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.

After Blue by Tierney Sutton

after blueMusic – Tierney Sutton’s new CD, After Blue, definitely has my vote for this year’s Grammy for “Best Jazz Vocal Album.”  Tierney has been nominated the last four years, and her band, the Tierney Sutton Band, has nine CDs – each of which has consistently topped the US jazz charts.  After Blue is a tribute album; it is an intimate, jazz-inspired re-imagining of the legacy of singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell. In After Blue, Sutton expands the scope of Joni Mitchell’s songs and recasts them in new and refreshing ways. It is Sutton’s first solo album without the Tierney Sutton Band, and it features Al Jarreau, Hubert Laws, and the Turtle Island String Quartet. All twelve tracks on the album are excellent. I like the dreamy “Both Sides Now,” and the lush, intimate “Don’t Go to Strangers.” The Turtle Island Quartet string arrangements are splendid, and the great Larry Golding’s moody piano on “Court and Spark” and “Woodstock” is the perfect touch. Tierney has won Jazzweek’s Vocalist of the Year,and she has headlined at The Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center and Jazz at Lincoln Center.  She is also an active educator and is currently head of the vocal department at the Los Angeles Music Academy in Pasadena, CA.

Live Kisses

Live KissesMovie – Former Beatles’ great, Paul McCartney, got the legendary Capitol Studios, the top musicians, and arrangements to make this fabulous DVD. Music he grew up listening to in his childhood.  Live Kisses marked the launch of his #1 best selling CD “Kisses On the Bottom.”  It is highlighted with rare interviews featuring the star musicians:  Diana Krall, Joe Walsh, Eric Clapton, Tommy LiPuma, John Pizzarelli and Paul, and the arrangements include a 20-piece orchestra. The songs are sparkling renditions of classic songs from the American songbook, such as:  “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive,” “My One and Only Love,” and “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.”  Simply put, Paul McCartney at age 70 is superbly polished, perfectly in tune, and a wonderfully expressive vocalist!  Live Kisses was filmed in November 2012 at the exact time Paul received his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The DVD includes a 40 page book with many photos and the interviews transcribed into print.

 

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.