Big-toned tenor saxophonists were nurtured, as a rule, in the big bands of the Thirties and Forties. Jimmy Forrest, known for his huge hit “Night Train,” was featured in the orchestras of Andy Kirk and Duke Ellington, and then struck out as prolific bandleader. He was a popular performer in the R&B circuit throughout the 1950s.
Born and raised in St. Louis, Forrest worked in the Midwest with pianist Eddie Johnson, Fate Marable, the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra, and Don Albert. Respected for his tone and his swinging style, Forrest worked with the Jay McShann Orchestra and the Andy Kirk big band (1942-1948). He had a stint with Duke Ellington in 1949 and two years later recorded “Night Train.” The success of that hit allowed Forrest to lead his own band for several years, recording other similar r&b-oriented material.
Forrest’s heart was always in swinging jazz and he enjoyed his association with trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison during 1958-1963. During that period, Forrest recorded five albums for Prestige and New Jazz, showing that he could play hard bop and soul-jazz in addition to swing and 1950s r&b. “Forrest Fire,” “Out of the Forrest,” “Sit Down and Relax,” “Most Much!,” and “Soul Street,” feature the saxophonist in a quartet with organist Larry Young, groups with either Joe Zawinul or Hugh Lawson on piano, a Latin-flavored date with Ray Barretto, and with the Oliver Nelson Orchestra.