Helen Merrill, Vocalist
An iconic vocalist with a warm, expressive voice, Helen Merrill's infrequent recordings tend to be quite special with plenty of surprises and chance-taking. She started singing in public in 1944 and was with the Reggie Childs Orchestra during 1946-1947. Merrill, who was married for a period to clarinetist Aaron Sachs, had opportunities to sit in with some of the top modernists of the time, including Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Bud Powell. She was with Earl Hines in 1952 and started recording regularly for EmArcy in 1954. Her collaboration with Clifford Brown was her first classic. She made several notable EmArcy albums during 1954-1958 (including one in 1956 that helped bring Gil Evans out of retirement); all have been reissued in a large box. After recording for Atco and Metrojazz in 1959, she moved to Italy for the next four years, touring often in Europe and Japan. Back in the U.S., Merrill teamed with pianist/arranger Dick Katz for a pair of notable and unpredictable Milestone dates (1967-1968) and then moved to Japan where she had a great success. Helen Merrill returned to the United States in the mid-'70s and has since recorded for Inner City, Owl, EmArcy (including a reunion date with Gil Evans) Antilles, and Verve, which released her 2000 album Jelena Ana Milcetic a.k.a. Helen Merrill. It was an evening with a fascinating woman with a unique life story to tell.