Helen Merrill
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Helen Merrill
Helen Merrill
Merrill in 1965
Background information
Jelena Ana Milcetic [1]
Born (1930-07-21) July 21, 1930 (age 87)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Genres Jazz
Labels Emarcy, Verve
Clifford Brown, Gil Evans, Oscar Pettiford
Website www.helenmerrill.com

Helen Merrill (born Jelena Ana Milcetic [2] 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.[3] 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.[3][4] 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.[5] She began singing in jazz clubs in the Bronx in 1944, aged fourteen.[6] By the time she was sixteen, Merrill had taken up music full-time.[7] 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.[8]Etta Jones [9] was in Hines' band at the time and she too sang on this session, which was reissued on the Xanadu label in 1985.[10][11] At this time Merrill was married to musician Aaron Sachs. They divorced in 1956.[12]

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[13] and bassist/cellist Oscar Pettiford,[14] among others. The album was produced and arranged by Quincy Jones, who was then twenty-one years old.[15] The success of Helen Merrill prompted Mercury to sign her for an additional four-album contract.[16]

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.[17] 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.[18]


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,[19]Chet Baker,[20]Romano Mussolini,[21] and Stan Getz. In 1960 arranger composer Ennio Morricone [22] worked with Helen Merrill on an EP "Helen Merrill sings Italian Songs"on the RCA Italiana label.[23]

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.[24]

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.[25] 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 [26] and co-hosting a show on FEN (Armed Forces Radio and Television Service) with Bud Widom [27] in Tokyo.

Later career

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,[28] a Christmas album [29] and a record's worth of Rodgers and Hammerstein,[30] among many others.[31] 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.[32]

In 1987 she co-produced a CD album, Billy Eckstine Sings with Benny Carter'[33]'. In 1995 she recorded Brownie: Homage to Clifford Brown as a tribute to the trumpeter.[34] 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.[5] She also released the album "Lilac Wine" in 2003 to critical acclaim.[35] 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'.[36]

Personal life

Merrill has been married three times, first to musician Aaron Sachs,[37] second to UPI vice president Donald J. Brydon,[25] and third to arranger-conductor Torrie Zito.[38]

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.[39]

Partial discography

With Billy Eckstine and Benny Carter
With Ron Carter
  • The Duets (Verve, 1988)


  1. ^ Bahl, Mathew (2000-09-01). "Helen Merrill: Jelena Ana Milcetic aka Helen Merrill". Allaboutjazz.com. Retrieved . 
  2. ^ "Helen Merrill - Biography - IMDb". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved . 
  3. ^ a b Cook, Richard; Morton, Brian (2008). The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings. London: Penguin Books. p. 993. 
  4. ^ Palmer, Robert (31 March 1986). "Helen Merrill, 50's Jazz Singer, Creates an 80's Stir". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018. 
  5. ^ a b Alex Henderson. "Aka Jelena Ana Milcetic - Helen Merrill | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved . 
  6. ^ Grant Jackson. "ksfr: : Helen Merrill On Piano Jazz (2010-09-24)". Publicbroadcasting.net. Retrieved . 
  7. ^ Yoshi Kato (2000-07-31). "Helen Merrill Delivers Tribute To Croat Heritage". MTV. Retrieved . 
  8. ^ "A Cigarette for Company / Ella's Fella by Helen Merrill & Earl "Fatha" Hines Orkestra (Single, Vocal Jazz): Reviews, Ratings, Credits, Song list". Rate Your Music. Retrieved . [permanent dead link]
  9. ^ Joan Merrill. "NPR's Jazz Profiles: Etta Jones". Npr.org. Retrieved . 
  10. ^ [1][dead link]
  11. ^ Liner notes to Xanadu 203, Earl Hines Varieties
  12. ^ HaarFager (2008-11-11). "Music For Every Mood: Jazzy Lady". Musicforeverymood.blogspot.com. Retrieved . 
  13. ^ Richard Mortifoglio. "Helen Merrill - Helen Merrill | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved . 
  14. ^ "Dream of You - Helen Merrill | J-DISC - Online Jazz Discography". Jdisc.columbia.edu. Retrieved . 
  15. ^ "Helen Merrill - Songs, Reviews, Credits". allmusic.com. Retrieved 2017. 
  16. ^ Scott Yanow. "Complete Helen Merrill on Mercury (1954-1958) - Helen Merrill | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved . 
  17. ^ "Helen Merrill - Dream Of You (Vinyl, LP) at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved . 
  18. ^ Stephen Cook. "Dream of You - Helen Merrill | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved . 
  19. ^ Thom Jurek. "Parole e Musica - Helen Merrill,Piero Umiliani Orchestra | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved . 
  20. ^ Thom Jurek. "Smog [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] - Chet Baker,Piero Umiliani | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved . 
  21. ^ "Helen Merrill - Parole e Musica - RCA/Schema Earward [Helen Merrill Parole e Musica] : Jazz Record Center, Rare and out-of-print books, records and more". Jazzrecordcenter.com. Retrieved . 
  22. ^ "Helen Merrill - In Italy (CD, Album) at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved . 
  23. ^ "Helen Merrill - In Italy". 
  24. ^ "Helen Merrill - Parola e musica - 1960". Finnr.org. 2010-12-05. Archived from the original on 2013-12-03. Retrieved . 
  25. ^ a b "Former UPI news executive Don Brydon dies". UPI.com. 2003-01-16. Retrieved . 
  26. ^ Scott Yanow. "Helen Merrill Presents Al Haig Plays the Music of Jerome Kern - Al Haig | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved . 
  27. ^ Whetston, Thomas (2010-05-13). "AFRTS Archive: Small World - 1965". Afrtsarchive.blogspot.com. Retrieved . 
  28. ^ "Helen Merrill - Bossa Nova In Tokyo (CD, Album) at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved . 
  29. ^ Scott Yanow. "Christmas Song Book - Helen Merrill | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved . 
  30. ^ William Ruhlmann. "Helen Merrill Sings Rodgers & Hammerstein - Helen Merrill | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved . 
  31. ^ "Helen Merrill Discography at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved . 
  32. ^ Scott Yanow. "Collaboration - Helen Merrill | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved . 
  33. ^ Scott Yanow. "Billy Eckstine Sings with Benny Carter - Benny Carter,Billy Eckstine | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved . 
  34. ^ Scott Yanow. "Brownie: Homage to Clifford Brown - Helen Merrill | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved . 
  35. ^ "Helen Merrill - Lilac Wine (CD, Album) at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved . 
  36. ^ "Helen Merrill - ?|Artists|Blue Note Tokyo". Bluenote.co.jp. Retrieved . 
  37. ^ "Reedman Aaron Sachs R.I.P. The surefire command... | Mosaic Records Daily Jazz Gazette". Mosaicrecords.tumblr.com. Retrieved . 
  38. ^ WILLIAM GRIMESDEC (2009-12-08). "Torrie Zito, Pianist and Jazz-Pop Arranger, Dies at 76 - The New York Times". Nytimes.com. Retrieved . 
  39. ^ "I Love Rock And Roll by Joan Jett Songfacts". Songfacts.com. Archived from the original on 2017-02-26. Retrieved . 


  • Dahl, Linda (1984). Stormy Weather: The Music and Lives of a Century of Jazz Women. New York; Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-87910-128-8.
  • Owens, Thomas (1995). Bebop: The Music and Its Players. New York; Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505287-0.

External links

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