Helen Humes was a remarkably durable performer – she recorded as a classic blues singer before she turned 14, hit the heights in 1938 when she replaced Billie Holiday with Count Basie, and toured and recorded for twenty years after she left Basie. She sat out the 60s in Australia, then returned home to tend to her ailing mother. She was retired until Stanley Dance urged her to join a Basie reunion at the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival – she was a sensation and never stopped working until she died in 1981 at age 68.
This set was drawn from two 1974 sessions. The first was done with her regular trio – Connie Berry, piano, Charlie Howard, guitar, and Al Autry, bass. She picked a good set of standards and shows that she was every bit as good as ever – she was a year into her revival and at the top of her powers. There are ten numbers from the first session and its hard to believe that she was ever retired. The second session was recorded a few months later when she was working at the Big Horn, an Atlanta nightclub part-owned by George Buck. Her trio is joined by a small traditional jazz group featuring Ernie Carson, cornet, Skip Derringer, trombone, and Herman Foretich, clarinet. She enjoys singing in front of a band and they were energized by backing her.
The tune selection is marvelous, ranging from the almost forgotten Good For Nothin' Joe to a stomping version of Ain't Misbehavin' and a beautiful reading of Summertime as both a ballad and a medium tempo piece. She ventures into the blues with a nice take on If You See My Baby, does a masterful More Than You Know, and a ferocious Honeysuckle Rose. The full band joins her for St. Louis Blues, Old Fashioned Love, and a nice reprise of her old favorite Million Dollar Secret. This is a very strong outing from one of the best big band vocalists of the 1930s and 40s.
Paige Van Vorst | Jazzbeat Newsletter Oct 2013
Here is Louisville, KY's finest – Helen Humes, doing what she did best, singing and swinging, here on a sparkling fifteen-song program from 1974. She was born in 1913 and began recording before the age of fourteen. It's always easy to pick out Helen's voice, bearing a similarity to early exciting stylings of Ella Fitzgerald. Now Helen just mesmerizes us with this innovative performance. Until the Real Thing Comes Along (Cahn/Chaplin/Freeman/ Holiner) is crooned as an emotional heartbreak- ing sad blues ballad. Ain't Misbehavin' and Honeysuckle Rose (Waller/Razaf) feature some of the most truly swinging vocals you'll ever hear. Summertime (Gershwin/Heyward) is given a very spe- cial arrangement. Helen starts it as a beautiful ballad then in a flash it becomes a bright blues masterpiece. Helen offers a most uplifting, energetic version of A Hundred Years from Today (Young/Washington), Charlie Howard excels on a brilliant guitar solo midway during the singing on Embraceable You. (Gershwins). Helen pours it on throughout here. You can almost hear her crying. More Than you Know (Rose/Eliscu) is presented as a mournful blues. Wow, what a precious earth-shaking masterpiece. She sings it for all its worth. Ms. Humes is certainly at her best on this CD struttin' her stuff. You just can't find a better low-down blues singer.
Dan Singer | In Tune International (UK)