Merrill at Midnight
is my favourite residing jazz singer. It was a thrill when, on a latest jaunt to New York, pal and music journalist Jim Gavin, creator of a number of music biographies of and in addition to a whole lot of articles about music in myriad genres, organized a dinner for the three of us.
Nearly 30 years in the past, as a younger foodie and jazz fanatic, the very best employment I might garner was to work the swing shift at a smoke-filled jazz membership in Cambridge. I’d arrive residence at 4 within the morning and hopelessly hopped up on espresso and drink orders, I’d placed on a few of Helen’s outdated LPs, listening with headphones to her mysterious, hazy vocalizing. Her intense blue bebop and remodeling of melody, the intoxicating stability of house and sound, all the time jibed particularly effectively by means of ‘the wee small hours’. She’d breath ‘Lazy Afternoon’ with a musical sigh: “…there’s not one other human in vieeew…however us twooooo,” and I’d agree. I solely had a number of outdated scratchy LPs from the ‘50’s – the early ‘80’s was a bleak time for jazz and little was out there. So I figured she should be lengthy lifeless, a tragic diva misplaced to the pitfalls of the jazz life. This couldn’t have been farther from the reality. Helen was, and is, very a lot nonetheless right here, placing that fable to relaxation and having produced an unlimited physique of labor throughout a profession that spans over 70 years. After her early successes within the New York jazz scene, Merrill–Bronx born of Croatian immigrants–spent time residing and recording in Italy and Japan, returning to the US within the ‘70’s. She’s made greater than 40 albums, all of them beautiful, however essentially the most well-known is her first, recorded in 1954, and easily entitled ‘’. It options the trumpet grasp Clifford Brown (who did die younger, in an auto accident) and was organized by the then unknown Quincy Jones. Once I requested Helen why this disk is so well-known – in jazz circles, anyway – and appreciated, she paused earlier than responding, “I don’t know, actually…we have been only a bunch of younger folks having an excellent time.” “It’s the temper it creates”, I steered. “Even the upbeat songs are imbued with ache and longing – and that blue cowl provides one thing as effectively.” On the angst-ridden cowl, a black & white Merrill, tinted blue, screams ferociously into the microphone. “I cried after I noticed it,” she lamented.