Helen Merrill’s career has spanned some of the greatest years of jazz, from the early 1940s to the twenty-teens and beyond. Hers is a voice that brought to the stage a diversity of styles and genres at once, blending as one or presented individually with equal dynamism. Folk, blues, pop and music theatre favourites… she gave focused attention to everything she sang.
Her voice is simply very instrumental, with a quality that travels and travelled the notes of a chart like a horn would travel. Lines that were as expectedly expressive as a voice could be and still also managed to flow like the playing of the horn player who could evoke a human vocal quality in their playing. In that way, her artistry is one that effectively carries two sensibilities: the natural engagement of the voice and its ability to tell a story, and the expressive soul through an instrument’s sweetness as presented by the best instrumental artists.
It’s an emotional, sensual vocal performance, indeed — distinctive as only Helen Merrill could be. Beautiful music, sensual voice, at home on the stages of many genres.