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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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HELEN WARD

The Queen of Big Band Swing
1935-1943

RETROSPECTIVE RTR 4222

 

 

1. The Dixieland Band

2. Blue Moon

3. I Was Lucky

4. Night Wind

5. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

6. Eeny Meeny Miney Mo

7. It’s Been So Long

8. Goody, Goody!

9. Mutiny in the Parlour

10. I’m Gonna Clap My Hands

11. You Can’t Pull the Wool over My Eyes

12. The Glory of Love

13. Sing Me a Swing Song

14. These Foolish Things

15. There’s a Small Hotel

16. You Turned the Tables on Me

17. You Came to My Rescue

18. Here’s Love in Your Eyes

19. Smoke Dreams

20. There’s a Lull in My Life

21. It’s Swell of You

22. Feelin’ High and Happy

23. Day in, Day Out

24. I Cover the Waterfront

25. I’ve Got a Crush on You

26. Embraceable You

27. Don’t Cry, Baby

 

Backing bands:

Benny Goodman & His Orchestra

The Bob Crosby Orchestra

Gene Krupa & His Orchestra

Gene Krupa & His Swing Band

Harry James & His Music Makers

Joe Sullivan & His Café Society Orchestra

Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra

 

This collection, issued to mark the centenary of Helen Ward’s birth, contains twenty-seven tunes labeled Ward’s “finest,” which they very well may be; it is certainly representative. Ward sang with a variety of bands during the thirties, forties, and fifties, several of them represented here, but her most lasting relationship was with the Benny Goodman band, the one with which she really got her start in November of 1934 and which is to be heard backing her on fifteen of the tracks on this CD. She stayed with Goodman as featured singer through 1937, returning to tour and record with his band in 1953 and to record with it again in 1957 and 1958. Between 1937 and 1957 she recorded with various bands from time to time but did not tour with them.

Ward did not have a trained voice, but it was one that was extremely fluid, and she could render ballads and up-tempo numbers with equal dexterity. Evidence of this flexibility is amply demonstrated on this disc: she can get her pipes around Blue Moon and Eeny Meeny Miney Mo with ease. She sounds like “the girl next door,” and that could well have been part of her appeal. Just as Bing Crosby insisted that his voice was “ordinary” and that many men could deliver a song as well as he, I would guess many women would think that they could sing as well as Ward, that their voices could equal hers. Added to all of that is the fact that she was “easy on the eye,” and that would have endeared her to the young men to whom swing was the music of the day, Goodman’s brand in particular. It is no surprise, therefore, that she was a drawing card for Goodman, and he was loath to see her leave the band, even, as she surmised in the 1993 TV documentary Benny Goodman: Adventures in the Kingdom of Swing, proposing marriage to her (which she accepted) in an attempt to retain her. (He later, she said, withdrew the proposal, saying that he could not afford any distraction from furthering his musical career.)

Her flexibility extended not only to different types of material but also to different purveyors of same. On this disc we hear her perform with other big bands, such as those of Bob Crosby and Harry James, and also with smaller aggregations, such as Teddy Wilson’s octet and Joe Sullivan’s septet. In each case she exhibits the same exuberance and freshness that she does on the Goodman tracks. One can detect no special accommodation for each group—she simply sings in her manner and it “fits.” While hardly a jazz singer, she was a pop singer who could definitely swing a tune, and she had a number of “hits” that reached #1, including several in this compilation, such as It’s Been So Long, Goody Goody, These Foolish Things, You Turned the Tables on Me, and Day In, Day Out.

This CD provides almost 80 minutes of excellent entertainment for anyone who enjoys the music, the bands, and particularly the vocals of Helen Ward. It is a first rate introduction for anyone who is unfamiliar with her work.

Note : this CD should not be confused with another on a different label (ASV/Living Era) that has practically the same title and almost the same content. It contains a total of 25 tracks, of which 22 appear on this CD.

Bert Thompson



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