No list of the most popular dance bands of the ’40s would be complete without the name Harry James whose stylish trumpet and splendid orchestra were featured in a number of films of the period and performed not only on radio but to standing–room–only audiences in casinos and ballrooms from coast to coast. In the early years of the decade, before personal and professional differences got in the way, James employed one of the era’s best known band singers, Helen Forrest, whose memorable screen songs included “I Had the Craziest Dream” and “I’ve Heard That Song Before.” While Helen’s name appears prominently on this compilation of three radio broadcasts (one from New York’s Hotel Astor in ’42, two from the Chesterfield Show the following year), she sings on only four of its fifteen selections. There are eight instrumentals, two vocals by Johnny McAfee and another by the orchestra’s five–member vocal group, The Songmakers. Forrest is always a pleasure to hear, even though her first two songs (“Manhattan Serenade,” “Good for Nothing Joe”) are no better than ordinary. The last two, from the Chesterfield Show of September 21, ’43, are much better (“Somebody Loves Me,” Mack Gordon / Harry Warren’s “My Heart Tells Me”). McAfee is heard first, on the huge early–’40s hit, “One Dozen Roses,” and again on an up-tempo version of Irving Berlin’s “Always.” Harry’s trumpet is of course prominently showcased throughout with other solos by pianist Al Lerner (“Back Beat Boogie”) and tenor saxophonist Corky Corcoran (who’s featured on four selections including Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge”). As these broadcasts were made during the war years, there are the usual plugs for War Bonds and a reminder by Harry that Chesterfield was doing its part to help the war effort by donating “a million free Chesterfields every week” to our armed forces overseas. With friends like that . . . These broadcasts are fairly representative of the music being played by the Harry James Orchestra in the early ’40s. Their main drawback, as with most such reissues, is the low–grade sound, which one must endeavor to overlook if he or she is to appreciate fully the orchestra’s talents, not to mention those of its star vocalist, Helen Forrest.
Contact: Soundcraft Compact Classics, P.O. Box 840705, Hollywood, FL 33084.
Track Listing: Introduction; One Dozen Roses; Manhattan Serenade; Prince Charming; Velvet Moon; Always; A Poem Set to Music; Nevada; Good for Nothing Joe; Back Beat Boogie; Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea; War Bond plug; It Can
Personnel: Harry James, trumpet, and his orchestra (personnel unlisted) with Helen Forrest and Johnny McAfee, vocals.