Helen Forrest: the Voice of the Big Bands

helen forrestMusic – This is a truly remarkable album featuring the voice of Helen Forrest, who is known as the best of the big band singers from the 30’s and 40’s (the WWII generation). At the peak of her career, she was the most popular female singer in the United States. This album showcases her work with three famous bandleaders: Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and Harry James. She was the classiest of all the big band singers, with impeccable phrasing and unparalleled range and breath control, which made it easy to be heard over a 17-piece orchestra. Helen’s understated vocal style was sensual, feminine, controlled and simple; it suggested poetic images and brokenhearted reverie. Helen was often ill as a child and had to overcome a hearing loss in one of her ears. She was raised by her mother and a stepfather (who she hated) mainly in a brothel in Brooklyn. She dropped out of high school and started her rise to fame when Artie Shaw hired her in 1938. Subsequently, she became a national favorite, and in 1942 and 1943 she was voted the best female vocalist in the U.S. in the Down Beat poll. In the course of her career, she recorded more than 500 songs! I like all of the old songs, but especially “I’ve Heard That Song Before,” “Skylark,” and “Comes Love.” Of course, the music is enhanced by the fabulous clarinet playing of both Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman, as well as Harry James’ flawless trumpet.

New York Voices with the WDR Big Band – Cologne

Music – This newly released CD (2012) was actually recorded live in Koln, Germany (2008). The WDR (West German Radio) Big Band has been recording since 1946. They’ve won a Grammy and recorded many albums. Patrons can find them on Facebook (as well as The New York Voices). The current leader of the band is Michael Abene. If you like The Singers Unlimited, Manhattan Transfer or Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, then this album may interest you. It swings with remarkably inventive and complicated arrangements. The members of the band and the soloists are some of the best around. It is the best of both worlds: a dazzling, studio big band coupled with fabulous singers. The arrangements of standards, such as “Darn That Dream,” “Almost Like Being in Love” and “Love Me or Leave Me” make them sound fresh and cool.