Jimmy Forrest (1920-1980) was a large-toned tenor saxophonist who had a major hit with “Night Train” (which was based on Duke Ellington’s “Happy Go Lucky Local”) and a major career in the years that followed.
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.
After a period of freelancing, Jimmy Forrest was a major soloist with Count Basie’s orchestra during 1972-1977, spending the years before his death co-leading a group with trombonist Al Grey. His brand of stomping and soulful jazz has never gone out of style.