, Desmond stole her, Brubeck and bassist Norman Bates from the Three Ds leader for a job at the Band Box near Palo Alto. In Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond, Ms. Lynne recalled that experience.

Oh, it was a funny little gig, just an ordinary little gig, and the people from Stanford used to come in and sit there and inspire us, especially Dave and Paul. They’d get on a kick where they’d play all these fugal things. It was just a great happy thing. When I was singing, Paul played behind me. He never got in my way. He was the kind of player who was intuitive and inspirational. He’d never do anything unmusical. He was just a sweet, sweet person. He was interested in what you said and what you thought. Everybody likes that. He was attentive and he was very, very talented. Nobody got a sound like that out of the alto saxophone.

And, you know, those little jobs at the Geary Cellar and the Band Box never seem to die. I still hear people talking about them. And I’m glad, very happy, because that’s my only claim to immortality. I got a lot of offers in those days, but I wanted to stay with the group. I was like a little puppy, I was having so much fun. 

At The Band Box, 1948 1.jpg

Norman Bates, Paul Desmond, Dave Brubeck, Frances Lynne at the Band Box, 1949

After the Band Box job ended and following her time with Krupa, Ms. Lynne worked in New York, including a spot on television, then returned to San Francisco. She and her husband kept their home there while Coppola went on the road as a member of Woody Herman’s Third Herd in the fifties and later led his band in the Bay Area. She sang occasionally, always winning praise for her intonation, phrasing and sensitivity to the meaning of lyrics.

For more on Frances Lynne, see Jesse Hamlin’s article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle.

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  1. says

    I just received confirmation by email from Jesse Hamlin that the date of death in the SF Chronicle obituary was a typo. The correct date is Sunday, Dec. 14th.
    I first met Frances by phone when I called John Coppola while researching his work on the 1951 Stan Kenton session that produced a chart by my father, Paul Villepigue. John said, “If you really want to know more about Paul, you should talk to my wife. Hear her on the piano there? Oh, Frances…” Then a sweet-voiced woman came on the line. Frances and John opened their home to me and generously shared their stories about Paul when they knew him through the Kenton and Charlie Barnet bands. Frances was a charmer, very modest about her vocal work, and said she regretted that she had made no recordings when she was on Barnet’s bop band in late 1948-49. But in fact I had her voice on two songs, at age 22 with the Barnet band, one captured on an aircheck and the other in footage from a Movietone Melodies short; Frances had forgotten about both. I took my laptop over to their house and played both songs plus video, to her amazement. Ain’t technology grand?