In Praise of Helen Humes

I want to put a good word in for Helen Humes. Check out this bit of unadulterated joy – Sonny Terry on the harp, Brownie McGhee and T-Bone Walker on the guitars, Willie Dixon on bass, Memphis Slim on piano, Jump Jackson on drums – great from beginning to end.

Her voice has that quality that I’ve only ever heard in jazz, especially in Louis Armstrong’s voice and Duke Ellington’s compositions, that ability to be truly joyful while still keeping rooted in the blues. There’s a certain amount of joy in all tragic art, but usually it’s a kind of dark joy; whereas somehow Louis and Duke and Helen can make you feel genuinely brightly happy. Here she is with Count Basie (Wardell Gray plays beautifully).

One of my favorite vocals of all time is her version of “Stardust” with one of my favorite saxophonists in his prime, Don Byas. Here they are playing with a young Thelonious Monk and the great Kenny Clarke. If I could go back in time, this night at Minton’s wouldn’t be a bad place to set the dial on.

I love that people are talking and drinking in the background.

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