Helen Merrill (born Jelena Ana Milcetic  July 21, 1930) is an American jazz vocalist. Her first album, the eponymous 1955 release Helen Merrill, was an immediate success and associated her with the first generation of bebop jazz musicians. After a prolific 1950s and 60s where she recorded with major artists such as Charlie Parker and Clifford Brown, Merrill spent time recording and touring in Europe and Japan, falling into obscurity in the United States. In the 1980s and 90s, a new contract with Verve Records and high-profile performances in America returned her to prominence. Noted for her emotional, sensual vocal performances, her career continues in its sixth decade with concerts and recordings.
Early life and career
Jelena Ana Milcetic was born in New York City in 1930 to Croatian immigrant parents. She began singing in jazz clubs in the Bronx in 1944, aged fourteen. By the time she was sixteen, Merrill had taken up music full-time. In 1952, Merrill made her recording debut when she was asked to sing "A Cigarette For Company" with the Earl Hines Band; the song was released on the D'Oro label, created specifically to record Hines' band with Merrill.Etta Jones  was in Hines' band at the time and she too sang on this session, which was reissued on the Xanadu label in 1985. At this time Merrill was married to musician Aaron Sachs. They divorced in 1956.
Merrill was signed by Mercury Records for their new Emarcy label. In 1954, Merrill recorded her first LP, an eponymous record featuring trumpeter Clifford Brown and bassist/cellist Oscar Pettiford, among others. The album was produced and arranged by Quincy Jones, who was then twenty-one years old. The success of Helen Merrill prompted Mercury to sign her for an additional four-album contract.
Merrill's follow-up to Helen Merrill was the 1956 LP, Dream of You, which was produced and arranged by bebop arranger and pianist Gil Evans. Evans' work on Dream of You was his first in many years. His arrangements on Merrill's laid the musical foundations for his work in following years with Miles Davis.
After recording sporadically through the late 1950s and 1960s, Merrill spent much of her time touring Europe, where she enjoyed more commercial success than she had in the United States. She settled for a time in Italy, recording an album there and doing concerts with jazz musicians Piero Umiliani,Chet Baker,Romano Mussolini, and Stan Getz. In 1960 arranger composer Ennio Morricone  worked with Helen Merrill on an EP "Helen Merrill sings Italian Songs"on the RCA Italiana label.
Parole e Musica: Words and Music was recorded in Italy with Umiliani's orchestra in the early 1960s while Merrill was living there. The LP features the unusual additions preceding each song, of spoken translations of eloquent Italian word lyrics, complementing the ballads and torch songs.
She returned to the U.S. in the 1960s, but moved to Japan in 1966, staying after touring there and marrying Donald J. Brydon (of United Press International) in April 1967. She developed a following in Japan that remains strong to this day. In addition to recording while in Japan, Merrill became involved in other aspects of the music industry, producing albums for Trio Records  and co-hosting a show on FEN (Armed Forces Radio and Television Service) with Bud Widom  in Tokyo.
Merrill returned to the US in 1972 and has continued recording and regular touring since then. Her later career has seen her experiment in different music genres. She has recorded a bossa nova album, a Christmas album  and a record's worth of Rodgers and Hammerstein, among many others. Two albums from Merrill's later career have been tributes to past musical partners. In 1987, she and Gil Evans recorded fresh arrangements of their Dream of You; the new recordings were released under the title Collaboration and became the most critically acclaimed of Merrill's albums in the 1980s.
In 1987 she co-produced a CD album, Billy Eckstine Sings with Benny Carter''. In 1995 she recorded Brownie: Homage to Clifford Brown as a tribute to the trumpeter. One of her millennium released recordings draws from her Croatian heritage as well as her American upbringing: Jelena Ana Milcetic a.k.a. Helen Merrill (2000). The album combines jazz, pop and blues songs with several traditional Croatian songs sung in Croatian. She also released the album "Lilac Wine" in 2003 to critical acclaim. Helen Merrill is still actively performing and popular in Japan with 3 nights (two shows a night) of concerts at the Tokyo Blue Note club in April 2017'.
Merrill has been married three times, first to musician Aaron Sachs, second to UPI vice president Donald J. Brydon, and third to arranger-conductor Torrie Zito.
She has one child from her first marriage, known professionally as Alan Merrill, who is a singer and songwriter who wrote and recorded the original (1975) version of the rock classic "I Love Rock N Roll" as lead vocalist of the British band Arrows.
- Helen Merrill (EmArcy, 1954)
- Helen Merrill with Strings (EmArcy, 1955)
- Dream of You (EmArcy, 1957)
- Merrill at Midnight (EmArcy, 1957)
- The Nearness of You (EmArcy, 1958)
- You've Got a Date with the Blues (MetroJazz, 1958)
- American Country Songs (Atco, 1959)
- Helen Merrill Sings Italian Songs (RCA Italiana, 1960)
- The Artistry of Helen Merrill (Mainstream, 1965)
- Deep in a Dream (Milestone, 1965) with Dick Katz - reissued in 1967 as The Feeling is Mutual
- Bossa Nova in Tokyo (Victor, 1967)
- Something Special (Inner City, 1967)
- A Shade of Difference (Milestone, 1968) with Dick Katz
- Helen Merrill Sings the Beatles (EMI, 1970)
- Chasin' the Bird (EmArcy, 1979)
- Casa Forte (Mercury, 1980)
- No Tears, No Goodbyes with Gordon Beck (Owl, 1984)
- A Shade of Difference) with Dick Katz (Milestone, 1968; remastered for Landmark, 1986)
- Music Makers (Owl, 1986)
- Collaboration: Helen Merrill-Gil Evans (Emarcy, 1988)
- Just Friends (EmArcy, 1989)
- Duets (EmArcy, 1989) with Ron Carter
- Clear Out of This World (Antilles, 1992)
- Brownie: Homage to Clifford Brown (Verve, 1995)
- You and the Night and the Music (Verve, 1998)
- Jelena Ana Milcetic a.k.a. Helen Merrill (Verve, 2000)
- Lilac Wine (Verve, 2003)
- With Billy Eckstine and Benny Carter
- With Ron Carter
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- ^ Scott Yanow. "Helen Merrill Presents Al Haig Plays the Music of Jerome Kern - Al Haig | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved .
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- ^ Scott Yanow. "Christmas Song Book - Helen Merrill | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved .
- ^ William Ruhlmann. "Helen Merrill Sings Rodgers & Hammerstein - Helen Merrill | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved .
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- ^ Scott Yanow. "Billy Eckstine Sings with Benny Carter - Benny Carter,Billy Eckstine | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved .
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- ^ "I Love Rock And Roll by Joan Jett Songfacts". Songfacts.com. Archived from the original on 2017-02-26. Retrieved .
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- Owens, Thomas (1995). Bebop: The Music and Its Players. New York; Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505287-0.