Jimmy Forrest: Sit Down and Relax

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On the Prestige Records' thermometer, tenor saxophonist Jimmy Forrest sat roughly halfway between Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt. Forrest had Ammons' bulldog gospel attack but he also had Stitt's glossy slipperiness. Forrest, of course, had his own distinct swinging style that sounded like the blues mounted on a roller skates. He could be both intimate and bossy—improvising long, serpentine lines and resolving them neatly. Forrest could add a fresh quality to virtually any song, even the most frayed standard.

In 1961, Forrest recorded three superb small-group albums for Prestige. In April he recorded Out of the Forrest, a superb quartet date, and in October he led Most Much, a quintet recording. In between was Sit Down and Relax—with Hugh Lawson on piano, Calvin Newborn on guitar, Tommy Potter on bass and Clarence Johnston on drums.

On Sit Down and Relax, Forrest cooks his way through Tuxedo Junction, Organ Grinder's Swing, Moonglow, Tin Tin Deo, Rocks in My Bed and The Moon Was Yellow. Each features a slightly different side of Forrest's multidimensional playing personality—ranging from wispy Ben Webster-esque blowing to the hard-charging tough tenor sound of Arnett Cobb. [Pictured above: Jimmy Forrest in 1950 with unknown trumpeter]

Best of all is the quartet assembled behind him. Throughout the late '50s, pianist Hugh Lawson recorded with tenor saxophonist and fellow Detroiter Yusef Lateef. Blues guitarist Calvin Newborn [above], who is still with us, is the brother of pianist Phineas Newborn, Jr. and recorded as part of B.B. King's first band in the late '40s and early '50s. Bassist Tommy Potter, the group's elder, recorded extensively with Charlie Parker and Miles Davis in the late '40s. Drummer Clarence Johnston, also still with us in Los Angeles, recorded in the late '50s with James Moody.

Forrest was best known for his 1952 R&B hit Night Train, which was based on Duke Ellington's chugging Happy Go Lucky Local. A drug arrest the following year in his home town of St. Louis nearly sidelined Forrest, who, according to Jet magazine, was sentenced to two years' jail time after pleading guilty to dealing  narcotics. But based on Forrest's discography, he must have managed to opt for treatment or was able to secure a shorter sentence.

In December 1961, Forrest's manager Richard Carpenter was quoted in Jet saying that Forrest had still not received more than $20,000 in Night Train royalities owed him—despite a settlement with labels.

Forrest spent part of the '60s and '70s in Count Basie's band, breaking off with trombonist Al Grey in 1977 to gig and record together, billing themselves as the Horns of Plenty. Forrest died in 1980 in Grand Rapids, Mich., from liver disease. Said Al Grey at the time: “This has been a real blow. I don't think I could have another partner like Jimmy. We never had any bitter arguments that whole time we had in this business."

You'll hear why on Sit Down and Relax.

JazzWax tracks: Jimmy Forrest's Sit Down and Relax can be found at Amazon here.

JazzWax clip: Here's Jimmy Forrest on Rocks in My Bed, a deep blues from Sit Down and Relax...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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