Jimmy Forrest Day

January 24, 1920 – August 26, 1980

A tribute to the “Night Train” tenor

Tenor-saxophonist Jimmy Forrest was born on January 24, 1920 in St. Louis, Missouri.

Forrest’s first important musical jobs were playing in the Midwest with the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra, Fate Marable and Don Albert.

He gained attention for his work with the big bands of Jay McShann (although no recordings resulted), Andy Kirk (1942-48) and Duke Ellington (a few months during 1949-50).

The Ellington connection became very important for on Nov. 27, 1951, Forrest’s first session as a leader, he introduced “Night Train” which soon became a giant hit; its main theme is “borrowed” from Ellington’s “Happy–Go-Lucky Local.”

Forrest also had minor hits r&b during 1951-53 with “Bolo Blues” and “Hey Mrs. Jones.”

The big-toned tenor, who used Miles Davis on a live session in St. Louis in 1952 that ended up being released on records decades later, freelanced after the r&b years including a stint with the Horace Henderson Orchestra.

He led a group in 1958 that featured trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison, recorded with a variety of artists for Prestige and New Jazz (including Joe Williams) and, after a slow period during the second half of the 1960s, became a key soloist with the Count Basie Orchestra during 1971-77.

Jimmy Forrest spent his last years co-leading a swinging group with trombonist Al Grey.

He is featured on “Body And Soul” with the Count Basie Orchestra during a concert at the 1974 Prague Jazz Festival.

-Scott Yanow


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